Hyperion Records

Missa Si bona suscepimus
A sign of the seriousness with which Morales approached the composition of his six-voice Missa Si bona suscepimus is the way it is introduced in the source—the Missarum Liber Primus, published in Rome in 1544 under his direct supervision. Before the first stave of music is a woodcut of the Prophet Job naked, with the motto spread around him ‘The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away’. This is a quotation from Job (1:21) which Verdelot included in his motet Si bona suscepimus, which Morales in turn very deliberately chose as his parody model. Verdelot’s text continues from Job in this despairing state of mind, including the remark (Job 2:10): ‘If we have received blessings from the hand of the Lord, why then should we not endure misfortune?’ Obviously something in these challenging words and in Verdelot’s sparse setting of them appealed strongly to Morales, who anyway considered Mass composition to be the most important aspect of all his work. With this material as his starting-point he produced his most substantial and arguably his most heart-felt composition.

In purely musical terms Philippe Verdelot’s Si bona suscepimus (published in 1526) was an ideal composition to parody, with its transparent melodic lines, clearly delineated sections and austere textures. The formal beauty of it is increased by a hidden repeat in the music, so that, although the phrases run continuously, the words ‘the Lord has given, the Lord has taken away’ are used as a refrain, giving the overall shape of ABCB (this incidentally was Verdelot’s repeat, not Job’s). Morales therefore had at his disposal a wealth of instantly recognisable musical motifs, arranged into three broad groupings, in a texture which gave plenty of scope for contrapuntal elaboration. He duly increased the number of voice-parts from five to six, adding a second soprano part, whilst being careful to borrow Verdelot’s motifs from within their pre-existing sections, and not mixing them up.

This led Morales to concentrate on filling out Verdelot’s spare and sombre score, intensifying the imitation and extending the polyphonic argument in ways which can be easily heard. Some of these extensions build into passages of exceptional power—like the ‘Amen’ to the Creed; others, like the highly elaborated Agnus Dei, acquire a tenderness which points straight to Morales’s Spanish upbringing. The very opening of the first movement, the first Kyrie, shows how resourcefully he borrowed from, filled and enlarged his model—all the notes of the opening of the Verdelot are there, but buried in a far richer and more complex texture. It is as if an austere line-drawing of the Virgin and Child has been taken as the centrepiece of a large and intensely coloured painting of the Holy Family with Saints in glory.

from notes by Peter Phillips © 2000

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

   English   Français   Deutsch