Kyrie Eleison

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An acclamation, immediately following the penitential rite in the Roman Rite of the Mass, which praises the Lord and implores his mercy (General Instruction of Roman Missal, 30). In the Roman Rite, the text comprises two basic invocations: "Kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy) and "Christe eleison" (Christ, have mercy). In the Eastern Christian liturgical tradition, the acclamation "Kyrie eleison" is used extensively, especially as a congregational response in the many litanies scattered throughout the eucharist and the divine office. In its pre-Christian context, the acclamation "Kyrie eleison" was widely used in civic and religious ceremonies, often as an acclamation of the munificent benevolence and mercy of the Roman emperor.

The Kyrie first appeared in the Mass as the response of a litany in the Antioch-Jerusalem liturgy after the middle of the 4th century. From there it passed to Rome early in the 5th century. Toward the end of the 5th century a litany was codified by Pope Gelasius (49296), inserted into the entrance rite of the Mass; it is known as the Deprecatio Gelasii [for the critical text, see B. Capelle, "Le Kyrie de la messe et le pape Gélase," Revue Bénédictine (Maredsous 1884) 46 (1934) 12644]. This litany was still sung at Mass during the time of Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). However, Gregory made some historically important changes in its form. On ordinary days and on the Sundays after Pentecost and Epiphany, the customary invocations to be intoned by the clerics were omitted and only the response Kyrie eleison was sung. A

further modification made by Pope Gregory was the insertion of the Christe eleison [Gregory the Great, Ep. 9 26, in Monumenta Germanae Historica: Epistolae (Berlin 1826) 2:59].

Over time, this limited use of the full Gelasian invocations on greater feasts disappeared entirely. The Kyrie as an independent entity was very early joined to the end of the stational litany. In such cases, the Kyrie of the Mass was omitted [Ordo Romanus 11 (1143), Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris 187890) 78:1039]. This usage is retained in the present Easter Vigil, where the litany replaces the entrance action, and its Kyrie is the Kyrie of the Mass. Originally, the number of invocations was not fixed in the Roman Rite of the Mass. Ordo Romanus I (circa 700) directs the Kyrie to be sung until the Pope gave the signal to stop. The early 9th century Ordo Romanus IV (St. Armand) specified that nine invocations were to be sung, giving rise to the traditional ninefold Kyrie.

Originally a congregational acclamation, by the time of the first Roman Ordo (Ordo Romanus 1 9, ed. Andrieu, 2:84), the schola was the only performer of the Kyrie. By the 12th century, the two semichoruses of clericsof which the schola formed a partsimply alternated in the singing of the nine invocations (Liber usuum O. Cist. 2 62, Patrologia Latina 166:1435).

The first musical witnesses indicate that the Kyrie melodies had achieved a high degree of musical complexity by the 10th century. The oldest such witnesses are the Kyriale, Troparium, and Sequentiarium (10th century) of St. Martial in Limoges (Paris B.N. lat. 887) and the cantatorium (10th or 11th century) from the same place (Paris B.N. lat. 1118). Among the elaborate settings found in the St. Martial Kyriale are the Kyries listed as numbers 3 to 6 in the Graduale Romanum.

Many of these elaborate melodies were the direct outgrowth of the appearances of tropes in the 9th and 10th centuries (Anglès, 126). Kyrie 10 in the Graduale Romanum began with the trope Alme Pater, of which only the first verse is extant today. Blume has published 158 complete tropes (Analecta hymnica 47:43216). The total rises to approximately 175 with the inclusion of the incomplete examples.

The first evidence of a troping of the Kyrie was afforded by Amalarius of Metz and represented as follows: Kyrie eleison, Domine Pater, miserere; Christe eleison, miserere qui nos redemisti sanguine tuo; Kyrie eleison, Domine, Spiritus Sancte, miserere (De off. eccl.3 6, Patrologia Latina 105:1113). None of the song books contain this trope, but the trope Alme domine is similarly constructed (Analecta hymnica 47:163).

The names given by medieval MSS for the troped Kyrie are numerous. The Winchester Troper describes the troped Kyrie as follows: "Incipiunt laudes preces, quae voce latina hoc resonant: Miserere tuis, O Christe, misellis" (see Blume, Analecta hymnica 47:1). Besides the term laudes preces, early French sources used the terms prosulae, prosae, or versus ad Kyrie eleison. An important distinction in the Kyrie tropes is that found between the rahmen (surrounding) tropes (new musical and textual material that precedes or follows the original Kyrie setting or separates the groups of three) and the textual tropes (i.e., textual interpolations, laid out syllabically on the single notes of disaggregate melismatic settings of the Kyrie). The rahmen trope is generally rather rare, whereas the textual trope is found very frequently. Only the MSS Paris B.N. lat. 887 and 1118 show a mixture of both types; all the other MSS know only the one or the other type of Kyrie trope.

The notation of the textual tropes in the MSS is varied. Usually, each acclamation is notated twice, in a troped and an untroped versionone under the other. In the St. Gall MSS, the melismatic version is notated first and is followed by the troped version. In the St. Martial family MSS, the troped version is placed first and is followed by the melismatic version. From this double style of notation, one might conclude to a corresponding difference in performance. Ursprung, however, interprets this double notation as implying that one semichorus sang the melisma while the other simultaneously sang the troped version, the two choirs then coming together on the word eleison (Die Kath. Kirchenmusik 57). Handschin, on the other hand, denies this possibility of "combining heterogeneous material" [New Oxford History of Music, ed. J. A. Westrup (New York 1957) 2:166].

Of some 493 MSS studied, a total of 226 chant melodies have been found for the Kyrie (Melnicki, 13). Their musical form can be divided into three main groups: (1) AAAthe simplest form based on litanic models and comprising about one-fifth of all the melodies; (2) ABADa capo form, also comprising one-fifth of the melodies (see Kyries 2, 5, 11, and 18 in Grad. Rom. ); (3) ABCthe latest of the three, although its oldest specimens date from the 10th century (see Kyrie 9 in Grad. Rom. ). Within the third group, extremely varied forms developed. Among these developed forms is the following example: AXA; BXB; CXC. The X in each of the three sets may either be the same in each case as XXX, or as XYX, or finally as XYZ (see Kyries 3, 6, 9, and ab lib. 16 in Grad. Rom. ).

The most ancient version in common usage today is that of the Vatican Kyrie 18. Vatican Kyrie 15 and 16 also are very early and form a special group with Kyrie 18. Among the earlier versions, the final invocation often descends to provide the tone for the Gloria. Kyrie 16 provides an example of this trait as it descends to Ethe first tone of Gloria 15.

Modality was not a strict concept for the musical settings of the Kyrie. The Kyrie was not linked to a psalm tone as a canon of modality. Similarly, heterogeneous transmission of the melodies made them less susceptible to the modal canons of the theoreticians.

The modality of the medieval settings of the Kyrie was built principally on the final. Hence it is more helpful to speak of D, E, F and G modes. Among these, the most popular were the G and D modes. The D mode is found most frequently in French sources; the G mode is found most frequently in Italian sources. Very popular in German sources was a loosely knit group of E-mode melodies using a triadic structure (E-G-H, or C). Only in the 12th century (Narbonne Troper, Paris B.N. lat. 778) were all the Kyries arranged according to modes. Here, too, the larger modal groups were distinguished into authentic and plagal modes.

The differences between the musical settings of the Kyrie and those of the Propers for the Mass are very marked. The settings of the Proper have a very strong melodic unity, whereas those of the Kyrie tend to be largely regional in character. Out of the 226 settings cited by Melnicki, only 26 are international in character (Melnicki, 1426). For the Propers, the medieval MSS show an almost unbelievable uniformity in the transmission of both the melody and the neume groupings, while the transmission of the Kyrie settings shows a substantial number of melodic variants and discrepancies in the melismatic neume groupings from region to region. The Kyrie melodies also have stylistic characteristics that are manifestly different from the musical settings of the Propers: transposition, episodic melodic material, motif repetition, and eventually signs of a strong influence exerted by the popular Sequence, Estampie, and Lai-Leich forms.

Bibliography: h. anglÈs, "Gregorian Chant," New Oxford History of Music, ed. j. a. westrup, 11 v. (New York 1957) 2:12627. Analecta hymnica (Leipzig 18861922) v.47, ed. c. blume and h. m. bannister. c. callewaert, "Les Étapes de l'histoire du Kyrie," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 38 (1942) 2045. Graduale Romanum (Tournai 1961). j. handschin, "Trope, Sequence, and Conductus," New Oxford History of Music 2:12874. j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f. a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 195155) 1:33346. m. melnicki, Das einstimmige Kyrie des lateinischen Mittelalters (Regensburg 1955). b. stÄblein, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 7:193146. o. ursprung, Die katholische Kirchenmusik (Potsdam 1931). p. wagner, Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien, 3 v. (Leipzig) v.2 (2d ed. 1912); repr. (Hildesheim 1962). d. a. bjork, "The Kyrie Trope," Journal of the American Musicological Society 33 (1980) 141. d. a. bjork, "Early Settings of the Kyrie Eleison and Problems of Genre Definition," Journal of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society 3 (1980) 4048. p. de clerck, La prière universelle dans les liturgies latines anciennes: témoignages patristiques et textes liturgiqques (Münster 1977). j. f. baldovin, The Urban Character of Christian Worship: The Origins, Development, and Meaning of Stational Liturgy (Rome 1987). j. f. baldovin, "Kyrie eleison and the Entrance Rite of the Roman Eucharist," Worship 60 (1986) 33447.

[c. kelly/eds.]


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Kyrie (Gr.). Lord. The section of the Ordinary of the Mass which follows the Introit. Has 3 parts, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, thrice repeated (‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy’). In medieval times, the Kyrie was set as an independent movt., but after Du Fay it was incorporated as the 1st movt. of a series.


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Kyrie a short repeated invocation (in Greek or in translation) used in many Christian liturgies, especially at the beginning of the Eucharist or as a response in a litany. The word comes from Greek Kuriē eleēson ‘Lord, have mercy’.


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Kyrie (Gk., Kyrie eleēson, ‘Lord, have mercy’). A brief prayer used in Christian liturgical worship. The Gk. words were kept untranslated in the Latin mass and often remain thus in English-language services.


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kyrie XVI; short for kyrie eleison XIV. — medL., repr. of Gr. Kūrie eléēson Lord, have mercy.