Medieval Tropes and Sequences


A category of plainchant that flourished from the 10th through the 12th centuries, comprising musical and textual additions to the established repertory of Mass (both Proper and Ordinary) and Office chants.  There were two distinct categories: Italian troping demonstrated these two influences without many indigenous style traits.

The era of troping corresponds to the great age of Western monasticism and began to disappear with the shift from rural monasteries to urban cathedrals.

The methods of interpolation are now often designated as:

  • the addition of a new text to a melisma of a traditional "Gregorian" chant
  • the composition of a new melody and text, which is then sung together with a traditional chant in various ways, before and/or after it, or by alternation of the phrases of the trope with those of the original chant, or, in the case of a short text like the "Benedicamus Domino", embedding the few original words or their synonyms in an elaborate new melody and text
  • an independently composed melody without text added to an item of the standard repertory.

  • According to Grout, a trope was originally a newly composed addition, usually in neumatic style and with a poetic text, to one of the antiphonal Chants of the Proper of the Mass (most often to the Introit, less often to the Offertory and Communion); later, such additions were made also to Chants of the Ordinary (especially the Gloria). The earliest tropes served as prefaces to the regular chant; at a later stage, tropes are found also in the form of interpolations between the lines of a chant.

    Manuscripts of tropes are called "tropers," two of which are the St. Martial Troper and the Winchester Troper (Winchester Cathedral).

    The terms "trope" and "troping" have often been used in an extended sense to designate all additions and interpolations to the chant, thus including the sequence, for example, as a subclass under "tropes."


    In the early manuscripts of chants are to be found from time to time certain rather long melodic passages which recur, practically unchanged, in many different contexts: Long melismas of this sort came to be attached to the Alleluia in the liturgy -- at first simply as extensions of the chant but later, in still larger and more elaborate forms, as new additions. Such extensions and additions were given the name sequentia or "sequence" (from the Latin "siquor," to follow), perhaps originally because of their position "following" the Alleluia.

    When equipped with a text, the proper name for them is "prosa" alluding to the prose form of their texts -- though the same word "sequence" is often used loosely for both the texted and untexted versions.

    The sequence or prosa early became detached from particular liturgical chants and began to blossom forth as an independent form of composition. In church, they may have been sung to the accompaniment of organ and bells. Popular sequences were also imitated and adapted to secular uses.

    Most sequences were abolished from the Catholic service by the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-63), and only four were retained in use: Victimae paschali laudes, at Easter; Veni Sancte Spiritus, on Whitsunday; Lauda Sion, by St. Thomas Aquinas, for the festival of Corpus Christi; and the Dies Irae. A fifth sequence, the Stabat Mater, was added in to the liturgy in 1727.