Old traditions in new vestments: Musical and textual reworkings in the performing practices of liturgical music

Basic Info


Musical genres have developed, changed, and transformed over time. Some of them, even if they existed in the same period, were perhaps strictly separated, but the others were connected more than we would assume regarding their function and form. The genres of some seemingly incompatible traditions of completely different origins met in time because they found themselves in a common function. Such traditions in Slovenian territory during the time between the Council of Trent and the end of the eighteenth century included liturgical plainchant and music originating in secular, even profane, genres such as opera, which was of more recent origin. In the eighteenth century—if not before—they met in the liturgy, with the same texts and in the same function. Plainchant music of that time usually continues or reworks older tradition, but in the case of secular music textual and sometimes musical reworkings can be found. Both genres of music were probably known to listeners, each from a different context: one from the liturgical, the other from the profane context; one genre was the most sacred, while the other was probably the most secular; one had the patina of tradition, the other excitement of novelty. How could such different musical styles exist and coexist under a common liturgical cover?

This unusual pair is the subject of the proposed project, which studies the performance practice of two different musical traditions that can be found in liturgical “vestments” (i.e., reworkings) in the time between the Council of Trent and the end of the eighteenth century in the territory of what is today Slovenia. The main repertoire studied is post‐Medieval chant, for which many sources are preserved and which can be observed throughout the whole time in question, as a tradition with possible further reworkings. A contrasting, even opposite tradition to this “most ecclesiastical” one, the tradition of reworkings of the (perhaps most) “profane music” (such as opera compositions), serves for the comparison. The project attempts to answer the following questions: what the repertoire of Modern Era plainchant from Slovenian territory was; where, how, and in which context it was written down; and when, how, in which context, and by whom it was performed. At the same time, it tries to establish possible connections with other musical genres, especially with the hitherto unknown profane music reworked for liturgical use. It also aims to discover parallels of this segment of musical life in Slovenia in the music from other European countries, where similar research is becoming ever more frequent.

The research focuses on the sources used within Slovenian territory and preserved in Slovenia or abroad. They will be analyzed, catalogued, and categorized, and the results of this analytical work will enable comparisons between both repertoires. Later, comparisons will be carried out in a broader European (especially central European) context, because comparable European sources will be viewed side-by-side. We are explicitly interested in roles of both traditions in the liturgy, their performance practice, and their probable stylistic differences. Implicitly, the project will raise questions about the relationships between the sacred and profane in music of a certain period, between the original and its reworking, and between the text and music in the original piece as well as in its reworking.

Project steps

1 July 2019–30 June 2020
-    kick-off meeting of the project team and launching of the project website
-    collecting and studying of secondary sources and literature
-    field research of primary sources in the archives and libraries in Slovenia and abroad
-    further development of methods and model studies for discovering and research of the repertoire
-    analysis and classification of sources

1 July 2020–30 June 2021
-    further analysis of the selected sources and further studies into the context and repertoire connections
-    further field research in the archives and libraries containing comparable sources and repertories in Slovenia and abroad
-    RISM cataloguing of the most important sources and collections of pieces
-    comparisons between the various repertoires from similar liturgical contexts within the Slovenian institutions
-    comparisons of these sources and repertoires with the sources from the wider Central-European context
-    presentation of the first part of the research results for the scientific community: an international round table, conference papers as well as journal articles and chapters in monographs
-    popularization of the researchc results for wider audiences: a concert

1 July 2021–30 June 2022
-    finalization of the analytical and comparative-synthetical research of the selected repertoires
-    further presentation of the final syntheses for the scientific community (conference papers, journal articles), where the researched phenomenon will be presented within the wider Central-European context
-    preparation of the selected source material for a special online catalogue (database)
-    presentation of the research results in the special thematic issue of the interntaional musicological journal De musica disserenda
-    further popularization of the project results for wider audiences with an experimental music workshop, concert and lecture-recital
-    final meetings, summarization and finalization of the project


Project type
fundamental research project

opera arias
post-Tridentine plainchant
sacred music
music borrowings and reworkings
repertoire transformation

Research areas
Musicology H320