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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”