The Missa De Beata Maria Virgine
was published first by Angelo Gardano in Venice in 1576 and later by his brother, Alessandro Gardane, in Rome in 1583. It is a paraphrase Mass based on the twelfth-century Gregorian plainsong Mass IX, ‘Cum iubilo’ (designated as being for Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and Credo I. Much use of melodic material from the plainsong is made in Victoria’s setting but the individual movements of the plainsong Mass are not all in the same mode and clef combination, which means that, unless appropriate transpositions are made, it would not be possible to perform all the music with the same combination of voices. As Dr John Milsom has shown (in a most illuminating paper, ‘Clef and transposition: the evidence of sixteenth-century non-cyclic Masses’, which he read to the Early Music Centre Conference on ‘Pitch in Renaissance and Baroque music’ in 1981), in certain types of Masses which have been termed ‘non-cyclic’—i.e. Masses which are liturgically continuous but structurally diverse, mainly the Missa pro defunctis
and the Missa De Beata Maria Virgine
—the composer bases the various movements of the Mass on different plainsong melodies, often in different modes, which in turn leads to changes of tonal centre, written pitch and clefs between the movements. In such Masses the written pitch of the music is largely influenced by the plainsong cantus firmus, the tessitura and choice of clef for each movement being effectively determined by the mode, ambitus and final of its plainsong basis. In general, composers evidently preferred to leave the cantus firmus untransposed, writing their polyphony around it at whatever pitch that required and notating this in the most convenient clef.
Victoria follows this pattern and in the original manuscripts of the Mass the Kyrie is in mode 1, transposed up a fourth so that its final is on G; the Gloria is in mode 7, also with its final on G; the Credo is in mode 4 with a final on E; and the Sanctus, Benedictus and both settings of the Agnus Dei are in mode 5 with a final on F. Each movement of the Mass is written in chiavette—i.e. in a combination of high clefs—except the Credo, which is in a low clef combination.
from notes by Jon Dixon © 2011