Musical Form – Renaissance Era: Mass

The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy (principally that of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism) to music. Most Masses are settings of the liturgy in Latin, the liturgical sacred language of the Catholic Church’s Roman liturgy, but there are a significant number written in the languages of non-Catholic countries where vernacular worship has long been the norm. For example, there are many Masses (often called “Communion Services”) written in English for the Church of England. Musical Masses take their name from the Catholic liturgy called “the Mass” as well.

Masses can be a cappella, that is, without an independent accompaniment, or they can be accompanied by instrumental obbligatos up to and including a full orchestra. Many Masses, especially later ones, were never intended to be performed during the celebration of an actual mass.

Form of the Mass



Generally, for a composition to be a full Mass, it must contain the following sections, which together constitute the ordinary of the Eucharist:

I. Kyrie



The Kyrie is the first movement of a setting of the Ordinary of the Mass:

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ελέησον. Χριστέ ελέησον. Κύριε ελέησον)
Lord have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.


This is from the ancient (Biblical New Testament) Greek language, unlike the rest of the mass which is Latin.

Kyrie movements often have a structure that reflects the concision and symmetry of the text. Many have a ternary (ABA) form, where the two appearances of the phrase “Kyrie eleison” consist of identical or closely related material and frame a contrasting “Christe eleison” section. Or AAABBBCCC’ form is also found later on. Famously, Mozart sets the “Kyrie” and “Christe” texts in his Requiem Mass as the two subjects of a double fugue.

II. Gloria



The Gloria is a celebratory passage praising God and Christ:

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. We praise You, we bless You, we adore You, we glorify You, we give thanks
propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis [coelestis], Deus Pater omnipotens.
to You for Your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God the Father.
Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi,
Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who taketh away the sins of the world,
miserere nobis; qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.
Have mercy on us; You who take away the sins of the world, hear our prayers. Who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.


For You are the only Holy One, the only Lord, the only Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father, Amen.


In Mass settings (normally in English) composed for the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer liturgy, the Gloria is commonly the last movement, because it occurs in this position in the text of the service. In Order One of the newer Common Worship liturgy, however, it is restored to its earlier season.

III. Credo



The Credo, a setting of the Nicene Creed, is the longest text of a sung Mass:

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty
factorem cœli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible:


Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum,
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all time;
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God;
genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
per quem omnia facta sunt.
by Whom all things were made;
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de cœlis.
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
and was made flesh by the Holy Ghost out of the Virgin Mary, and was made man:
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est,
He was also crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried:
et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
And on the third day rose again according to the Scriptures:
et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
And ascended into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father:
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos,
And He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead:
cuius regni non erit finis;
Of His Kingdom there shall be no end;


Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem,
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur:
Who, with the Father and the Son, is similarly adored and glorified,
qui locutus est per prophetas.
Who has spoken through the Prophets.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
And I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
And I expect the Resurrection of the Dead:
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And the Life of the world to come. Amen.


Since the Second Vatican Council composers have mostly ignored writing melodies for the Credo in vernacular languages. Today, the Creed is usually recited by the congregation.

Organizers of international celebrations, such as World Youth Day, have been encouraged by Rome to familiarize congregants in the Latin chants for the Our Father and the Credo, specifically Credo III (17th century, Fifth Mode) from the Missa de Angelis (the Mass of the Angels). The purpose of singing these two texts in Latin is to engender a sense of unity in the faithful, all of whom thus sing the prayer of Jesus and the shared belief of the universal Church in the same language.

IV. Sanctus



The Sanctus is a doxology praising the Trinity:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth; pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts; Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in excelsis
Hosanna in the highest.


A variant exists in Lutheran settings of the Sanctus. While most hymnal settings keep the second person pronoun, other settings change the second person pronoun to the third person. This is most notable in J.S. Bach‘s Mass in B minor, where the text reads gloria ejus (“His glory”). Martin Luther‘s chorale Isaiah, Mighty in Days of Old, and Felix Mendelssohn‘s setting of the Heilig! (German Sanctus) from his Deutsche Liturgie also use the third person.

V. Benedictus



The Benedictus is a continuation of the Sanctus:

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord


Hosanna in excelsis is repeated after the Benedictus section, often with musical material identical to that used after the Sanctus, or very closely related.

In Gregorian chant the Sanctus (with Benedictus) was sung whole at its place in the mass. However, as composers produced more embellished settings of the Sanctus text, the music often would go on so long that it would run into the consecration of the bread and wine. This was considered the most important part of the Mass, so composers began to stop the Sanctus halfway through to allow this to happen, and then continue it after the consecration is finished. This practice was forbidden for a period in the 20th century.

VI. Agnus Dei



The Agnus Dei is a setting of the “Lamb of God” litany:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
miserere nobis.
have mercy upon us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
miserere nobis.
have mercy upon us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
dona nobis pacem.
grant us peace.


In a Requiem Mass, the words “miserere nobis” are replaced by “dona eis requiem” (grant them rest), while “dona nobis pacem” is replaced by “dona eis requiem sempiternam” (grant them eternal rest).

Other sections



Following the distribution of the Sacrament, it is customary in most Lutheran churches to sing the Nunc Dimittis.

In a liturgical Mass, there are other sections that may be sung, often in Gregorian chant. These sections, the “Proper” of the Mass, change with the day and season according to the Church calendar, or according to the special circumstances of the Mass. The Proper of the Mass is usually not set to music in a Mass itself, except in the case of a Requiem Mass, but may be the subject of motets or other musical compositions. The sections of the Proper of the Mass include the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract (depending on the time of year), Offertory and Communion.

Missa brevis (short mass)



Main article: Missa brevis


In addition, a number of composers wrote shorter masses, Missae breves, containing some, if not all, of the same texts as “standard” masses, but shorter in duration. Often, the Gloria or Credo movements, which have the longest texts of the standard mass movements, are omitted.

Cyclic mass



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


In Renaissance music, the cyclic mass was a setting of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass, in which each of the movements – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei – shared a common musical theme, commonly a cantus firmus, thus making it a unified whole. The cyclic mass was the first multi-movement form in western music to be subject to a single organizing principle.

The period of composition of cyclic masses was from about 1430 until around 1600, although some composers, especially in conservative musical centers, wrote them after that date. Types of cyclic masses include the “motto” mass (or “head-motif” mass), cantus-firmus mass, paraphrase mass, parody mass, as well as masses based on combinations of these techniques.

Parody mass



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A parody mass is a musical setting of the mass, typically from the 16th century, that uses multiple voices of another pre-existing piece of music, such as a fragment of a motet or a secular chanson, as part of its melodic material. It is distinguished from the two other most prominent types of mass composition during the Renaissance, the cantus firmus and the paraphrase mass. “Parody” often has nothing to do with humor, as in the modern sense of the word; while in some cases bawdy secular songs were indeed used in composition of masses, equally often non-liturgical sacred music such as motets formed the basis for parody masses. Instead of calling it a “parody mass”, the term “Imitation mass” has been suggested as being both more precise and closer to the original usage, since the term “parody” is based on a misreading of a late 16th-century text.[1]

The parody mass was a very popular model during the Renaissance: Palestrina alone wrote some 50-odd examples, and by the first half of the 16th century this style was the dominant form. The Council of Trent, in a document dated September 10, 1562, banned the use of secular material, “…let nothing profane be intermingled … banish from church all music which contains, whether in the singing or the organ playing, things that are lascivious or impure.”[2] However the reforms were most carefully followed only in Italy; in France, a change in taste had already brought about many of the wishes of the members of the Council, and in Germany they were largely ignored.

In its usual definition, the term parody mass only applies to masses where a polyphonic fragment is used. Masses incorporating only one voice of the polyphonic source, treated not as a cantus firmus but elaborated and moving between different parts, are known as paraphrase masses.

Parody techniques include adding or removing voices from the original piece, adding fragments of new material, or only using the fragment at the beginning of every part of the mass. In his colossal 22-volume El melopeo y maestro of 1613, Italian music theorist Pietro Cerone gave some general guidelines for writing a parody mass: each of the main sections of the mass should start with the beginning of the source; the interior section of the Kyrie should use a secondary motive; and some portions, for example the second and third Agnus Dei, should not be chained to the model but be freely composed. He also recommended using as many subsidiary musical ideas from the model as possible.[3]

Some examples of early parody masses include the Missa Malheur me bat, Missa Mater Patris, and Missa Fortuna desperata of Josquin des Prez, and the Missa de Dringhs by Antoine Brumel. By the middle of the 16th century, a high percentage of all masses composed used the parody technique.

Paraphrase mass





Manuscript showing the opening Kyrie of the Missa de Beata Virgine, a late work by Josquin des Prez, and a paraphrase mass. Each of the voices sings a version of the source plainchant, elaborated or “paraphrased”.


A paraphrase mass is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass, using as its basis an elaborated version of a cantus firmus, typically chosen from plainsong or some other sacred source. It was a common means of mass composition from the late 15th century until the end of the 16th century, during the Renaissance period in music history, and was most frequently used by composers in the parts of western Europe which remained under the direct control of the Roman Catholic Church. It is distinguished from the other types of mass composition, including cantus-firmus, parody, canon, soggetto cavato, free composition, and mixtures of these techniques.

 
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