Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Belgian Jesuit, composer and paleographer of Church music ; born at La Hamaide, near Charleroi, Belgium, 27 March, 1796; died at Paris, 27 February, 1855. His name is now chiefly remembered in connection with the restoration of Gregorian music, which he inaugurated and greatly promoted by his scientific researches and publications. At the age of fifteen, he became organist of Charleroi; later he went in a similar capacity to Dinan-sur-Meuse. In 1820 he was appointed choirmaster and organist of the Jesuit College of Saint-Acheul, Amiens. While exercising these functions he also studied the classics, and at the end of five years, in August, 1825, he entered the Society of Jesus. The thirty years of his Jesuit life were spent successively in the colleges of Saint-Acheul, Fribourg, Estavayer, Brugelette and Vaugirard. While occupied in teaching and directing music, he gave himself up more entirely to composition, with a view to enhance the splendour both of the religious ceremonies and the academic entertainments in those newly founded colleges. His powers of composition were necessarily checked by the limited ability of his performers, his orchestra, like his chorus, being entirely recruited from the ranks of the students; nevertheless his facility and his fluency were such that he provided new music for almost every occasion, producing in the course of time, besides his celebrated volumes of cantiques (French hymns or sacred songs), a vast number of motets, short oratorios, masses and secular cantatas, mostly for four-part chorus and orchestra. This music became very popular, especially in educational institutions . Late in life Lambillotte regretted having published those written improvisations without taking time to revise them. After his death a revision of the greater part of them was made and published (Paris, 1870) by his pupil, Father Camille de la Croix, S.J., and by Louis Dessane, organist of St. Sulpice, Paris, and afterwards of St. Francis Xavier New York.

The irreligious levity of some of Louis Lambillottes church music is condemned by his own writings in which he upheld the correct principles; that he did not always remember them in practice is owing no doubt to the utterly secular style prevalent in his day. He spent his best energies in seeking to restore to Gregorian music its original sweetness and melodious character. The decadence of the liturgical chant had been brought about by its faulty execution, and this in turn was due to the corrupt versions that had been in use for several centuries. As a practical guide towards a radical restoration the celebrated Benedictine Abbot Dom Guéranger, in his "Institutions Liturgiques", had laid down the principle that "when a large number of manuscripts of various epochs and from different countries agree in the version of a chant, it may be affirmed that those manuscripts undoubtedly give us the phrase of St. Gregory." Acting upon this principle, Lambillotte for many years gathered and compared all the documents that were to be found in the Jesuit houses. He next undertook to visit and re-visit almost every country of Europe, exploring libraries, secular as well as monastic, in search of the most ancient manuscripts and all treatises bearing on the history or the theory of the chant.

His success surpassed all his expectations when, in the library of the former Benedictine Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland, he found himself in presence of what seems to be the most authentic Gregorian manuscript in existence, i.e. a transcription from the original "Antiphonarium of St. Gregory" , brought from Rome to St. Gall by the monk Romanus in the closing years of the eighth century. The doubts of Fétis and Danjou regarding the identity of this document are proved by Lambillotte to be founded on mere conjectures. This volume of 131 pages of old parchment, the ivory binding of which depicts ancient Etruscan sculptures, contains all the Graduals, the Alleluias, and the Tracts of the whole year, in the ancient neumatic notation (a sort of musical stenography), together with the so-called Romanian signs, i.e. the special marks of time and expression added by Romanus. Lambillotte succeeded, not without serious difficulty, in obtaining permission to have a facsimile of this manuscript made by an expert copyist. This he published (Brussels, 1851 ), adding to it his own key to the neumatic notation, and a brief historical and critical account of the document. The appearance of the "Antiphonaire de St. Grégoire" made a deep impression on the learned world, and obtained for its author a Brief of congratulation and encouragement from Pope Pius IX, 1 May, 1852, and a "very honourable mention" from the French Institute, 12 Nov. of the same year. Lambillotte now undertook to embody the results of his investigations in a new and complete edition of the liturgical chant books. He lived to finish this extensive work, but not to see its publication. The Gradual and the Vesperal appeared 1855--1856 in both Gregorian and modern notations, under the editorship of Father Dufour, who had for years shared the labours of Lambillotte. He also published the "Esthétique", a volume of 418 pages, 8, setting forth Lambillottes views on the theory and the practice of Gregorian music. This treatise is the best testimony to the authors untiring zeal and critical ability.

Dom Pothier, the learned Benedictine, who has gone over the same ground, and who has just succeeded in completing the Gregorian restoration, says of the "Esthétique" that it is "filled with precious information" (Mélodies Grégoriennes, p. 145, note). At the same time he calls attention to some serious errors in translation and even in reading, on the subject of rhythm, which, he holds, have been conclusively refuted by Chanoine Gontier, in his "Méthode de Plain Chant ", pp. 96 etc. De Monter also speaks of grave errors and numerous assertions contrary to its own method, that have crept into the treatise. He attributes the introduction of the sharp into the Gregorian scales to the editors of this posthumous work (p. 207). Lambillottes "Gradual" and "Vesperal" were adopted by only a small number of French dioceses. The time had really not yet arrived for the practical application of theories, nor for the introduction of the full text of St. Gregory. This Lambillotte seems to have felt when he so far yielded to the temper of his generation as to make some of those very cuts and alterations which had been the chief reproach of former editions. Twenty-five years were still to elapse before the classical work in Gregorian music, the "Mélodies Grégoriennes" by Dom Pothier, O.S.B., could make its appearance (Tournay, 1880), and another twenty-five before the teaching of Dom Pothier was to receive official sanction and practical application through the Vatican edition, now in progress of publication. To Father Louis Lambillotte belongs the credit of having successfully inaugurated this important movement. By his writings the issue of Gregorian restoration was forced upon the world; by his researches and especially by the publication of the "Antiphonarium of St. Gregory", this arduous enterprise was placed on a solid, scientific basis. His contemporaries placed the following inscription on his tomb at Vaugirard:

Qui cecinit Jesum et Mariam, eripuitque tenebris
Gregorium, hunc superis insere, Christe, choris.

Receive, O Christ, into Thy choirs above him who sang the praises of Jesus and Mary, and rescued the music of Gregory from the darkness of ages.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 5:21-33
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.22 ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents] How blessed are all who fear Yahweh, who walk in his ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:18-21
18 He went on to say, 'What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 25th, 2016 Image

St. Daria
October 25: There is very little known about them. ... Read More