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Review: Liber Brevior

November 22, 2011

For most chant scholas singing for Mass according to the 1962 liturgical books,  the Liber Usualis is indeed the “usual book”, being as it is an anthology of practically all the chant you will ever be likely to use in a parish setting.  There are at least two reprints currently available: the most recent one, 1962 (recommended) and a slightly older one from 1953 (which has English titles/rubrics).  

However, there is now also available from Preserving Christian Publications a much less expensive alternative, a reprint of the 1954 Liber Brevior (“the shorter book”) which while being about 1/3  the size is probably a good bit more than 1/3 as useful (the FSSP sells them here).  The reduction in size means, of course, that it has less content; however it still contains the greater part of the propers of the full Liber, and this is where the focus of any schola generally should be. 

Here is a picture of a Liber Brevior (henceforth L.B.) next to my trusty Liber Usualis 1962 (L.U.) for size reference: 

And here is a picture which shows what the inside is like.  The L.U. has slightly yellowish pages, the L.B. more of a pure white.  

The rest of this review will just concern content, I’m afraid; you can download a pdf of the original 1954 Liber Brevior to see things for yourself here.  I believe the new reprint is the same as the pdf, but with the addition of four or five feasts which were added between 1954 and 1962.

* * * * *

The Liber Brevior is not just a shorter book, it is also a little less intense.  Certain things such as the writing out of all the verses of the the Nunc Dimittis in compline, or the putting of  the requiem Mass and associated chants in the front of the book in their own section show that the L.B. is aimed at being as practical a manual as it can be; overall, it is probably more accessible and user-friendly for the average choir member than the L.U.  Compared to the reprint of the 1962 L.U. which is entirely in Latin, the English titles/rubrics make it easier for the beginner to find their way around and know what is going on.  Also, since selections from the divine office are limited to Sunday vespers/compline and vespers for the Common of the B.V.M., they do not get in the way when one is looking for the music to sing for Mass.  Like a Graduale, the readings and collects of the Mass are not included in the L.B.; however, someone who carrys a Latin-English missal will not miss these.  For the use of choirs which are not capable of the full Gradual chants, a section in the back gives a second version of these: all the Graduals/Tracts are set to office psalm tones of the appropriate mode and the Alleluias are given with the verses set to the more elaborate introit-style tones.  Keeping the simplified versions in the same mode as the full propers elevates these slightly above the Rossini option, in my opinion.

Now for the drawbacks:

1. The proper of the saints is incomplete, and includes only more major feasts.  For example the L.B.’s first feast for October is that of Our Lady of the Rosary on the 7th.  In contrast, the L.U. show that there are feasts on every day of this week, albeit lesser ranking ones.

2. The L.B. does not seem to have any paradigms for the tones for the collects, readings, psalm tones, etc.  (On the flip side, this does have the advantage of making the section for “Common tones of the Mass” a good bit more practical for use at Mass.)   I like having these paradigms on hand; they are especially handy when pointing psalms for booklets, etc.

3. Nota Bene: because it is from 1954 and changes were last made to the Missal in 1962, the L.B. is not a good resource for planning, as it needs to be checked against either the Missale or the Liber 1962.  For example, after the Easter vigil, the L.B. has vespers, not lauds.  (Side note: I have never seen such a mini-vespers!  It has only one psalm and the magnificat, and the psalm is 116, which has only two verses!)

And that’s about all I can think of to say.  There are also a good number of the usual supplemental items: chants for benediction, to pray for the pope, in honor of the B.V.M. and so on; there also extra psalms for vespers as well as the seasonal vespers-hymns for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Passiontide and Easter.  Oh, and have you ever seen the supressed Marian tone for the Te Lucis?

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From → Gregorian Chant

One Comment
  1. Kenechukwu permalink

    Hi.
    Thanks for this review. I was contemplating of LB and LU, which to buy for a small choir. Now I know what to do.
    Thanks.

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