Guerrero published twenty-three sets of hymn verses intended for alternation with the simple chant melodies. Some of these match plainchant, some go with mensural versions of traditional tunes, and yet others are upon new tunes (originating in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) that were exclusively Iberian and found almost always in mensural notation, rarely in plain form. The Spanish Pange lingua
is one of these; it appears in hundreds of printed and manuscript books for some four hundred years or more. It was set in polyphonic guise from the late 1400s and became a favourite for organ versets. Apart from its function as an Office Hymn on the Feast of Corpus Christi, it was widely used in processions of the Blessed Sacrament.
Guerrero’s setting slows the melody so that it becomes a structural girder, still clearly heard, its steady pace being set off by the rapid counterpoint of the accompanying voices. The tune is passed from treble to tenor, from the top of the music eventually to the bottom in verse 4. By setting the fifth verse, breaking the alternation, Guerrero sticks to an old Spanish custom of making a specially solemn version of ‘Tantum ergo sacramentum’. Here the music changes pace in duple rather than triple time, though Guerrero still contrives, at first, to give the tune its long–short–long values.
from notes by Bruno Turner © 1999