Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William Rothstein

Committee Members

Norman Carey

Joel Lester

Andrew Pau

Subject Categories

Musicology | Music Theory


Mode, Modality, Tonality, Louis Niedermeyer and Joseph d'Ortigue, Gabriel Fauré, Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens


By the beginning of the nineteenth century, harmonization of plainchant melodies had become a trend among church organists. In their harmonizations, many of these organists freely applied the harmonic conventions of what may be characterized today as common-practice tonality, such as dominant-to-tonic cadences, often including the use of accidentals. French scholars and educators of the time, like Louis Niedermeyer and his collaborator Joseph d’Ortigue, viewed such practices as a corruption of plainchant and sought to reform the ways in which plainchant was harmonized on the organ.

The nineteenth-century reformation led by these harmonists ignited discourse on the nature of plainchant melodies and the type of musical language that should be used to harmonize them, if they were to be harmonized at all; there was disagreement over how or to what extent the tonality of plainchant should be distinct from “modern” tonality. Three different attitudes on this matter may be represented by the methods discussed and compared in this dissertation: those of Louis Niedermeyer and Joseph d’Ortigue, François Gevaert, and Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens.

Chapter 1 introduces two treatises that were published in 1856, one co-authored by Niedermeyer and d’Ortigue, the other written by Gevaert. Both treatises employ a note-against-note setting that excludes the use of dissonance. Such a setting was criticized by Lemmens, whose treatise was published in 1886. Lemmens claims that incorporating freer rhythms and certain types of dissonance promotes a musical unity between plainchant and modern tonality, which he saw as desirable. Chapter 2 looks into neume notation, which, according to Lemmens, reveals the melodic nature of plainchant melodies. Chapter 3 discusses Lemmens’s unique view on the harmonic implications of plainchant melodies.

The harmonization methods discussed in this dissertation were studied by notable composers residing in France at the time. The last chapter focuses on three such composers, Franz Liszt, Gabriel Fauré, and Erik Satie, and the ways in which they incorporated aspects of plainchant in their works. Examination of the arguments advanced by nineteenth-century scholars not only reveals the issues that arise when plainchant melodies are placed in harmonic contexts; it also sheds light on the compositional language of nineteenth-century composers who were influenced by harmonized plainchant and incorporated modality within their works. What began as a humble attempt to reform the performance of plainchant had an unintended consequence: the creation of a new type of harmonic language, which may be referred to as modal harmony. Modal harmony is found in numerous works by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French composers. This dissertation represents an inquiry into the origins of a musical language.