Compared to the anonymous Mass, the Missa Summe trinitati
unfolds in a series of musical events that is at once more leisurely and more complex. Resistant to easy comprehension, Frye’s texture becomes, on closer listening, a source of endless fascination. The stylistic consistency of his idiom is entirely belied by the sense of freedom and invention that he brings to bear on it: to become acquainted with the style of the Missa Summe trinitati
is to be gradually absorbed into a perpetual interplay of melodic and rhythmic ideas held in check by a subtle sense of timing. Repetition, sometimes of melodic motifs, but much more typically of brief rhythmic patterns, plays a major role in Frye’s articulation of musical space, at one and the same time slowing down the pace of musical events and drawing attention to key moments. Such repetitions emerge increasingly from the texture with each hearing, drawing attention to themselves in different ways by being melodically exact or varied, flowing with or against the prevailing metre, appearing in one voice or several, and so on. Even the most basic idea can, in Frye’s hands, lend his music a sense of cohesion and structural poise out of all proportion to its simplicity. The Credo Summe trinitati
provides a classic example: a short-long repeated-note motif first heard in the tenor in the second bar is immediately repeated in the top line and thereafter pervades the whole movement. Far from becoming tedious, though, this simple motif is treated with the utmost taste and restraint, by turn saturating the texture, occurring in isolation and disappearing altogether. In fact repeated notes play a major role in the structure and pacing of the entire cycle: the repeated d’s of the cantus firmus, recurring at regular intervals in each movement, become an aural ‘tag’ which the composer appears to exploit to a greater or lesser extent depending on the degree of emphasis required at any given moment.
from notes by Andrew Kirkman © 2000