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Concerning the “flex” in psalmody

September 1, 2016

I have been aware for some time that there are sometimes differences in the way that psalm verses are divided, as far as the placement of the flex † and the middle cadence * are concerned.

[Both from edition to edition, especially when comparing secular to monastic and different orders, but sometimes also within the same book, as in the case of the variously compiled Liber Usualis.]

However, I recently came across some useful information in the book Psalmi in notis (Solesmes, 1903).

This book is of that particular genre of chant book the aim of which is to clarify for the user the method of singing certain psalms by laying them out in a more-than-usually idiot-proof manner.

In the case of this book, being published in the year 1903, it is interesting to see from examination of its contents that at this time just prior to the Vatican Edition, Solesmes was already thinking in terms of basically the same system of accents & preparatory notes as would later appear in the Liber Usualis.

Be that as it may, the interesting point for me was that in its title, the book in question claims to give the psalms “juxta ritum Romanum simul ac Monasticum”, or in the vulgar “according to both the Roman and the Monastic rite”. And to effect this double usefulness, there is an explanation on pages 152-153, entitled “De flexa in ritu monastico”.

A summary is as follows:


I. With the monks of certain orders, by the flex † it is noted that the voice should be lowered by either a major second or a minor third. Also of note, this flex is not to be found, except in the first half of a verse.

II. In the monastic rite, however, there are a certain number of psalm-verses which are not divided in the same manner as in the Roman. This book divides these the Roman way. [I think this is what the sentence is getting at; at any rate, it is true.] But if you want to divide them monastically, below are given all the verses in which there is a discrepancy, (and they are few enough) divided in this manner.

III. Note about all of these verses. — In either rite, to wit, Roman or monastic, these verses consist of three members. But in the Roman, after the first member there is placed the middle cadence, and after the second a pause ; however, in the monastic after the first member there is placed a flex (similar to the pause), and after the second the middle cadence ; which is the reverse order.


Now, I looked up the nine cases given (taken from seven psalms) in the Vatican Edition Antiphonale Romanum (1912), and lo! all appeared according to the monastic way: for the Vatican Edition uses the flex. This same division may also be seen, incidentally, in the Liber Antiphonarius (Pothier, 1891).

However, if you look up these same verses in a Roman Breviary, even from, say, 1942, these verses are all still divided “in the Roman manner”, with the longer second half, and no flexes.

Go figure.

Anyhow, I always knew that, as a rule, breviaries had no flexes;

This is the first that I have heard an explanation why.

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