Alternatim Performance: a note on new liturgical use for the 21st Century

from ‘Righting the Scales’

 (Music & Word for Social Justice, 21 September 2014)

 A note on ‘alternatim’ performance

This refers to a practice whereby two (or more) musical forces take it in turns to perform versified parts of a liturgy originally sung throughout to plainchant.  In one of the commonest forms of alternatim performance, the organ presents a musically-elaborated version (often extemporised) of the odd-numbered verses, while the even-numbered verses are sung to the chant itself.  Owing to the resulting suppression of the words of alternate verses, there were frequent attempts to reform this tradition.

Much of the music composed for the Magnificat over several centuries (such as for services of Vespers) naturally enough follows this format, and in parts of this meditation we adapt alternatim performance of such works to encompass the spoken word, both scriptural and poetic.  Perhaps going beyond the intentions of our writers and composers in this way may set up new and challenging resonances, and enrich your meditative process.

Adrian Lenthall

[A longer article by Adrian Lenthall on the organ as a solo instrument within liturgy will be appearing.]