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Whereas Thompson looked to the Baroque as a compositional springboard for The Peaceable Kingdom, the musical materials of the a cappella Mass owe more not only to the eighteenth-century but also to the style and characteristics of Renaissance counterpoint, especially as seen in the music of Orlandus Lassus. Thompson taught modal counterpoint for years at Harvard University and his essay ‘On Contrapuntal Technique’, delivered at a meeting of the College Music Association in 1950, extols the importance of that subject in the Liberal Arts Curriculum. He felt that the underlying practical and aesthetic techniques in composing modal counterpoint were especially applicable in composing choral music.
The bold chordal opening of the ‘Kyrie’ soon evolves to a lyrical and sequential melody based on a falling sixth motif, at first presented by the sopranos and then by the basses. The canonic ‘Christe eleison’ is influenced greatly by Renaissance motet models, and the quiet return of the initial ‘Kyrie’ material and its subsequent motif of the descending sixth (this time presented by the altos and tenors) shows a reconfiguration, rather than exact restatement, of the opening materials.
A more Baroque-influenced melody, accompanied by a rapid scale figure harmonized by parallel triads, opens and closes the exuberant ‘Gloria’, offset by a central double-choir setting of ‘Thou that takest away the sins of the world’. The text of the multi-sectional ‘Credo’ is set in a straightforward, traditional triadic manner and displays Thompson’s fondness for the suspension figure as a dissonance, especially in setting ‘And was crucified’. Like his Renaissance counterparts, Thompson paints musically the words ‘rose’ and ‘ascended’ with the expected rising lines.
The angelic opening of the ‘Sanctus’ recalls the Renaissance practice of fauxbourdon—parallel first-inversion chords. The seven-part continuation displays a full and rich choral sound with widely spaced triads accompanying lines punctuated by suspensions and retardations. The rollicking ‘Glory be to Thee’ trades off the theme among the various voices in close imitation with an effective use of hemiolas. The tranquil, canonic ‘Benedictus’ setting ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord’, affecting in its simplicity, closes over a prolonged and sustained pedal point in the basses. The brief, jubilant ‘Hosanna’, recalling the spirited middle section of the ‘Sanctus’, leads to the concluding, serene ‘Agnus Dei’, once again set in neo-Renaissance imitation, featuring head motifs based on an ascending perfect fifth and later a minor third. The Mass for the Holy Spirit ends with an aura of quiet devotion.
from notes by Morten Lauridsen © 2008