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Missa Nigra sum

Palestrina’s Missa Nigra sum (published in 1590, but written many years earlier) follows its model unusually closely. Whereas with the Missa Benedicta es Palestrina adapts Josquin’s music very noticeably, in this case he feels himself unable to add very much. Most of the movements start with the opening of the motet which thus becomes a head-motif. The ‘Hosanna’ takes a point which occurs almost incidentally in the motet and turns it into an impressively spacious piece of counterpoint. The falling scale, which Lhéritier probably took from the chant, is put to a wide variety of different uses by Palestrina; it is interesting to see what can be made of so simple a phrase. At ‘descendit de caelis’ in the Credo it contributes to some exciting word-painting. At ‘miserere nobis’ in the Gloria the phrase takes on a much more supplicatory air. At ‘dona nobis pacem’ it carries the Mass to a peaceful conclusion. The motif of the falling and rising third is also used consistently throughout the work. This Mass has no musical connection with Palestrina’s own motet Nigra sum.

from notes by Peter Phillips © 1983

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