A few Thoughts on Invitatory Antiphons

January 29th, 2017 by Karin Strinnholm Lagergren


I will devote a few blogposts to the invitatory antiphons in the Birgittine Order, which I have been working on for a while now. The result is far from a story by Dan Brown but nevertheless quite interesting. Here a few words on this while an article gets ready for publication…

A very, very short introduction: the invitatory begins the very first service (That would be like 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning!) of the day in the Divine Office, in the Birgittine Order called the Cantus Sororum. An invitatory consists of a short antiphon that is repeated several times alternating with Psalm 94, meaning that a complete invitatory lasts for around 7 minutes. Since the Cantus Sororum is a weekly cycle, this office consists of seven different invitatories: one for each day in the week. I was curious to know how much of this material that can be considered as unique to the Birgittine, how much is borrowed from the common stock of Gregorian chant, and how much that belongs to this difficult middle position adaptations. An adaptation in this case means something we can find in other sources but where the melody has been altered into something we could call a variation.

Why is this interesting? In my view mainly since there is a huge misunderstanding going on that much more in the Cantus Sororum is considered unique than it in fact really is. I think it is time to more consider how much the Birgittine liturgy in fact is dependent on the common stock of Gregorian chant. Ok, now someone may react and say that there are so and so many unique pieces in this repertoire. Yes, there are things we do not find in other sources but also unique pieces correspond to and communicate with the Gregorian chant tradition outside the order.

One problem looking into this emerged immediately: Invitatory antiphons is a chant genre that has been very little researched. So I end this blogpost with one question to someone who might have looked into this: anyone who has been doing anything on invitatories?

The image shows the Birgittine invitatory for Tuesday in a Dutch source from around 1500 (Uden HS K:An 1).


Karin Strinnholm Lagergren
Senior Lecturer at Linnaeus University
Senior lecturer in musicology and singer of medieval music. Research interest monastic chant, in particular Birgittines and Dominicans. In this blog I write, comment and reflect on my research project 'The Musical World of the Birgittine Order'. Expect loads of manuscript images, tricky chant problems and square notation!

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