Lassus’s Missa Bell’ Amfitrit’ altera
was not published during his lifetime but comes from a Munich court chapel manuscript dated 1583. It is presumably based on a madrigal that has so far remained unidentified but may be Venetian, since Amphitrite was a sea-nymph. People often look in the Mass for the pure antiphonal Venetian dialogue of two divided choirs, but in fact Lassus tends to avoid these straight contrasts, preferring interplay between groups drawn from both choirs for much of the time. All this suggests that in performance Lassus did not space his choirs too far apart, as is indeed confirmed by some of the beautiful pictures of Lassus and his musicians by the court illustrator of manuscripts. For variety’s sake, Lassus writes certain short sections of the Mass for four voices only (‘Christe eleison’, ‘Crucifixus’, ‘Benedictus’) in a more flowing contrapuntal style; the return of the full choir after these passages often has an electrifying impact, and the whole work is in a bright major mode.
from notes by Jerome Roche © 1994