Tonaries, which are lists of chant titles grouped by mode, appear in western sources around the turn of the 9th century. The influence of developments in Byzantium, from Jerusalem and Damascus, for instance the works of Saints John of Damascus (d. 749) and Cosmas of Maiouma (Nikodēmos ’Agioreitēs 1836, 1:32–33) (Barton 2009), are still not fully understood. The eight-fold division of the Latin modal system, in a four-by-two matrix, was certainly of Eastern provenance, originating probably in Syria or even in Jerusalem, and was transmitted from Byzantine sources to Carolingian practice and theory during the 8th century. However, the earlier Greek model for the Carolingian system was probably ordered like the later Byzantine oktōēchos, that is, with the four principal (authentic) modes first, then the four plagals, whereas the Latin modes were always grouped the other way, with the authentics and plagals paired (Powers 2001, §II.1(ii)).
The 6th century scholar Boethius had translated Greek music theory treatises by Nicomachus and Ptolemy into Latin (Powers 2001). Later authors created confusion by applying mode as described by Boethius to explain plainchant modes, which were a wholly different system (Palisca 1984, 222). In his De institutione musica, book 4 chapter 15, Boethius, like his Hellenistic sources, twice used the term harmonia to describe what would likely correspond to the later notion of "mode", but also used the word "modus"—probably translating the Greek word τρόπος (tropos), which he also rendered as Latin tropus—in connection with the system of transpositions required to produce seven diatonic octave species (Bower 1984, 253, 260–61), so the term was simply a means of describing transposition and had nothing to do with the church modes (Powers 2001, §II.1(i)).
Later, 9th-century theorists applied Boethius’s terms tropus and modus (along with "tonus") to the system of church modes. The treatise De Musica (or De harmonica institutione) of Hucbald synthesized the three previously disparate strands of modal theory: chant theory, the Byzantine oktōēchos and Boethius's account of Hellenistic theory (Powers 2001, §II.2). The later 9th-century treatise known as the Alia musica imposed the seven species of the octave described by Boethius onto the eight church modes (Powers 2001, §II.2(ii)). Thus, the names of the modes used today do not actually reflect those used by the Greeks.
The eight church modes, or Gregorian modes, can be divided into four pairs, where each pair shares the "final" note and the four notes above the final, but have different ambituses, or ranges. If the "scale" is completed by adding three higher notes, the mode is termed authentic, if the scale is completed by adding three lower notes, it is called plagal (from Greek πλάγιος, "oblique, sideways"). Otherwise explained: if the melody moves mostly above the final, with an occasional cadence to the sub-final, the mode is authentic. Plagal modes shift range and also explore the fourth below the final as well as the fifth above. In both cases, the strict ambitus of the mode is one octave. A melody that remains confined to the mode's ambitus is called "perfect"; if it falls short of it, "imperfect"; if it exceeds it, "superfluous"; and a melody that combines the ambituses of both the plagal and authentic is said to be in a "mixed mode" (Rockstro 1880, 343).
Although the earlier (Greek) model for the Carolingian system was probably ordered like the Byzantine oktōēchos, with the four authentic modes first, followed by the four plagals, the earliest extant sources for the Latin system are organized in four pairs of authentic and plagal modes sharing the same final: protus authentic/plagal, deuterus authentic/plagal, tritus authentic/plagal, and tetrardus authentic/plagal (Powers 2001 §II, 1 (ii)).
Each mode has, in addition to its final, a "reciting tone", sometimes called the "dominant" (Apel 1969, 166; Smith 1989, 14). It is also sometimes called the "tenor", from Latin tenere "to hold", meaning the tone around which the melody principally centres (Fallows 2001). The reciting tones of all authentic modes began a fifth above the final, with those of the plagal modes a third above. However, the reciting tones of modes 3, 4, and 8 rose one step during the tenth and eleventh centuries with 3 and 8 moving from B to C (half step) and that of 4 moving from G to A (whole step) (Hoppin 1978, 67).
After the reciting tone, every mode is distinguished by scale degrees called "mediant" and "participant". The mediant is named from its position between the final and reciting tone. In the authentic modes it is the third of the scale, unless that note should happen to be B, in which case C substitutes for it. In the plagal modes, its position is somewhat irregular. The participant is an auxiliary note, generally adjacent to the mediant in authentic modes and, in the plagal forms, coincident with the reciting tone of the corresponding authentic mode (some modes have a second participant) (Rockstro 1880, 342).
Only one accidental is used commonly in Gregorian chant—B may be lowered by a half-step to B♭. This usually (but not always) occurs in modes V and VI, as well as in the upper tetrachord of IV, and is optional in other modes except III, VII and VIII (Powers 2001, §II.3.i(b), Ex. 5).
In 1547, the Swiss theorist Henricus Glareanus published the Dodecachordon, in which he solidified the concept of the church modes, and added four additional modes: the Aeolian (mode 9), Hypoaeolian (mode 10), Ionian (mode 11), and Hypoionian (mode 12). A little later in the century, the Italian Gioseffo Zarlino at first adopted Glarean's system in 1558, but later (1571 and 1573) revised the numbering and naming conventions in a manner he deemed more logical, resulting in the widespread promulgation of two conflicting systems. Zarlino's system reassigned the six pairs of authentic–plagal mode numbers to finals in the order of the natural hexachord, C D E F G A, and transferred the Greek names as well, so that modes 1 through 8 now became C-authentic to F-plagal, and were now called by the names Dorian to Hypomixolydian. The pair of G modes were numbered 9 and 10 and were named Ionian and Hypoionian, while the pair of A modes retained both the numbers and names (11, Aeolian, and 12 Hypoaeolian) of Glarean's system (Powers 2001 §III.4(ii)(a) & §III.5(i)).
In the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some chant reformers (notably the editors of the Mechlin, Pustet-Ratisbon (Regensburg), and Rheims-Cambrai Office-Books, collectively referred to as the Cecilian Movement) renumbered the modes once again, this time retaining the original eight mode numbers and Glareanus's modes 9 and 10, but assigning numbers 11 and 12 to the modes on the final B, which they named Locrian and Hypolocrian (even while rejecting their use in chant). The Ionian and Hypoionian modes (on C) become in this system modes 13 and 14 (Rockstro 1880, 342).
Given the confusion between ancient, medieval, and modern terminology, "today it is more consistent and practical to use the traditional designation of the modes with numbers one to eight" (Curtis 1997), using Roman numeral (I–VIII), rather than using the pseudo-Greek naming system. Contemporary terms, also used by scholars, are simply the Greek ordinals ("first", "second", etc.), usually transliterated into the Latin alphabet: protus (πρῶτος), deuterus (δεύτερος), tritus (τρίτος), and tetrardus (τέταρτος), in practice used as: protus authentus / plagalis.
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