Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 5: Agnus Dei
As with much of his music, Brumel’s Mass is notable for its fidelity to the plainsong, which suffuses the polyphonic texture throughout. What makes this piece unique, however, and characteristic of Brumel, is his manner of using the voices at times almost percussively, so that rhythm becomes the defining element of the music. The whirling Amen to the Gloria and the rapid stretto at ‘gloria tua’ in the Sanctus are the two most obvious instances of this, but even in the Kyrie the final sequential passage and the brief triple-time section in just the altus voice (0'34") illustrate how lively the musical texture can become in his hands.
The Kyrie makes use of three different mensurations: tempus imperfectum, tempus imperfectum diminutum, and tempus perfectum, which become equivalent to 4/4, 2/2, and 3/2 in modern notation. There is a clear distinction between integer valor and diminished mensurations in this Mass (in modern terminology, time signatures such as C and Ȼ, which though still in use derive from the medieval principle that a stroke through the signature usually halves the value of the notes). We have attempted to observe this distinction, hence the much more rapid feel of the Christe in comparison with the two Kyrie sections.
The Gloria, being a hymn of praise, offers plenty of opportunity for the type of boisterous rhythmic play in which Brumel excels: as early as ‘Laudamus te’ the voices are used in stretto, though phrases such as ‘Domine Deus’ are set in a more restrained fashion. The first trope, occurring at 2'20", is ‘Spiritus et alme’, the most common such accretion to the Gloria text in pre-Tridentine liturgies. ‘Qui sedes’ begins the gradual build-up to the climax of the movement, with a brief, duetting triple-time section followed by rhythmic syncopations at ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’. Further tropes elaborate the Marian aspect of the attributes of Christ that are listed in this section: ‘For you alone are holy, sanctifying Mary. You alone are the Lord, ruling Mary. You alone are most high, crowning Mary, Jesus Christ’. After a further triple-time section for ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ the final Amen begins with more duets in extremely close stretto (this is perhaps Brumel’s trademark) which develops into a three-note phrase, thus destabilizing the pulse entirely before the music somehow wrenches itself into an emphatic final cadence.
Credo I, the plainsong basis of the next movement, is characterized by an upward auxiliary or neighbour-note figure of a semitone, e–f–e, which opens many of the phrases of both chant and polyphony, creating a strongly unified form despite the span of nearly ten minutes. Due to the length of the text, the recitation style is used to good effect, for instance at ‘Deum de Deo’ and, as so often, at the most sacred moment of the Credo, the ‘et incarnatus’. Triple time is also introduced for ‘qui locutus est per prophetas’ and the final ‘et vitam venturi saeculi’.
The Sanctus begins with a placid triadic motif, again derived from the chant, in tempus perfectum (3/2 time). This gives way to a melismatic duet between altus and bassus for the ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ (‘The heavens are full’), which somewhat unusually is divided from the ‘et terra gloria tua’ (‘and the earth of your glory’) which completes the grammatical statement. As already noted, ‘gloria tua’ produces some of Brumel’s bounciest rhythms, once again subverting the metre by bringing voices in per arsin et thesin—on the upbeat and the downbeat. The Benedictus features the final trope of the Mass, describing Jesus as not only blessed but also the Son of Mary. Brumel provides a second Osanna after the Benedictus rather than repeating the first, perhaps because the Sanctus Osanna is dovetailed into the polyphony rather than beginning a new section. This second Osanna is in triple-time once more, though conceived more sedately than some.
Finally, the Agnus Dei is divided into the three sections that were customary in this period (up to about 1520). The first is based around a descending scalic motive; the second is a duet in which more scalic motion is heard, this time upwards and in semiminims. The final section is once more in triple time, first featuring very long held notes in tenor and bassus with superius and altus duetting above, before a final stretto section (‘dona nobis’) which again breaks up the regular pulse before a final cadence is asserted.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2014