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Missa De beata virgine
6vv; 1570; Missarum liber tertius
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

'Palestrina: Missa De beata virgine & Missa Ave Maria' (CDH55420)
Palestrina: Missa De beata virgine & Missa Ave Maria
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55420  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 5: Agnus Dei I & II

Missa De beata virgine
The Missa De beata virgine, one of two settings carrying this title, was published in Missarum liber tertius, a book of Masses for four, five, and six voices published in Rome in 1570. The chant melodies taken as a basis for the Mass are from Mass IX, Credo I, and Mass XVII. In the 1570 publication the text included the Marian tropes (see the Gloria in Casimiri’s edition, in which the trope Spiritus et alme may be found), but these were removed in the revised edition of 1599 in accordance with the liturgical reforms of Pius V (as in fact also happened with the Missa De beata virgine for four voices from the second book of Masses). The chant material permeates the entire Mass at various points, and appears in all six voices—the very opening of the Kyrie has the chant quoted imitatively in all the voices. In the Sanctus and Agnus Dei Palestrina makes use of the old-fashioned cantus firmus technique (that is, with the chant in even, long notes set in an inner voice part) with the chant appearing in the ‘altus’ and both ‘tenor’ parts. Elsewhere, the borrowed melodies are used much more freely, paraphrased in several voices at points throughout the work.

One of the most impressive features of this Mass-setting is the sense of grandeur and majesty which dominates much of the music. Notable examples of this reflection of an extraordinary confidence and faith appear in the Gloria at ‘Jesu Christe’, in the Credo at ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’, in the Sanctus at ‘Dominus Deus Sabaoth’, and in the first Agnus Dei. These are offset by passages of a more delicate character, however, as at the beginning of the Sanctus, with its graceful, flowing lines of imitative writing, or at the ethereal ‘Et incarnatus est’ in the Credo.

It is the Gloria and the Credo that make most use of homophonic writing, as is usual in these movements since they contain the largest amount of text. This causes the sudden explosions of more linear writing to seem even more brilliant: in this Mass the effect is often achieved with the use of scalic passages. Such is the case at ‘Domine Deus’ in the Gloria. The more contrapuntal aspect of the music and the increase in the use of rapid scalic figures serve to delineate this section of text from the previous one, thereby placing upon it some extra emphasis (it is, in fact, at this point that the trope Spiritus et alme came in the first edition of the work: it would seems that Palestrina wished to draw attention to this).

A much greater concentration upon rapid movement in small scalic phrases is found in the ‘Osanna’ and the Benedictus. In the former, following a passage making use of descending figures of this type, the ‘bassus’ introduces an imitative point in ascending motion which is promptly taken up by all the other voices, creating a moment of sudden exaltation which then proceeds to sustain the music until the end of the section by generating smaller ‘echoes’ of this event. It may certainly be said to be one of Palestrina’s most memorable setting of these words.

from notes by Ivan Moody © 1990

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Details for CDH55420 track 5
Agnus Dei I & II
Recording date
9 March 1989
Recording venue
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Palestrina: Missa De beata virgine & Missa Ave Maria (CDA66364)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: February 1990
    Deletion date: March 2010
    Superseded by CDH55420
  2. Palestrina: Missa De beata virgine & Missa Ave Maria (CDH55420)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: May 2013
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
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