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Missa brevis
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

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'Palestrina: The Tallis Scholars sing Palestrina' (CDGIM204)
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'Renaissance Giants' (CDGIM207)
Renaissance Giants
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'Renaissance Radio' (CDGIM212)
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Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 4a: Sanctus
Movement 4b: Benedictus
Movement 5: Agnus Dei I & II
Movement 5a: Agnus Dei I
Movement 5b: Agnus Dei II

Missa brevis
Despite its title, Palestrina’s famous Missa brevis is one of the most substantial and sonorous of all his Mass-settings to be written in four parts. The reason for its title (meaning ‘short Mass’) is a mystery, though the use of it may be connected with the lack of any obvious model for the setting. Early in his career Palestrina liked to use other composers’ motets or plainsong chant to rework in parody fashion, an old and respected technique. Many people have looked for such a model in this case, but without success. Plainsong was the most likely starting-point, but if so the melodies are not consistently applied. The Mass was first published in 1570 and was a success from the start, being reprinted several times before 1620. There have been countless modern editions.

The most likely explanation for this general descriptive title ‘brevis’ is that no other came readily to hand. In other cases of a ‘free’ setting, ‘Sine nomine’ was common; but some of these, like the one which has recently been proved to be based on Josquin’s motet Benedicta es, are bigger pieces in terms of the number of voices employed, and perhaps a distinction between the titles ‘Sine nomine’ and ‘Brevis’ is implied. Not that anyone ever proposed the title ‘Missa Longa’. The idea that the word ‘brevis’ comes from the fact that every movement starts with a breve in the original notation is discounted since literally hundreds of works start with this note-value and it is hard to imagine anyone fixing on this detail as being worthy of comment.

The music has a strong character, confidently written, with the motif of the falling minor third, usually followed by upward movement by step, appearing very regularly. This happens not only at the beginning of most movements, but frequently during them, for instance in the remarkable sequence in all the parts to the word ‘Amen’ in the Credo. This interval alone goes some way to explain the unusually subtle cohesion which the Missa Brevis displays on close acquaintance, where a casual glance might judge it to be disparate. The music is for SATB, increasing to SSATB for the beautiful second Agnus Dei. The phrase at the beginning of the first Agnus – an ascending scale – is inverted at the beginning of the second, which rounds off the music in the most satisfying way.

from notes by Peter Phillips © 1986

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDGIM212 disc 1 track 11
Movement 5b: Agnus Dei II
Recording date
11 January 1984
Recording venue
Merton College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Steve C Smith & Peter Phillips
Recording engineer
Mike Clements
Hyperion usage
  1. Renaissance Radio (CDGIM212)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: February 2013
    2CDs for the price of 1
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