Plainchant lies at the heart of the Missa Pange lingua
, but in this case the foundation melody, the Corpus Christi Hymn ‘Pange lingua gloriosi’, has been so thoroughly absorbed into Josquin’s music that only the sharp-eared will be alert to its presence. Where many Masses based on chant keep the parent melody in the foreground, Josquin instead uses its contours to govern only the progress of the melodic lines, with all manner of infilling and rhythmic elaboration added to camouflage its essential shape. Possibly the appeal of the work to modern audiences—it is Josquin’s most performed Mass—lies precisely in the way its variety and unity are kept in equilibrium: for all the music’s richness of invention, everything is contained within clearly perceptible bounds of possibility. Only the very opening of the Hymn melody stubbornly retains its identity: it sets each of the five movements in motion, and sometimes recurs at major structural divisions in the text: at ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ in the Gloria, for example, ‘Crucifixus’ in the Credo, and at the head of all three invocations of the Agnus Dei.
from notes by John Milsom © 1992