Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass, Uncategorized

Exercise 1.1

This exercise is about listening to Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis and noting different occurrences listed by the brief within the score of the piece.

Below are the photos of the score I marked.



The main thing I found problematic with this exercise is that all the brief points appear often in Kyrie, being characteristic of Palestrina’s style in general. The first point already reflects this. It is about annotating a place where the entry of each vocal part is in imitation. As can be seen from the marked score, each section of Kyrie starts with imitation – purple lines in the photos. While the first (bb. 1-19) and second (bb. 20-37) sections consist of imitation of the theme that begins with longer note values (breve and semibreve), thus making the imitative polyphony longer; in the third (bb. 38-58), the note values are slightly shorter (semibreve and minims) so that the entrance of the voices in imitation is more successive and closer. Another thing that can be noticed is that in the first and second sections, the imitation of the main theme continues to be recognizable until the end, while in the final section, the theme only appears in its original form at the beginning. There are also two interesting places in section one and two, where a certain part of the theme is developed with diminution (b. 10) and augmentation (b. 22).

Next in the brief is the polyphonic texture. This was quite hard to set apart in the score, since the whole piece itself can be described as polyphonic and imitative. However, I have to mention that there are a few places where two voices would move together at the same time, in either opposite or parallel directions – rather homophonic in this sense. I marked these by the orange lines. An example of what I just described is in bb. 7-9, when the cantus and altus are moving in parallel thirds. Although there is imitation here, which is usually known in relation to the polyphonic texture, it is followed by a kind of homophonic treatment. I found these instances to be very interesting since I haven’t noticed them before, although I thought I was well acquainted with Palestrina’s style prior to this unit. Back to the more polyphonic moments, I managed to designate them by the brown dashed lines. I should mention that overall, the final section is the most polyphonic, since there are no aforementioned homophonic bits.

The third point is about the melody lines moving smoothly, the fourth about the rise and fall of parts creating a sense of direction, and the fifth is about the ranges of individual voice parts lying within an octave. I didn’t signify any of these within the score, for the reason that they indeed occur throughout Kyrie. Firstly, the stepwise movement with occasional leaps that often turn back nearby can be seen in every theme. In this sense, it is much easier to notice the instances where these don’t happen – for example in bb. 6-7, there is a successive jumps of 4ths, C-F followed directly by E-A in altus, as well as the larger leaps, such as the octave B-B for altus in b. 11 and the octave C-C in b. 14 sang by bassus. Secondly, rises and falls happen in a very balanced way in Palestrina’s pieces and Kyrie is no exception to this. Whether the voices move in parallel or opposite directions, there is always an evenly-distributed wave-like melodic motion. Finally, throughout the piece the voice parts rarely go beyond an octave and the range is mostly even.

The final point of the exercise is about the text and the overlapping of the words. Again, this is something that keeps happening thorough the piece, but I decided to mark two such occurrences with the blue highlighter (in section one and section three). Once again, a lot easier to spot are the contrasting instances when the words occur at the same time. I designated these with the yellow highlighter. Beside bb. 14-16, there is an interesting moment at the very end of Kyrie, which sounds like a homophonic coda. The three parts move in together in a harmonic way, with the words pronounced at the same time.

In conclusion, this exercise was quite challenging for me, since every comment in the brief in a way delineated Palestrina’s overall style. And since Kyrie is quite emblematic of the devices he used in sacred music, every point repeated more than once in the score. As it was unclear to me which criteria I should use in choosing the occurrences, I decided to mark them all for some points and not mark the others, then explaining each comment. Nonetheless, trying to find the instances when the exercise notes appear did also help me notice the times when they don’t – the few tiny moments when the composition diverges from the usual style of the composer. These appearances were more intriguing and fascinating to me, as they demonstrate that what characterizes a certain composer’s style isn’t necessarily an absolute rule and that the music will always contain some exceptions in order to express itself. Lastly, I absolutely enjoyed listening to Kyrie, considering that I’ve been very fond of Palestrina ever since I studied polyphony and counterpoint in my prior musical education several years ago. Overall, this was a very interesting exercise.

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