The Missa Aeterna Christi munera
has been a favourite of church choirs for good reasons: its classic simplicity, its brevity, its clear singability and its four voice parts (only the second Agnus Dei divides the tenors). It is based on three melodic strands taken from the tune which gives the Mass its title, the hymn for Matins of Apostles and Evangelists; the fourth line of the verses has a repeat of the first line’s melody. Palestrina employs these themes in turn in the opening Kyrie– Christe–Kyrie sections, passing them from voice to voice, transforming and elaborating them. He uses them in the wordy Gloria and Credo in a less complicated way, alluding to them mainly in the top voice. In the later movements, Palestrina gently plays his variations in the most serene way, until, finally, in his second Agnus Dei, he produces a passage of great tranquillity as he groups the voices in parallel at ‘dona nobis pacem’, a moment that has captivated generations of singers.
from notes by Bruno Turner © 1991
1.Audio tour St Peter & The Vatican: Florida International Museum, Western Reserve Historical Centre & Minnesota Historical Center, 2008