Modest in scale and with a short Kyrie designed for alternatim performance with chant, this Missa Sine nomine
nonetheless shares much of the melodic, rhythmic and contrapuntal idiom of Frye’s authenticated Masses, such as Summe trinitati
, that are conceived on a grander scale. A similarly alternatim Kyrie ascribed to Frye, and based, as discovered by Brian Trowell, on the same composer’s song So ys emprentid
, survives in a fragmentary state in the Lucca Choirbook. Stylistically related in its general rhythmic and melodic profile to Frye’s other ascribed Masses as well as to the anonymous cycle, the surviving discantus of the Lucca Kyrie bears a more direct relation to the Kyrie of the Brussels anonymous Mass: the corresponding section openings of the two pieces are strikingly similar, while the two Christe II settings trace substantially the same melodic contour throughout. Further strong melodic relationships link the Lucca Kyrie to other parts of the Brussels anonymous Mass, as can be seen for example by comparing Kyrie I of Lucca with Agnus Dei I of Brussels. Finally, the Brussels anonymous Mass has a direct stylistic counterpart, as Gareth Curtis and Rob Wegman had earlier noted, in another authenticated work by Frye: his setting of the Prose for St Nicholas, Sospitati dedit
. Mass and Prose setting share the characteristic features of English discant: a simple, rhythmically-integrated style and voice parts in almost entirely distinct ranges, with the tenor as the lowest voice. In fact Sospitati dedit
recalls the Brussels Mass from its very beginning: its opening motif, though admittedly echoed in many pieces from this period, is almost exactly the same as the figure which begins each movement of the Mass.
The concision and economy of the Missa Sine nomine, with its lucid texture and brisk text setting, create an arresting impression from bar 1. Careful listening, though, entices the ear increasingly into a brittle sound world in which brief and highly sculpted melodic ideas are passed from one voice to another in what strikes us as something akin to chamber music. Propelled forward by a high density of musical events, the Mass nonetheless articulates a wide range of moods with the most economic use of material. Compare, for example, the conclusion of the Credo, its sense of acceleration and excitement generated by brief rests, syncopation and rhythmic disparity between the parts, with the serenity and expansiveness, which, at the opening of the following Sanctus, is shaped from the basic ingredients of melodic repetitiveness and rhythmic simplicity.
from notes by Andrew Kirkman © 2000