Posted in Part 1 - Listening ST, Uncategorized

Mass Music, Part 2

In this post I will list the Renaissance and post-Renaissance mass compositions I’ve listened to, which include some 20th century neo-Renaissance pieces. All the compositions I’ve listened to are linked to my post for Research Point 1.1 here.

Polyphonic Renaissance Mass Pieces

Josquin des PrezMissa Pange Lingua (c. 1515)

Josquin wrote around 20 cyclic masses, making a compendium of all techniques of mass composition from his time, while introducing several new ones. As listening to all of them would take up too much time, I decided to focus on one of them. While I wanted to take a look at the new technique of solmization syllables, such as in his famous Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, where the cantus firmus is based on the syllables of the Duke’s name, in the end, I decided to take a look at Missa Pange lingua. Beside the use of imitation, what I found the most interesting is the way the Gregorian hymn Pange lingua has been transformed under the paraphrasing hand of Josquin, with the work completely organized around its melodic material, each movement with the motto beginning, being a type of variation and fantasy on the hymn. I was really absorbed to comparing the original hymn to its modified treatment, especially in Agnus Dei – the movement I enjoyed the most. I believe Josquin really put the Gregorian melody into the contemporary context of his time. In this sense, this Ordinary mass cycle shows how polyphonic techniques at the time weren’t used just as showcases of preferred musical taste with a set of compositional rules, but also a tool by which musicians could engage with the now detached old gems of music, under the new consideration that is supplied with novel techniques. I truly enjoy this type of historical interactions when studying the stylistic approach to music.

Orlando di LassoMissa super ‘Osculetur me’ (1582)

Although Palestrina is known as the hallmark of the Renaissance polyphonic mass compositions, I decided to also check out Lasso’s output of mass music, especially since he wrote around 60 of them. What I found very interesting about this mass is its use of the double-choir antiphonal music, reminiscent of the Venetian style of polychoral techniques, perhaps even being its precursor. I really tried to have my ears spot the differences in sonority between passages for one choir and those with both. However, I found this very difficult to accomplish, probably because my ears, used to the modern music, aren’t sensitive enough to spot these as contrasts, but only as barely-noticeable dissimilarities.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Missa Papae Marcelli (c. 1562)

Palestrina, of course, made the biggest achievements in the field of mass composition, writing for all types of masses, influencing many future generations with his technical accomplishments. I have heard several of his mass pieces, and here decided to finally to listen to Missa Papae Marcelli, as it was historically significant when the Council of Trent raised the concerns over polyphonic music. The mass is based on the freely composed new material. What enjoyed the most was the contrast between the Credo and Gloria movements in the homophonic and declamatory style with block chords, and Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in the florid, imitative style. Used here for the first time, this is a feature that will appear in all Palestrina’s subsequent masses.

Post-Renaissance Mass

Claudio MonteverdiMissa in illo tempore (1610) and Gloria a 7 voci (1640/1641)

I chose these two mass compositions by Monterverdi to compare the two styles of music that have appeared in Baroque music – stile antico and stile moderno. Indeed, the difference is gigantic. Missa in illo tempore is truly reminiscent of Palestrina’s style, with much everything the same, only organs added and clearer cadences, while Gloria a 7 voci, sounds very baroque, with many instrumental flourishes and continuo. It is interesting how one genre of music, in this case, the mass, can survive both as the practice that is preserving the old traditions, and as the practice that looks into the future. Continue reading “Mass Music, Part 2”

Posted in Part 1 - Listening ST

Mass Music, Part 1

In this part of the listening log, I will list the mass compositions I’ve listened to. I’ve included different historical periods and styles, which I’ve divided into two posts with several sections. In this post I will list the Gregorian mass chants and early polyphonic mass music. All the compositions I’ve listened to are linked to my posts for Research Point 1.1 here.

Gregorian Mass Chants

As I have mentioned in one of the posts linked above, the Gradual and Alleluia compositions were considered the musical high points of the mass and their sequences. Beside these Proper items, I have also listened to some chants from the Ordinary of the mass.

Christus factus est and Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

What I’ve found particularly interesting is how these two graduals, both in 5th mode, demonstrate the technique of centonization, being a kind of extreme case by having almost identical melodies, with only differences arising from the accommodating of the different texts. As can be expected from the form of gradual, they are very florid and melismatic.

Alleluia Dominus in Sina and Spiritus Domini

Like the graduals, both these chants are very melismatic, especially the alleluia sections with its jubilus. Although I really enjoyed the graduals, I find alleluias to be my favorite chants from Mass proper.

Christus hunc Diem and Veni Sancte Spiritus

What I observed immediately is how distinct the sequences sound from the graduals and alleluias. These two are direct continuations from the two alleluias I’ve listed above. Whereas before I did the research, I probably wouldn’t have noticed any difference, now I can clearly distinguish the stylistic discrepancies that arise from the age of composition coming from disparate periods – sequences being the new Frankish additions to the graduals and alleluias from the old Gregorian repertoire. Indeed, the stylistic dissimilarities, especially in the movement of the melody and the treatment of the text, are very audible once you know what to listen for, and I am glad I now know how to approach these specific areas of Gregorian chant, in a sense, gaining stylistic consciousness, despite the fact that many would consider Gregorian chant to be one uniform style of music.

Kyrie VIII and Kyrie Rex Aeterno – I found it very engaging, comparatively listening to the original Kyrie and its trope. Interestingly, this is the only Kyrie that hasn’t been grouped in the Kyriale by its trope. The reason may perhaps be the late origin of the trope. It includes both the addition of text and the melodic changes, making the original Kyrie much more complex. 

Early Polyphonic Mass

I tried to include all the polyphonic mass forms that appeared until Renaissance, including organum and the first Ordinary cycles, however organum compositions in particular were really difficult to find.

Organum Rex caeli, Domine (9th century)

The earliest organum were based on the sequences for alleluias and graduals. This one in the oblique form is based on the sequence Rex caeli, Domine. What I enjoyed the most was the drone effect that is characteristic for the oblique organum.  Continue reading “Mass Music, Part 1”

Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass

Research Point 1.1, Part A3: Post-Renaissance Mass

This is the final section of the first part of the research, the task of which is to write about mass music in its historical, stylistic and other contexts. While the first post was dedicated to the early monophonic mass, and the second to the polyphonic mass, here, I will describe how the Renaissance mass affected the music of subsequent generations, tracing its legacy from Baroque to Modern period. While I followed the chronology rather strictly in the previous two posts, here the ordering will be very loose, due to my predominantly stylistically-driven considerations.

At the beginning 17th century, the music began transitioning from Renaissance to Baroque, and Italy took the lead as the place of both the preservation of the old and the creation of the new practices, with three distinct traditions of mass writing taking hold. (Atlas, 2006: 119) The preservation of old, contrapuntal a capella conventions associated with Palestrina was named stile antico, while the music composed in the new practice was named stile moderno, and this stylistic awareness paved way for the development of the concept of style consciousness, which became a defining premise of Baroque music. (Buelow, 2004: 41)

Stile antico, with its controlled treatment of dissonance, was primarily based in Rome (Fig. 1), the center of musical conservatism, continued by composers such as Bernardi, Draghi and Lotti. (Apel, 1969: 509) However, it still filtered Palestrina’s style through ‘seventeenth-century ears’, where the music now showcased a clearer sense of tonality and cadences, surface and harmonic rhythm. (Atlas, 2006: 119) Not only that, but as Arnold and Harper (2001) stated, although the mass compositions are frequently designated as a cappella, this does not imply unaccompanied performance, but rather, the organ frequently supported the voices, further emphasizing the harmonic elements of the composition.


Fig. 1. View of Rome with Saint Peter’s and the Castel Sant’Angelo Seen from Tiber (Marlow, c. 1721–67) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part A3: Post-Renaissance Mass”

Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass

Research Point 1.1, Part A2: Polyphonic Mass

This is section 2 of the first part of the research point, the brief of which is to write about the mass, its history and musical structure. In the previous section, I traced the early monophonic mass, while in this post I will give an outline of the mass and its form in the development of the polyphonic music.

Prior to c. 1250, the Gregorian chants that were being used as the basis for early polyphonic music were frequently the Mass Proper items (Apel, 1969: 508), especially the elaborate responsorial forms, which were considered the highest musical points of the mass. The earliest form of polyphony is the note-against-note organum – parallel and oblique, which I wrote about in this research for composing music 1 unit. The sequences of the responsorial Proper chants – Gradual and Alleluia (or Tract which is used instead of Alleluia during Lent and Requiem Mass) were the first to serve as the melodic material for organum. The sequences arose from the enthusiasm of Frankish composers for writing melismas, who tended towards replacing the repeat of the Alleluia and its jubilus (melisma on final a of the word) with an even more extended melisma called sequentia. The sequence evolved further, increasing in size, sometimes ten times as long as Alleluia and its jubilus, thus becoming more than a simple extension of the Alleluia melisma. With the addition of text, called prosa, the sequence was established as a separate musical form, whose syllabic structure (due to the added text, but ironic in a sense, since it developed from melismas) and clear melodic phrasing allowed for polyphonic treatment. Next to Alleluia, it was also placed after the Gradual. This is not the least surprising, since the sequence became a unique musical form of the Franks that could finally rival the expressiveness and artistry of the melismatic Graduals of the old Gregorian composers. (Crocker, 1986: 34-35)

For the early organum forms based on the sequences, the polyphony meant singing the same melody, only 4th or 5th below. However, by the 11th century, not only was the organal voice now above the main melody, but the parallel and oblique motions combined with the new contrary motion in the free organum, and the melody now differed between the voices. As the polyphony was developing, largely in the Aquitanian region, the main drive at the time were the poetic experimentations of the versus – the rhyming, scanning, strophic chants of the 1000s, which provided polyphony their ingratiating melodies, such as at St. Martial (Fig. 1). (Crocker, 1986: 63)

Fig. 1. Illustrations of Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges, left (1594) and right (1901) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part A2: Polyphonic Mass”

Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass, Uncategorized

Research Point 1.1, Part A1: Early Monophonic Mass

The first part of this research point is learning more about the mass, its history and musical structure. It is a very exciting topic for me, since I could link in my old research posts from composing music 1 unit, which allowed me to go over this extensive subject in much detail. As such, due to the depth of my research, I will divide this point into several posts. In this section, I will talk about the early monophonic mass, with a particular focus on the Gregorian chant.

Mass is the celebration and commemoration of the Last Supper, also called Eucharist. The name is derived from the Latin words ‘Ite, missa est’, translated as ‘Depart, the congregation is dismissed’, which appears at the end of the service as the dismissal of the assembly. However, there are some debates over the semantics of this vesicle and whether it simply designates the dismissal of the congregation or indicates a deeper meaning, as Pope Benedict XVI and the catechism referred to it in connection to the word missio – the mission. (Suerte Felipe, 2010: 90-93) In this regard, the vesicle is understood as the missionary nature of Christianity, denoting that the faithful are sent to put into practice what they have learned, and use the graces they have received during the liturgy in their daily lives.

Whichever the case, the origins of the mass is in the evening ceremonial meals, called agape or love feast. (Fig. 1) I wrote about this topic in a research for composing music 1 unit here. As I have indicated there, this type of meal was usually accompanied by singing, however, not only related to the Jewish ceremonial meals, but was also prevalent in the overall cultural context of the time, in other words, present in other religious settings, such as pagan cults. Due to some abuses described by Paul at Corinth, however, the Eucharist divorced from the evening meal, becoming a Sunday morning celebration.


Fig. 1. Fresco of Agape feast (2006) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part A1: Early Monophonic Mass”

Posted in Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint

Exercise 1.5

The final exercise of Project 3 is about completing two examples given from the Renaissance repertoire in imitative counterpoint. The two examples are adapted so that the exact imitation of the given voice will lead to harmony and texture falling into place. I will not give any analysis, since this exercise is quite straight-forward.

Here is my solution for example 1 from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, the beginning of Sanctus movement:

exercise 1.5 a.png

Finally, here my solution for example 2, also from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, this time the opening of Benedictus movement:

exercise 1.5 b.png

In conclusion, I really enjoyed all the exercises for Project 3, which brought me a great refreshment of my old knowledge about the counterpoint species devised by Fux. I should mention that it is this exercise that I found particularly interesting, since the examples are based on the actual pieces from the repertoire, which I never had the experience of working with before, but would only write counterpoint for the melodies written by my teachers for the purpose of practicing. Finally, take a look at my assignment solutions and the listening log, where I list the mass music I’ve listened to.

Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass, Uncategorized

Research Point 1.1, Part B: Music and Religion

The second part of this research point is to write a brief article of around 500 words (although I went a bit above this threshold, almost 800 words), regarding the connection between music and religion, interlacing my personal position with the material I’ve discovered. Below is my short essay on the topic.

Music and Religion: The Layered Entanglement

From the historical perspective, although far from the contemporary understanding, in a loose manner, the interplays between music and religion may be traced all the way back to the prehistory, when, as Boivin (2004: 48) points out, ‘percussion and/or other sounds contributed to the creation of an appropriate spiritual or emotional state for viewing or creation of rock art in ritual context.’ In a peculiar way, despite the scarce information that is available regarding the music from this period, the rock art might represent the first musical artefacts that visually depict how early the humanity recognized the value of acoustics and sound-production for the mystical act of worship. Along these lines, the primitive societies today retained the force of music as a type of tone-magic in their percussive shamanistic rituals, often accompanied by trance.

The above contrasts the modern frame of reference, where music is seen to interact with religion, now in the institutionalized settings, in the sense of aiding wakeful and calm meditative states of devotion. This association can be observed in many organized religions across the world, and the scholars usually focus on the sacred music from one of the traditions as the area of their investigation, for example, trying to discover how the vocal music became the dominant form in certain religious landscapes, and how some particular sounds became emblematic of a certain tradition, such as om
in Hinduism, throat-singing in Buddhism, certain vocalizations in Islam, shofar in Judaism, and church organ and bell in Christianity. (Hackett, 2012: 17) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part B: Music and Religion”

Posted in Woodwind Repertoire

Clarinet pieces

This is a list of clarinet pieces I’ve listened to, including some of my thoughts on each composition. While I focused on the unaccompanied and accompanied solo works, I also included interesting ensemble and orchestral compositions when these contain interesting clarinet sections.

Unaccompanied Solo Clarinet

Bela Kovacs – Hommages (1994)

This is a set of etudes dedicated to and written in style of nine composers: Bach, Paganini, Weber, Debussy, De Falla, Strauss, Bartok, Kodaly and Khatchaturian.

I was really amazed by these pieces. Firstly, I think the series proves how with ‘sufficient knowledge of styles, coupled with a sense of humor and a certain amount of fantasy’ (Kovacs, 1994) incredible music can be composed. This is something that I hope to achieve one day with my own pieces, and hence was very inspired by. Besides being a great introduction to different composers and styles, I was also pleasantly surprised by how the clarinet was made to sound like other instruments, having a kind of treatment that is specific for the instruments it imitates. Being a violinist, I first noticed this in Hommage a Paganini. The moderato section in 6/8 seems as if the clarinet is playing the spiccato or other jumping bows that go from G to E string, with even the chord crochet notes that sound as if played across the strings, which is idiomatic for violin. In the allegro molto section in 2/4, it is contrasted with the clarinet that sounds as if it is playing the rapid notes on long bows, with even some coloring changes that make it sound as if some sections are played on the darker, lower strings, while other on brighter, higher strings. Playing all these things that are idiomatic for violin, to me the clarinet almost sounded completely like a violin. Continue reading “Clarinet pieces”

Posted in For Project 14

Project 14 Research 2: Wagner’s Prelude to Das Rheingold – Drones in Western Music and Pastorale; the Ethereal Link between Music and Biology

I was quite intrigued by the research point of Project 14, which mentions Wagner’s Prelude to Das Rheingold and its sustaining gradation centered around one tone – Eb, and its harmony – Eb major, for 136 bars, which is approximately 4 minutes long. Erickson (1975: 94) calls it ‘the only well-known drone piece in the concert repertory’, being “long enough for listeners to feel the absence of root movement or chord progression.”

Indeed, beside the Prelude to Das Rheingold, Erickson (1975: 95) only lists two contemporary pieces as the examples of the Western experimentation with the drone – Rabe’s Was??, an electronical composition written around 1968, and Rush’s Hard Music, composed around 1970 for three amplified pianos. However, reading more about Wagner’s prelude, Deathridge (2008: 50) argues that the ‘powerfully suggestive musical idea’ has roots in the instrumental pastorale of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, adopting the devices of the genre – the drone bass, the lilting 6/8 meter, triadic harmony, which Wagner stretched out into ‘a ritualistic, static musical allegory’. This made me further investigate the genre of pastorale.  Continue reading “Project 14 Research 2: Wagner’s Prelude to Das Rheingold – Drones in Western Music and Pastorale; the Ethereal Link between Music and Biology”


The Project 13 research point asks to listen to some examples of cadenzas written by well-known composers. Without going back to the etymology of the word cadenza and the way it was used in its earliest historical appearances, which is quite a complicated subject; I will start with just a brief introduction of the definition of cadenza as it appeared from the 18th century onwards.

In this sense, cadenza is an improvised virtuosic solo passage occupying the penultimate position in the musical structure, preceding the final tutti of a concerto movement or operatic aria. (Badura-Skoda: 2001) Tradionally, it was placed between the tonic six-four chord, marked with a fermata, and the dominant chord of the final cadence. (Apel, 1969: 120) Commonly, there is a temporary dissolution and suspension of the meter with free rhythmic style which gives the performer an opportunity to showcase the technical virtuosity. The accompanying orchestra usually waits for a long trill where the performer indicates to be rejoined in the final chords. (Kennedy: 116)

Unfortunately, as the course material mentions, very few soloists would dare to improvise a cadenza today. This is the result of the practice of written-out cadenzas expanding more and more as the nineteenth century progressed, and Hummel for example commented that the cadenza was the thing of the past, probably referring to the improvisatory cadenza, which was going out of fashion. (Jackson, 2005: 63) Although, I would argue that despite the pre-composed form, some improvisatory characteristics and feeling still remain within cadezas. Nonetheless, this seemingly improvisatory nature mostly stems from the improvisatory form of the pre-written material of the composer, leaving only the freedom of performance of this musical material to the performer.

I have divided the cadenzas I’ve listen to into two listening log posts – one for vocal and the other for instrumental cadenzas. Click the links to access them.


Apel, W., ed. (1969) Harvard Dictionary of Music. (2nd ed.) Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Badura-Skoda, E. (2001) ‘Cadenza.’ In Grove Music Online. Revised by Jones, A., & Drabkin, W. At: (Accessed on 20th Nov 2017)

Kennedy, M., ed. (2004) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. (4th ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Jackson, R. (2005) Performance Practice: A Dictionary-Guide for Musicians. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group