(SEATTLE, WA)-Topping the Billboard classical chart this summer is an album of Gregorian chant (“Chant: Music for the Soul”) recorded for Universal by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, an Austrian monastery near Vienna.
Last winter, Tom Lewis, an executive at Universal Music Classics, noticed a surge in chant sales, prompted, he believed, by interest in the Halo video game series, which has a soundtrack based on chant-like melodies. Lewis began advertising in various Catholic publications, searching for a great group of Gregorian chant singers to record a new album
The company received hundreds of videos in response to its ads, but the video posted on YouTube by the Cistercian monks of Holy Cross monastery was the clear winner. The monastery, built in 1133 and continuously occupied for the past 875 years, is a well-known tourist attraction in Austria. This spring, seventeen of the monks made the new recording in a chapel known for its excellent acoustics. A new video has recently been posted by the monks about their monastery and the recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7Rh_DeQmZY
The recording features the Missa Pro defunctis (Mass for the Dead or Requiem mass) and music from the Divine Office for the Dead. The recording had already sold over 400,000 copies in Europe before being released in the US on July 1 and it has been at or near the top of the Billboard classical chart all summer.
This is actually the second time in recent years that Gregorian chant has topped the charts. In 1994, Angel released “Chant,” an album by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain, which quickly rose to the top of the classical chart, and was followed by numerous chant albums in the 1990s. The American female vocal quartet Anonymous 4 also made several Billboard-topping chant albums for Harmonia Mundi during the 1990s (www.anonymous4.com).
It is also noteworthy that last summer Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree permitting the widespread use of the 1962 Roman rite (in Latin, with Gregorian chants). As a result, more Roman Catholics around the world may once again be exposed to the beauty of Gregorian chant. In the US, the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut has been using the Roman rite for many years (www.abbeyofreginalaudis.com).
Gregorian chant, named after Pope Gregory I (pope from 590-604 AD), consists of a huge number of unaccompanied modal melodies which began to be written down in the 9th century, the oldest notated music and the earliest “early music” in the Western European tradition.
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