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Missa Nunca fue pena mayor
4vv; based on Urrede's eponymous villancico
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

'Peñalosa: Masses' (CDH55326)
Peñalosa: Masses
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55326  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus
Movement 5: Agnus Dei

Missa Nunca fue pena mayor

It is not known if any of Peñalosa's Masses were written for any specific occasion. However, there is no Benedictus copied in the only source for the Missa Nunca fue pena mayor: with only one Agnus Dei (compared to the standard two of the other Masses and the three of the Missa El Ojo), which nevertheless seems textually complete, and a particularly brief Hosanna, it may be that this is intentionally a ‘short’ Mass.

The four-voice Missa Nunca fue pena mayor uses material from the three-voice villancico of the same name by the Flemish composer Urrede (Johannes Wreede, of Bruges), who was appointed as singer and maestro to the Aragonese Chapel on the 27 June 1477. He had previously been in the service of the first Duke of Alba, García Alvárez de Toledo, the author of the words for Nunca fue pena mayor. This piece has pride of place in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, appearing at the head of that great manuscript collection of late fifteenth-century Spanish secular music. It became widely known throughout Europe, in marked contrast to other Spanish repertoire of the time. It was even printed (with an additional fourth part) in Petrucci’s Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A, published in Venice in 1501. This was the earliest printed collection of part music (in fact apparently compiled by a Castilian, Petrus Castellanus!).

Indeed, Peñalosa was not the only composer to use this song, as Pierre de La Rue’s Mass of the same name appeared in Petrucci’s Misse Petri de la Rue in 1503. As he had been, since 1492, in the service of Philip the Fair, and married in 1497, to Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Pierre de La Rue would have had a notable Spanish connection even before his first trip to Spain in 1501/3. The sources for this Mass (and its publication in 1503) probably indicate that it was written prior to 1501. Might it have been specially composed in commemoration of these royal events? For Peñalosa’s Mass we have even less grounds for conjecture, but in style it is perhaps the most ‘Flemish’ of his Masses and as such it could well have been a Spanish composer’s response to foreign competition!

Another Flemish contemporary, Matthaeus Pipelare, quoted the tenor of Nunca fue pena mayor in his Memorare Mater Christi, a Hymnus de septem doloribus dulcissimae Mariae Virginis. The latter piece sings of the seven sorrows of the Virgin, with the third voice of the seven being the tenor of Nunca fue pena mayor (the text of which sings of the pain of love, beginning with ‘Never was there greater pain’), and its use has an obvious symbolic intent. So with Peñalosa, the use of the villancico as a model may also be a tribute to the Virgin, though less obviously so than with the Ave Maria and Salve regina chants in the Missa Ave Maria peregrina.

The melody of the Urrede villancico is quoted exactly by Peñalosa in various places in the Mass, for example, in Kyrie I, where the first half of the tune is sung in the uppermost voice. Elsewhere, sometimes it appears in augmented note values (but otherwise unaltered), notated as a mensuration canon, as in Gloria, apparently combined with sections of the plainchant Gloria XV, which begins at ‘et in terra’ with the same rising melodic configuration. The complete melody of Part 2 of the villancico is quoted in the bass, beginning at the triple-time ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. In Sanctus, only the first part of the tune is quoted, in the topmost voice, but according to the canonic indication: Prima ut iacet; secunda in dupplo (‘the first time as it stands; the second with double values’). Meanwhile the other voices interweave their own increasingly fragmentary sequential ostinato counterpoints, combining in one of Peñalosa’s most strange and striking textures.

Not only does Peñalosa quote the melody (the top voice) of Urrede’s composition, but he uses from time to time the tenor (middle voice of the original three-part version of the villancico): Part 1 is sung by the tenor in the second Kyrie, and in the Agnus Dei, most notably, the same section is sung in long note values by the alto. No quotation of the full polyphonic texture of the villancico appears in the Mass.

from notes by Martyn Imrie © 1993

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDH55326 track 10
Recording date
3 July 1992
Recording venue
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Peñalosa: Masses (CDA66629)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: March 1993
    Deletion date: July 2007
    Superseded by CDH55326
  2. Peñalosa: Masses (CDH55326)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: July 2011
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
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