The designation "rimed office" has come into use only in recent years and is somewhat inexact. It refers to the series of antiphons and responsories used at Vespers, Matins, and the daily hours of a liturgical feast (see divine office, roman). The texts involved are written in verse and set to music in a more florid style than that of gregorian chant. The expression "rhythmic office" is broad, suggesting not only rhymed texts, but also texts that may be written in metrical or accentual verse without rhyme. The term historia also has been used for such offices, since most of them utilize "historical" texts, such as the vita or passio of a saint. Each series of antiphons and responsories is composed in the order of the modes from I to VIII. For the ninth piece, mode I is used again. This apparent organization is superficial, for only the last notes of the pieces obey the modal system, and everything else in them seems closer to tonal music, or even folk song.
Origin. Rimed offices appeared toward the end of the nineth century and were used to provide texts for newly established feasts. As the practice spread, new offices were composed to replace others already in use, and even for some parts of the temporal cycle, such as Trinity Sunday. In general the "historical" text employed was divided into antiphons and responsories and slightly changed to fit into a poetic scheme such as metrical verse, accentual verse, or rhymed prose. Sometimes the text was taken whole without any additions, but more often it was mixed with material from many sources.
Sources and Editions. Rhythmic offices, being perfectly liturgical, were included in numerous breviaries and antiphonaries containing the night hours, as well as in other sources. G. M. Dreves devoted nine volumes of his Analecta Hymnica to texts of rhythmic offices (v.5, 13, 18, 24, 25, 26, 28, and 45a). Although this edition is incomplete, it remains the only source for a methodical study. An analysis of these volumes was made by U. Chevalier in his Repertorium Hymnologicum, but the two works taken together still reveal many lacunae and errors.
History and Earliest Evidence. The Offices of St. Stephen and St. Lambert, written by Stephen of Liège, are generally regarded as the oldest evidence of the practice of composing rimed offices; the MS containing them is of the tenth century and seems to have been written during Stephen's lifetime or soon after his death in 920 (A. Auda). Some efforts along this line, such as an Office of St. Peter by hucbald of saint-amand, were certainly made earlier (R. Weakland). This office used the vita of the saint without any modifications; that of St. Stephen transformed it into metrical verse with some assonance. Metrical offices can be found that span more than a century; it appears that composition in this genre was concluded, toward the beginning of the 11th century, with the series of antiphons attributed to Robert the Pious, Pro fidei meritis (S. Corbin, Essai sur la musique … 339), and the compositions of Fulbert of Chartres (Y. Delaporte). Accentual verse appeared in the 11th century, bringing with it rhyme and a style that became more and more studied, and even affected, especially under the influence of Leonine verse. During the next two centuries there was an immense proliferation of these series, but when the religious orders with strong centralized organization appeared (the Dominicans in particular), a sort of sclerosis afflicted the rhythmic office. Among the Dominicans, offices were still composed, but from the 13th century forward they were based on the offices for St. Dominic and St. Peter Martyr and introduced no new music (S. Corbin, "L'Office de la conception de la Vierge …" 62). Rhythmic offices were removed from the Roman rite by the Council of Trent, but they survive in the liturgy of the orders.
Research Methods. In the past these offices were edited one by one, without reference to other offices and even without a study of previous editions of the same office. Yet they had often undergone certain alterations in passing from church to church. The order of responsories might be changed, disturbing the order of the modes, or pieces might at times be replaced. Such alterations are historically useful in their own way, and sometimes permit identification of the church where they originated. Also, melodies were borrowed from other offices, as in the Office for Corpus Christi, for which the adaptations were meticulously indicated in one of the earliest texts: Paris, Bibliothèque National, fonds latins 1143 (L. M. J. Delaissé, 235; pl. 27 has indications in the margin of the borrowed melodies). It would be impossible to discuss the rimed office without considering such borrowings. On the other hand, the offices may be sorted, according to certain norms of compositions not yet investigated, into a Norman group, an Alsatian group, and a Flemish group.
Bibliography: Analecta hymnica (Leipzig 1886–1922) v.5, 13, 18, 24, 25, 26, 28, 45a. u. chevalier, Repertorium hymnologicum (Louvain-Brussels 1892–1921). l. eisenhofer and j. lechner, The Liturgy of the Roman Rite, tr. a. j. and e. f. peeler from the 6th German Edition, ed. h. e. winstone (New York 1961). g. reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York 1940). w. apel, Gregorian Chant (Bloomington, Ind. 1958). a. auda, L'École musicale liégeoise au X e siècle: Étienne de Liége (Brussels 1923). s. corbin, Essai sur la musique religieuse portugaise au moyen âge (Paris 1952); "L'Office de la conception de la Vierge … dominicain d'Aveiro," Bulletin des études portugaises 13 (1949) 105–166. r. weakland, "The Compositions of Hucbald," Études grégoriennes 3 (1959) 155–163. y. delaporte, "Fulbert de Chartres et l'école chartraine de chant liturgique au XIe siècle," ibid. 2 (1957) 51–81. l. m. j. delaissÉ, "A la recherche des origines de 'office du Corpus Christi," Scriptorium 4 (1950) 220–239.