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Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae
1556/9; 6vv; Vatican Library Manuscript Capp.Sist.39
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass, with the cantus firmus Philippus Rex Hispaniae

'Mortuus est Philippus Rex' (CDH55248)
Mortuus est Philippus Rex
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Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus
Movement 5: Benedictus
Movement 6: Agnus Dei

Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae

It would be very pleasing if we could say that Escobedo’s ‘homage Mass’ was sung at Philip’s coronation. Despite extravagant claims, there is absolutely no evidence for this. Philip did not have a coronation (in our sense); he was in the Spanish Netherlands when, between late 1555 and March 1556, his father Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King (as Charles I) of Spain, abdicated from his various realms. Philip was again in the Low Countries when Charles died in 1558. What we know of the ceremonies of accession in 1559 is lacking musical information. The most that can be determined is that Escobedo’s Mass cannot date from earlier than 1556 nor later than 1563 when Parvus, the copyist, signed and dated his work on the choirbook, now Vatican Library Manuscript Capp.Sist.39. Escobedo died in 1563; we must suppose his Mass belongs to the period 1556 to 1559. The Sistine manuscript is the only source we have for Escobedo’s magnum opus; no copy is known in Spain, nor is there any mention of the work.

Bartolomé de Escobedo, a native of Zamora, spent two long periods as a singer in the Papal choir of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. He and Cristóbal de Morales would have known each other well; Escobedo joined the choir in 1536, the year after Morales. With one extended leave of absence, he remained in Rome until 1554. He is mentioned several times in the diaries of the Cappella Sistina, sometimes for bad-tempered behaviour. When he retired to Spain he maintained contact with the Sistine choir and advised on recruitment. The great theorist Salinas, university professor and cathedral maestro at Salamanca, was a friend and called Escobedo ‘an extremely learned musician’.

Escobedo held a benefice at Segovia and may have wished to supplement his retirement with additional beneficial rewards. This could have been a motive for paying honour to the new king with a splendid Mass, replete with symbols of homage and learned devices. The ‘Philippus’ Mass is written for six voices in a strong contrapuntal style rooted in the recent Franco-Flemish traditions of the Papal chapel. It owes much to the generation of Josquin Desprez and successors like Morales, a senior colleague of Escobedo.

The structure of the work shows that Escobedo was thoroughly familiar with Josquin’s famous Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae. The syllables for Escobedo’s musical motto theme (soggetto cavato) are Mi Mi Ut Re Mi Fa Mi Re of the hexachord (modal scale) representing Philippus Rex Hispanie.

This is the cantus firmus that runs throughout the Mass in various tempos, its note values sometimes at odds with the prevailing time signature of the other voices, usually slower than their busy movement, occasionally matching them. Finally, in the Agnus Dei it is slowed down to become a series of internal pedal points round which the five free voices run up and down like tendrils and foliage of plants around a great pillar. Here the debt to Josquin is most apparent. The ‘Philippus’ theme is also subjected to presentations at different pitches, usually buried deep in the musical fabric. But there are notable moments when it emerges to dominate and to be heard above all else. This happens at ‘Et incarnatus est …’ when it is presented eight times in the top voice of a quartet.

Escobedo’s music for this act of homage is vigorous and, at times, impressively grand. It has its awkward moments and Palestrina, no doubt, would have winced at some infelicities. It has character and rhythmic drive; it certainly sheds new light upon the generation of Morales and Spanish music before Guerrero, who was surely the most ‘hispanic’ of all.

from notes by Bruno Turner ę 1998

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