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date: 20 October 2019


  • Joseph Dyer


In antiquity and the Middle Ages ‘cantor’ (also psalmista) was the generic term for a singer of sacred or secular music (Greek, psaltēs; Slavonic, pievets). Unlike lectors, cantors were not normally listed among the lower clerical orders that might lead to diaconal or priestly ordination. Nevertheless, Isidore of Seville (c560–636) assigned the cantor a place between the porter and the lector (Etym. vii.12). The Council of Laodicaea (2nd half of 4th century) forbade any but a designated psaltēs to enter the ambo to sing, and although the council assigned the cantor a place in the ‘churchly order’, cantors were forbidden to wear the priestly stole (canons 15, 23, 24). According to a canon of the Fourth Council of Carthage (419) a priest could commission a cantor without the bishop’s approval, merely admonishing him to believe in his heart the words he sings (quod ore cantas, corde credas), a phrase repeated in later pontificals (...

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Plainsong and Medieval Music
Early Music History
Handwörterbuch der musikalischen Terminologie