Missa Ad coenam Agni
was published in Palestrina’s first book of Mass settings, issued in 1554 by the Dorico firm of Rome. The other settings in this book (Ecce sacerdos magnus
, O regem caeli
, Virtute magna
, and Gabriel Archangelus
) are all in four parts, but this Mass derives a fifth voice canonically. The canonic interval varies between the lower and upper fifth, and is stated at several temporal distances, most frequently two or three breves. As is customary, several movements feature reduced scoring, with the canonic voice dropping out in most cases, permitting greater compositional freedom. The ‘Christe eleison’ section is one example in four voices without the canon, as is the ‘Crucifixus’. In the Sanctus the ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ is a trio of lower voices, while the Benedictus dispenses with the canonic altus and the bassus while doubling the tenor for a four-voice texture in the higher register. Finally the second Agnus expands to six voices through the addition of a bassus secundus, bringing the Mass to a sumptuous conclusion. Also noteworthy are the complex mensurations of the two ‘Osanna’ sections: the first is in tempus perfectum diminutum, notated as ‘cut circle 3’ (the 3 is strictly speaking redundant since the circle itself denotes perfection or triple time): this translates into modern notation as 6/4 time. The second ‘Osanna’ is in tempus perfectum cum prolatione maiori, or ‘circle dot’ mensuration, meaning that both breve and semibreve are perfect and consequently the effect is similar to 9/8 or 9/4 time. Both of these notational devices, but especially the second, are highly archaic for the 1550s, and perhaps suggest a young composer demonstrating his mastery of the technicalities of music theory. Missa Ad coenam Agni
is no dry compositional exercise, however: its graceful vocal lines and often lush harmony lend it an expressive power that is on a level with Palestrina’s best-known works.
The Mass is based on a plainsong Hymn dating probably from the seventh century.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2013