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A Historical Survey of Mass Settings



The modern choral repertory spans multiple centuries, countries and

aesthetics. However, its birthplace was the medieval church. Specifically,
Oxford Music Online credits Guido DArezzo, an Italian monk, with the
invention of musical notation around 1030 A.D. His treatise, Micrologus,
described a method of naming notes and placing them on the horizontal
lines of a staff. Before then, plainchant notation consisted of little more than
a few graphic symbols, or neumes, written above manuscript bearing Latin
Notation made it possible to add another line to the tenor plainchant. Discant
technique was the first invention, where an additional voice moves note
against note and often in contrary motion. Soon, however, composers like
Leonin and Perotin at the Notre Dame Cathedral developed organum, or
plainchant settings containing one or more upper voices moving freely above
a slower moving tenor line. Oxford Music Online characterizes the rhythmic
independence of those additional lines as the beginnings of polyphony.
Shrock agrees that the compositional elements of organum would be
incorporated into polyphony for the remainder of the medieval era.
Given this legacy, it seems appropriate to sample the various historical styles
of choral music by examining settings of the Ordinary of the Christian Mass.
As Shrock observes, the five movements of the mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo,
Sanctus and Agnus Dei) remain one of the most important frameworks for
sacred choral music in the classical repertoire.

Medieval Era (1300-1500)

The medieval approach to polyphony was described as the Ars Nova by

French composer Philippe de Vitry in a treatise of the same name, published
around 1320. The Notre Dame Schools approach to organum was regarded
as the old style, or the Ars Antiqua. One of the new Ars Nova techniques was
isorhythm, where at least one of the voice parts, usually the lowest, was
divided into several identical rhythmic phrases called talea, or several
identical rhythmic and melodic phrases called color. The upper parts,
frequently of similar rhythmic values, shared short musical motifs.
According to Shrock, isorhythm was constant throughout the Ars Nova, but
the relative rhythmic activity between the voices parts changed. At the
beginning of the medieval era, polyphonic compositions had fast-moving
upper parts against a slower-moving lower part. The first surviving
polyphonic mass, Guillaume de Machauts four-part Messe de Nostre Dame,

reflects this approach. By the end of the era, however, polyphonic

compositions had parts that were more rhythmically similar. That trend led to
the style of the early Renaissance, where melodic and rhythmic material was
integrated between each of the four voices.

According to Garretson, the style of the mass cycle was not firmly
established until the fifteenth century. Consequently, Medieval composers of
the fourteenth century, like composer and poet Guillaume de Machaut (c.
130077), used eclectic techniques to set sacred texts, even the fixed
secular songs forms of the ballade, virilai and rondeau. Machauts Messe de
Nostre Dame, probably composed in the 1360s for Saturday celebrations of
the Lady Mass at Reims Cathedral, reflects that eclecticism. The Gloria and
Credo contain original melodic material set according to non-isorhythmic
techniques, including conductus or declamatory style, where the four voices
move together in a homophonic texture and the text is set syllabically. The
Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are isometric and based on the Gregorian
chant Kyrie cunctipotens genitor. In those three movements, the two upper
voices (triplum and motetus) move freely and floridly, while the two lower
voices (tenor and contratenor) move in sustained isorhythm.
In spite of the varied isorhythmic and conductus styles in the Messe de
Nostre Dame, Garretson points to Machauts use of rhythm as a unifying
feature. Melody and harmony are also used in recurring ways. Machaut uses
melodic cross relations when approaching cadences throughout the mass,
and all four voices stop at those cadential points. Machauts harmony shifts
regularly from pure fourths and fifths to more dissonant, dense textures of
seconds and sevenths.
Interestingly, the survival of the Messe de Nostre Dame is not coincidence.
Machaut meticulously collected and copied his compositions and poetry into
illustrated manuscripts for wealthy patrons. In fact, many of those
manuscripts have survived in near original condition. However, Schrock
doubts that later composers were influenced by the mass, or even knew of
its existence. Rather, it seems that the Renaissance approach to the mass
cycle developed independently of Machauts example.



Renaissance Era (1400-1600)

According to Shrock, the techniques of isorhythm began to wane in

popularity by the middle of the fifteenth century. The new approach to mass
settings, appearing as early as 1470s in works by Guillaume Dufay and Jean
de Ockeghem, included standard scoring for SATB ensembles, integrated
motivic material distributed throughout all voice parts, imitative textures,
and the use of a preexisting melody, or cantus firmus, usually sung in long
notes in the tenor voice. Historians generally place 1400 . as the marker for
this era.
The treatment of polyphony also evolved throughout the Renaissance era.
Shrock characterizes the early Renaissance as having long phrases of text
and incipient forms of imitative polyphony, where the imitation is often in
duets rather than in all voice parts. By the Middle Renaissance, imitation had
become pervasive in all voice parts and texts often consisted only of several
short phrases. Late Renaissance techniques were varied, often alternating
between passages of imitative polyphony and homophony, and using
rhythms or musical motives to expressively set or emphasize specific words
and/or short phrases. Texts remained short fragments.
Mass settings also evolved throughout the Renaissance. Most were based on
preexisting material, usually a Gregorian chant, although chansons were also
popular sources. Early Renaissance mass settings typically presented that
preexisting material as a cantus firmus in the tenor voice without
elaboration, although the melody could be presented as inverted (upside
down), retrograde (backwards), or retrograde inverted (upside down and
backwards). Late Renaissance mass settings, in contrast, used the
preexisting material more freely, and often for pervasive imitation in all voice
parts. In the paraphrase technique, the preexisting material was elaborated
or modified. In the parody technique, a polyphonic section of a preexisting
composition was inserted into the mass texture. The soggetto cavato
technique built a cantus firmus from pitches derived from the vowels of a
persons name. In the quodlibet technique, multiple secular preexisting tunes
were used.
Shrock believes that many aspects of Renaissance performance practice
were flexible. The number of performers varied, the pitch at which the works
were sung differed, the use of instrumental accompaniment was fixed
neither as to instruments used nor to their use at all, and tempos and
dynamic levels surely differed from church to church. Even a fixed or
standard pitch was most likely not assigned to a Renaissance piece.
Regarding instrumental accompaniment, virtually all the Renaissance genres,
including mass settings, were composed for voices without specified
instrumental accompaniment. Yet Garretson asserts that instrumental
participation during the Renaissance was common, often colla parte, which

means with or even doubling the vocal parts. The serpent, of the bassoon
family, could be used to accompany the bass voices in a mass. Organ
accompaniment also was commonly used to support the acapella texture of
sacred music. In St. Marks Basilica, for example, an organ was available in
each of the four corners to support multiple performance locations.


Early Renaissance Polyphony

According to Shrock, Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450-1521) is considered to be the

most important composer in the development of imitative polyphony, as well
as the duet-like paring of voices in polyphonic imitation, usually the top two
or bottom two voices together. His Missa Pange Lingua was composed near
the end of the composers life and consequently represents Josquins mature,
international approach to Renaissance choral texture: imitative, equal-voiced
Although Oxford Music Online suggests 1514 as the date of composition,
there is some uncertainty as to the exact date because of its delayed
publication: It was not included in Ottaviano Petruccis third collection of
Josquins masses, published in that same year. Although manuscript copies
of the work were circulated, it was not published until 1539, when Hans Ott
included it in his Missae tredecim.
The chant Pange lingua is paraphrased, imitated, and used as a head motif
to unify the entire texture of Missa Pange lingua. Musical fragments from the
original Pange Lingua gloriosi chant material occur in every voice. In
addition, the imitation in this mass occurs not only between paired voices,
but also in four voice imitative sections. However, Josquin never states the
entire chant note by note. Instead, he uses the six fragments of the Pange
Lingua hymn as the raw material for the structure of the mass by
paraphrasing each one.
At points of imitation, the imitative voice often answers in an exact manner
before moving to a free development near the end of the musical phrase.
Josquin also manipulates the timing between those points of imitation,
sometimes placing imitative voices closer in time to the preceding
statements to create a sense of urgency and rhythmic vitality. This
polyphonic imitation was a more modern compositional technique than the
older cantus firmus approach of assigning the melody to only one, slowermoving voice part (usually the tenor). In the last movement of the mass (the
Agnus Dei), however, the highest voice (the superius) is given the tune in
longer notes, perhaps as a nod to the older style. There are also sections of
homophony in the mass, often at reverent sections of textual declamation.
The Missa Pange Lingua was a functional work: each movement would have
been performed in the context of the mass liturgy, rather than continuously.
Those interruptions, in addition to emphasizing the liturgical sections, also
allowed the listeners ears to be refreshed from the homogeneity of sound
that is characteristic of the Renaissance texture. Yet Josquin uses a number
of techniques to unify his mass setting. Each of the five major movements
with a paraphrased statement of the first four notes of the Pange Lingua
hymn: e - e - f - e. This technique is a forerunner to the "head motive"
technique that belongs to the generation of later composers, like Byrd and

Palestrina. Another unifying element in the Missa Pange Lingua is Josquin's

treatment of rhythmic drive and motivic persistence at cadential points.
The general timeframe of 1514 places the work during Josquins last posting
as provost of the collegiate church of Notre Dame in Cond-sur-lEscaut. For
its day, that church had sizable resources, including a staff of sixteen vicars
and six choirboys for singing the services. Thus, Josquins mass may have
been performed by a twenty-two member choir of men and boys during the
church service.
Josquins singers most likely read off of a large manuscript score, with
notation idiomatic to the Renaissance. Notably, the Renaissance score looked
very different from modern scores, as reflected in the Kyrie excerpt from the
Missa Pange Lingua below. Bar lines are absent from that excerpt, as are any
tempo or other articulation markings. Shrock believes the absence of bar
lines reveals the periods stylistic approach of allowing the text to shape
each vocal line.

Source: Hall
In order to preserve the unmetered feeling of imitative Renaissance
polyphony (save for naturally occurring stress from text emphasis), some
editions avoid bar lines. The fear is that modern bar lines -- which,
incidentally, were not invented until the end of the Renaissance period -might subconsciously encourage singers to place unnatural stress on every
metered downbeat, to think chordally (vertically) instead of melodically
(horizontally), or to look for cadences at phrase endings.
Indeed, imposing a harmonic conception upon the Missa Pange Lingua would
be inappropriate. In Renaissance choral music, cadences were often
obscured by overlapping phrases and staggered points of imitation. In
addition, cadences did not necessarily have a harmonic relationship to each
other. In this case, the mode of the Pange Lingua chant is E Phrygian, but the
polyphonic lines work together in Josquins setting to create a modality that
is most easily perceived as C Ionian. However, its hard for the modern
performer to read a score without any bar lines. A notational compromise

that many choral conductors favor places bar lines only between the staves,
allowing modern performers to see how the music vertically lines up without
interrupting the text within each of their lines.

Source: Hall

Late Renaissance Polyphony

Toward the end of the sixteenth century, Shrock asserts that a vertical
element appeared in the polyphony of such late Renaissance composers as
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). Palestrinas polyphony still
utilized points of imitation between individual lines. That horizontal element
emphasized the rhythmic and melodic behavior of each individual line.
However, Palestrina also paid attention to the resulting vertical sonorities in
the texture, as well as the clarity of the text.
Notably, the church may have exerted an influence in the movement toward
less dense, or vertically organized textures. The Council of Trent (1545-1563)
wanted to reform Catholic liturgies by promoting greater clarity of text in
sacred musical performance. The councils mandate was most likely a
response to the simple textures found in the chorales, Psalm settings, and
anthems that composed for the Protestant Reformation that had begun after
Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg
in 1517.

Significantly, a vertical organization also affects how listeners hear

dissonances in Palestrinas music. Jeppsen believes that polyphony
suppresses the listeners awareness of harmony and dissonance because of
the rhythms created by unsynchronized text syllables. The listeners focus is
on the textual accents and melodic stress in each individual line. In a vertical
conception of harmony, however, the metric pulse creates expectations for
how dissonances may be used properly. The placement of stress corresponds
quite closely to text accent and the modern notion of a crusic (downbeat)
accent. According to Jeppesen, Palestrinas vertical organization of polyphony
allowed for a hierarchical range of modal cadences. Palestrina created such
cadential markers through the use of prepared, suspended dissonances. To
modern listeners, the vertical sonorities may sound like dominant-tonic (VI) progressions, often approached with a 4-3 suspension.
The Missa brevis is a good example of Palestrina's style and treatment of
prepared, suspended dissonances, symmetrical phrasing, and the seamless
blending of polyphonic and antiphonally homophonic textures. The melodic
contours of individual lines appear symmetrical, where a leap in one
direction is counter-weighted by a scalar movement in the opposite direction.
The mass setting is freely composed, although Palestrinas output also
included many parody masses. Parody technique allowed Palestrina to freely
alternate between imitative or homophonic textures in his mass settings. The
older cantus firmus mass technique, in contrast, did not allow for such
freedom due to the linear focus created by the pre-existing melody.


Baroque Era (1600-1750)

According to Shrock, the Baroque era began in Italy in the 1580s with a
group of noblemen who wanted to emulate the attributes of Greek monody,
at least as they imagined it. The group, called the Florentine Camerata,
adopted vertical and homophonic textures in their effort to write vocal music
that was uncluttered texturally. Keyboard instruments, used to accompany
the solo vocal works, acquired an independent status. In new genres like the
cantata or opera, as well as in older genres like the motet and madrigal, a
common texture of the Early Baroque was solo voices and basso continuo
accompaniment, or melody and accompaniment. Renaissance composers
had conceived of music as melodically linear and imitative. However, Shrock
believes that the early Baroque texture of monody encouraged vertically
conceived harmonies and independent instrumental writing.
There were forces shaping the new aesthetic outside of Italy, as well. The
new music of the Protestant Reformation during the latter half of the
sixteenth century encouraged simplicity and accessibility, such as Martin
Luthers homophonic hymns. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church followed
the trend, criticizing the complexities of Renaissance polyphony following the

Council of Trent (15451563). As composers who had studied in Italy took

positions in prominent courts, cathedrals, and venues throughout Europe, the
new Baroque aesthetic took hold outside of Italy.
Early Baroque music was often homophonic and minimally scored. However,
scoring expanded as the era progressed, starting with the addition of two
independent violin parts to the basso continuo part. Next came an ensemble
of strings, obbligato instruments, trumpets and timpani for festival works.
Eventually, the complete Baroque orchestra included flutes, oboes,
bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani, strings, and basso continuo. Shrock
believes that this expansion in scoring encouraged the development of
Baroque music from primarily homophonic textures to contrapuntal textures.

Early Baroque

Shrock notes that the older style of the Renaissance era did not abruptly end
after 1600. The musical education of composers during the early
seventeenth century continued to be based on the principles of Renaissance
polyphony. Since the liturgies of the Catholic Church remained unchanged,
there was also a demand for the older style. Transitional composers like
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) wrote in both Renaissance and Early
Baroque styles. Baroque Monteverdis operas and madrigals illustrate his
prowess in the new style of the Early Baroque, whereas his masses are
characterized by the linear imitative vocal polyphony of the Renaissance
Monteverdis letters survive, and he is credited for being one of the first to
use the term seconda prattica, or second practice, to describe the early
Baroque emphasis of text over other musical elements, such as melody,
rhythm and texture. According to Oxford Music Online, the term prima
prattica originally referred to the stricter style of Palestrina and his Roman
contemporaries, where polyphony was more important than text. The
seconda prattica described the freer, more rhetorically expressive concertato
style of the north Italian composers. Other names, such as stile concertato
(contrasted style) and stile rappresentativo (representative style) were used
to denote specific characteristics of the new music. In Monteverdis
description, the seconda prattica style was characterized by vertical
sonorities, solo vocal melodies, and basso continuo accompaniment.
However, subsequent usage of the term has expanded beyond its original
context. Oxford Music Online observes that the term seconda prattica has
also been used to describe nearly every musical innovation of the early
Baroque, including monody, rhythmic regularity in Baroque arias, basso
continuo textures, as well as the new harmonic, vertical organization of

As the music director at St. Marks Cathedral in Venice for the last 30 years
of his life, Monteverdi was certainly called upon to compose sacred music. In
fact, the observance of daily mass at St. Marks created a specific demand
for musical settings of the Ordinary. Although Monteverdis correspondence
indicates he set several mass settings, only three survive. That number is in
sharp contrast to the 104 masses produced by his predecessor Palestrina
(152594). Shrock considers Monteverdis Missa da capella in G minor to be
the finest of the surviving mass settings. It was composed around 1650 and
is set for four voices and basso continuo. The music switches freely and
easily between contrapuntal and homorhythmic sections and also includes
quite a bit of melismatic writing.

Interestingly, none of the surviving three masses illustrate the grand
Venetian innovation of cori spezzati, or divided chorus, as one might well

expect at St. Marks. The expectation dates back to Andrea Gabrieli (1510-85
.), who experimented with the spatial possibilities of St. Marks by placing
different groups of performers around the church for an antiphonal effect.
Music came to the audience from multiple directions, including organ
galleries, balconies, and platforms around the altar. According to Shrock, the
reverberant acoustic of St. Marks was perfectly suited to antiphony, and
chordal rather than polyphonic music. Although Monteverdi had
approximately 25 singers at his disposal, with an equivalent number of
instrumentalists available for festival days, his masses are not antiphonal.
Shrock suggests that antiphony may have been regarded as old fashioned by
the time of Monteverdis arrival at St. Marks.

Late Baroque

Garretson describes the late Baroque aesthetic as emphasizing contrasts,

drama, rhythmic accentuations and universal emotions described as the
affekts. The invention of bar lines, along with the basso continuo, further
encouraged the vertical arrangement of music and an underlying majorminor tonality, instead of Renaissance modality. Baroque polyphony, or
counterpoint, was composed within that harmonic framework, resulting in
cadences that are stronger, serving as arrival points within a larger chord
Other significant characteristics of the older approach to polyphony had also
changed: the long imitative phrases of text had become short motif-like
groups of words; textures of non-differentiated rhythms had become varied
rhythmic patterns that were used for expressive purposes; and modal-based
polyphony that was horizontally conceived had become vertically conceived
homophony or counterpoint. Consequently, Baroque polyphony both
sounded and looked different than its Renaissance predecessors.
According to Prout, Baroque polyphony also had a sense of rhythmic
precision, with a consistent rhythmic pulse regardless of tempo. That pulse
could be achieved by double-dotting, sometimes called overdotting, where
each dotted note is lengthened and its complementary note is shortened to
enhance the crispness of the rhythm. Although some cadences might be
approached with rallentando, Garretson maintains that the concepts of a
long, gradual accelerando or ritardando came later, in the eighteenth
century. Similarly, a fermata indicated a phrase ending and accompanying
breath for singers, rather than a long hold.
Instrumental participation is also standard in Late Baroque music, usually in
the form of basso continuo. Basso continuo involved both a specifically
notated part for melodic instruments, as well as improvised or realized
harmonies from a bass part for chord-producing instruments. For example, a
cello, violone, or bassoon might play from a specifically notated part, while a

harpsichord, organ, theorbo, or lute realized harmonies from the bass part. In
the prima prattica, the notated part generally followed the vocal bass part. In
the seconda prattica, the notated part outlined fundamental harmonies.
Multiple melodic and chord-producing instruments could also be
interchanged, especially in the performance of multi-movement works like
oratorios. For example, the bassoon and harpsichord might have been used
in one movement, the violone and lute for another movement, and all
instruments combined for the most dramatic movements. A basso continuo
ensemble could even include both a harpsichord and an organ, used in
various combinations. According to Shrock, genre, availability of instruments,
texture of scoring, and character of drama determined instrumentation.
According to Butt, Baroque tempo was not absolute. Rather, a certain degree
of flexibility was permitted to express the text and emotional affect, as well
as suit the acoustical demands of the space. The floridness of the
contrapuntal line might also impose practical tempo limitations for vocalists.
According to Garretson, Italian markings like allegro, andante or adagio
indicated mood rather than exact tempi.
Dynamics were used in the Baroque to bring out thematic material, such as
fugal subjects, and to depict emotional affects. According to Garretson,
terraced dynamics happened naturally in Baroque music from the contrast
between solo and tutti sections, or single and double choruses, or the hand
stops on keyboard instruments. Yet according to McCoy, Baroque music is not
limited to terraced dynamics. Rather, the textual meaning and direction of
each melodic phrase could result in subtle dynamic contrasts. In addition, a
conductor might choose to use dynamics to highlight a fugal entrance or
other thematic material.
The Mass in B Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach is a masterpiece of Late
Baroque choral writing, as well as earlier prima prattica styles. For example,
seven movements of the work are in the imitative motet style of the
Renaissance, including the use of chant fragments handled in augmentation
as a cantus firmus in the Confiteor portion of the Credo. Seconda prattica
styles include ritornello arias, concertato expositions, and fugues.
The work known as the Mass in B Minor consists of all the Ordinary portions
of the Catholic mass. However, those portions were composed over a long
period of time, and only assembled as a complete work toward the end of
Bachs life. According to Butt, Bach completed the Kyrie and Gloria
sections of the in 1733 and dedicated them to August II, Elector of Saxony,
perhaps hoping to secure a court musician position at the Dresden court
(which was Catholic). The Sanctus had been composed earlier and performed
on Christmas Day in 1724. The remainder of the mass (Credo, Osanna,

Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Dona nobis pacem) was composed between
1747 and 1749.
Bach was the cantor at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig from1723 until his
death in 1750. As part of his official duties, Bach composed music for the
Lutheran services. Yet according to Steinitz, the Kyrie and Gloria were the
only parts of the Catholic Mass that Lutheran churches continued to sing to
music in eighteenth century Leipzig services. In addition, the length of the
Mass in B Minor made it impractical as functional service music; the Kyrie
and Gloria movements alone are about an hour. According to Shrock, no
performances of the complete work were given or planned during Bachs life,
and Bach did not rework or adapt the separate portions of the mass into a
new unified composition, like he had done with many other works. Even the
vocal scoring is disparate: SSATB chorus in the Kyrie and Gloria; SATB chorus
for most of the Credo and Osanna; and SSATTB in the Sanctus.
Why, then, did Bach complete the remaining mass movements in the final
years of his life? Prout believes that Bach composed the remaining
movements of his Mass in B Minor with his musical legacy in mind. Shrock
further suggests that Bach wanted to demonstrate his skill at writing in
diverse styles in a complete work, including the prima and seconda prattica
The opening of the Kyrie demonstrates why Garretson characterizes much of
Bachs writing as an instrumental approach to vocalism. After a vocal Adagio
section of four bars, the orchestra in measure five introduces a fugal theme
(see excerpt). Each of the five voice parts (two soprano lines, alto, tenor and
bass) also enters on that fugal subject through points of strict polyphonic
imitation, starting with the tenors in measure thirty. Garretsons
characterization of Bachs choral fugal writing as instrumental in quality is
thus given literal application in this Kyrie movement.

Few phrasing and articulation marks are found in the Mass in B Minor.
According to Garretson, Baroque choral phrasing and articulation must be
informed by the text, the associated emotion or affect, the tempo, the
underlying harmonic structure, notes in immediate relation to each other, as
well as the acoustic demands of the performance space. Wolff points to C.P.E.
Bachs own writing about the unmarked, but understood, approach to
Baroque articulation:
In general the briskness of allegros is expressed by detached
notes and the tenderness of adagio by broad, slurred notes. The
performer must keep in mind that these characteristic features of
allegros and adagios are to be given consideration even when a
composition is not marked, as well as when the performer has
not gained an adequate understanding of the affect of a work.
In the Mass in B Minor, the opening Kyrie is marked Largo. However,
although articulation may be less detached in slower tempos, Wolff cautions
that it would be inappropriate for the vocal parts to sing the entire fugal
subject with a legato phrasing. It would also be equally inappropriate to
mechanically detach each note. In practice, the fugal phrase is often
articulated by phrasing the melismatic le of eleison in paired eighth
notes, starting with the upper neighbor tone. Yet a sense of the entire
melodic shape, or cantabile, must also be maintained in each phrase. Since
the fugal subject is also fairly long, questions about appropriate breath points
might arise. If the text or music does not permit a pause, such as during a
long melismatic phrase, Wolff advises taking a breath by shortening dotted
notes or before syncopated notes, if doing so wont disrupt the rhythm.

According to Prout, the floridness of Bachs Mass in B Minor prohibits a heavy

vocal technique. Baroque vocal timber was most likely light and florid, similar
to the contemporaneous Italian bel canto technique, with free but not
excessive vibrato. Vocalists achieved a detached articulation by reiterating
the vowel without an audible h or glottal stop. Prout cautions that vocalists
must take extra care to unify vowels in long, melismatic passages. That may
require extra diligence in larger ensembles, as Baroque choirs remained
small. Bach famously wrote to the Leipzig town council in 1730, stating that
he required thirty-six choristers to serve each of the three Leipzig churches
under his direction. According to Wolff, that number would divide to three
singers for each voice part in an SATB arrangement, with one singer
functioning as a soloist.

Classical Era (1750-1820)

According to Shrock, Bachs death in 1750 is used to mark the beginning of

the Classical era, and its ending coincides with the emergence around 1820
of new styles and freer forms in the music of Hector Berlioz (1803-69) and
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). The new aesthetic was a reaction
against the dense contrapuntal and ornamental textures of the Late Baroque.
Shrock characterizes the new Classical aesthetic as light in texture,
homophonic in orientation, and formally structured according to the
principles of formal symphonic designs like sonata, rondo, and variation.
However, some contrapuntal writing was continued in fugal sections in
masses, often at the ends of the Gloria and Credo movements.
Despite the prevailing ideals of structural clarity, refinement, order, and
restraint, Shrock maintains that Classical era music was highly expressive.
Tempo markings communicated sentiment, in addition to tempo (e.g., allegro
meant cheerful, grave meant solemn, and vivace meant lively and spirited).
The masses during the early years of the Classical era were structurally
similar to those in the latter part of the Baroque. Some of the movements
were arias scored for soloists, and the Gloria and Credo portions of the
Ordinary were often divided into separate movements. However, mass
settings changed after Emperor Joseph II of Austria and Archbishop Colloredo
of Salzburg issued reform mandates. The missa brevis style was shorter in
length, with all portions of the Ordinary in one movement. The writing was
also less florid and scored mostly for ensembles. Solo sections, to the extent
they were used, were often syllabic.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was appointed Konzertmeister at the
Salzburg court under Archbishop Colloredo when he was only sixteen years
old. Mozart composed eleven of his nineteen masses for the Archbishop,
completing nine of them by the age of twenty-one. Mozarts final, incomplete

mass (K427) and the famous Requiem (K626) were composed after he had
settled in Vienna as a freelance musician, composer and teacher. As with
Mozarts other works, the catalogue numbers originally assigned by Ludwig
von Kchel in his W.A. Mozarts Werke are used to refer to the masses.
With the exception of the unfinished Missa K427 (Great Mass in C minor),
which is in cantata style, Mozarts masses nearly divide evenly into missa
brevis or solemnis categorizations. The orchestral scoring is modest in the
brevis masses and more full in the solemnis settings. Interestingly, however,
none of the Salzburg masses is scored for violas, perhaps reflecting Mozarts
opinion of the staffing limitations or players at the Salzburg court. In
addition, all eleven of the masses composed for the Salzburg court are under
forty-five minutes in duration, per the request of Archbishop Colloredo.
Despite their brevity, Mozart did not rely on overlapped or telescoped texts
in these masses, as Haydn had done in his missae brevis. Most also divided
into six movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus
Dei), with tempo markings to expressively set portions of the text.
Mozart observed several customs of the Classical era in his Salzburg mass
settings. For example, the Gloria and Credo consist of three connected
sections and end with fugues. The Dona nobis pacem portion of the Agnus
Dei reprises music from the Kyrie. Most movements do not have arias or
extended solo passages, although a quartet of soloists is sometimes used to
exchange material with the chorus. In addition, the movements are often
based upon symphonic forms, most frequently sonata and rondo. Mozart also
used three trombones to frequently play colla parte, or double, with the alto,
tenor, and bass choral parts. This excerpt from the Missa Brevis in D (K 194)
is a representative example.

Edition: Breitkopf &


Shrock also categorizes most of Joseph Haydns (1732-1809) early masses as

brevis or solemnis, although one, the Missa Cellenis in honorem BVM
(Ccilienmesse) is a cantata mass. It has arias and choruses and divides
the Ordinary into separate movements. The Gloria alone has seven separate
movements, while the Credo has four. In sum, Haydn composed fourteen
masses: six between 1749 and 1782, and six between 1796 and 1802.
In 1759, at twenty-seven, Haydn had accepted a position at the court of
Count Morzin in Eisenstadt, Hungary. That led to an appointment as
Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterhzy the following year. Haydn served
at the Esterhzy court for the remainder of his life, serving Nikolaus for thirty
years, his son Anton for four years, and Antons son Nikolaus for fifteen
years. Nikolaus, who succeeded his father in 1794, specifically requested a
new mass each year to celebrate the name day of Princess Maria. From 1796
onward, Haydn fulfilled this request.
The brevis masses are shorter and have reduced orchestrations. For
efficiency, textual phrases in the Gloria and Credo movements are often
overlapped, where the four choral voice parts simultaneously have different
phrases of text. The solemnis masses are longer and have fuller, symphonic
orchestrations, with the Gloria and Credo movements often divided into three
distinct sections of fast, slow and fast. The movements are in symphonic
forms like sonata, variation, or rondo. They also include quartet writing for
soloists. Some examples include the Missa in tempore belli (Paukenmesse)
and the Missa in angustiis (Nelsonmesse).

Edition: G. Henle Verlag (Vocal

All but one of the masses of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) are of the solemnis
type. They are divided into six movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus,
Benedictus, and Agnus Dei) and often rely on symphonic forms like theme
and variation, sonata form, or ABA. They also have large orchestrations. For
example, scoring of the Benedictus is often for a quartet of solo voices (with
few individual solo passages), and the Gloria and Credo movements are
multisectional. Many are scored for a quartet of soloists, mixed chorus, and
orchestra and are in one movement divided into several connecting sections
varied by tempo. Schuberts Mass in G major, in contrast, is the sole mass of

the brevis type. It has reduced scoring, set only for strings and organ, and
the Gloria and Credo movements are in one section and tempo.
A unique feature in the solemnis masses, perhaps foreshadowing the textual
liberties that would be taken by later Romantic composers, is Schuberts
nonliturgical opening to the Gloria and Credo movements. The opening text
phrases Gloria in excelsis Deo and Credo in unum Deum are set
musically rather than given to the liturgist to intone. In addition, all of the
masses contain textual deletions. According to Shrock, Schuberts surviving
letters and accounts indicate that he had a negative view of the Catholic
Church. Thus, it is possible that Schubert editorially deleted certain texts
from that mass that he apparently did not believe in or support.
At least two of the masses were composed in the Liechtental church, where
Schubert sang in his youth. The first mass was premiered in October 1814.
As with Schuberts other works, the masses are catalogued by D numbers,
assigned by the historian Otto Erich Deutsch and indicated in F. Schubert:
Neue Ausgabe smtlicher Werke.

Edition: Breitkopf &

Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was not bound by the
customs of the Viennese mass. His Petite Messe Solennelle was composed in
1864 for the consecration of a patrons private chapel. Its scoring, alone,
might suggest the handiwork of an opera composer: It is scored for twelve
voices, including SATB soloists, two pianos, and a harmonium. However,

Rossini orchestrated the mass several years later. Some of the

unconventional aspects of its form include an instrumental prelude between
the Credo and Sanctus, and a soprano solo motet between the Sanctus and
Agnus Dei.

Edition: Gibson (vocal


Romantic Era (1820-1900)

According to Shrock, the Romantic era began in the 1820s when composers
began to push the boundaries of Classical forms and conventions such as
length, scoring and performance practice. Instead of restraint, the new
classical aesthetic valued grandiosity, freedom, and expressive individuality
over textual selection and treatment.
The era began by expanding upon traditional forms, like sonata, fugue, ABA
forms and even mass settings. For example, Schubert had already made
textual deletions in his masses. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) also

changed the order of words in several movements of his Missa solemnis,

repeated sections of text out of their traditional order, and added to the
traditional sectional division of the Gloria portion of the Roman Mass
Ordinary. It wasnt long before Romantic composers invented new forms and
techniques, such as the single-movement symphonic poem or leitmotifs,
which are recurring motivic material intended to represent a specific emotion
or character throughout a work. Several Romantic era mass settings,
discussed below, stretched conventions of earlier mass styles and/or utilized
more modern techniques, such as recurring motifs.
Yet there was not a consensus. Other composers during the Romantic era
continued to write mass settings in older styles, emulating the a cappella
polyphony of Palestrina or the symphonic masses of Mozart and Haydn.
There was even a Ccilienverein, or Cecilian society, comprised of late
nineteenth century composers dedicated to returning Catholic church music
to the Palestrinian style. For example, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
composed his Missa Canonica around 1856 or 1857. Its four movements
(Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei) are in the imitative polyphonic
and canonic style of the Renaissance and Baroque, music that Brahms had
studied during his youth. Franz Liszt (1811-1886) wrote homophonic mass
Franz Liszt (1811-1886), a proponent of modern compositional techniques
and the orchestral tone pome, nevertheless showed a more conservative
side in his five masses. Toward the end of his life he associated with the
Ccilien movement, took minor orders (Abb Liszt) in the Catholic Church
and even resided in an apartment at the Vatican, where visits to St. Peters
and the Sistine Chapel exposed him to Gregorian chant and the polyphony of
Palestrina and other Renaissance composers.
His Messe fr Mnnerchor, composed in 1848 shortly after Liszt had arrived
in Rome, is mainly homophonic, with only occasional imitative passages. It is
scored for organ, which provides harmonic support for the chorus. The Missa
choralis for mixed voices and organ accompaniment, composed in 1865, is
also in a conservative Renaissance style. Other mass settings are in the style
of Classical era symphonic masses. The Missa solennis zu Einweihung der
Basilika in Gran (called the Graner Festmesse) was composed in 1855 for
the dedication of the Basilica of Esztergom, the largest church in Hungary. It
is scored for soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra. Similarly, the Missa
coronationalis, composed for the coronation of Franz Joseph I in 1867, is a
choral/orchestral work.
Beethoven, who had studied for a year with Haydn, wrote two masses. The
Missa in C major, op. 86, was commissioned in 1807 by Haydns former
employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterhzy. The setting is in the style of Haydns

late masses and contains the customary six movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo,
Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei), many of which are based on classical
era symphonic forms. The scoring is for a standard orchestra and a quartet of
soloists in dialogue with an SATB chorus. Several additional conventions of
the symphonic mass are also observed: the Gloria and Credo movements
end with fugues; the solo writing in the Benedictus is mostly for quartet; the
music of the Kyrie returns at the end of the Agnus Dei; and the orchestra
weaves brief sections of independent orchestral passages into the texture.
In 1809, Beethoven acquired an annuity for life funded by Archduke Rudolf,
Princess Lobkowitz, and Prince Kinsky. When Rudolf was made a cardinal and
also Archbishop of Olmtz in Moravia in 1819, Beethoven began composing
his Missa solemnis, op. 123, as a dedication. Completed in 1822, the mass is
epic in length. Nearly every phrase of text is emphasized in each movement,
often with numerous repetitions and dramatic expressive markings. Every
movement is far longer than its Classical era counterpart and divided into
multiple sections, some with subsections, including an orchestral prelude
separating the Sanctus and Benedictus. The instrumental writing is equally
dramatic. Shrock characterizes the violin solo in the Benedictus as
approaching concerto proportions in both technical virtuosity and length. The
third section in the Agnus Dei features trumpets and timpani set to militarylike motifs and solo recitatives. According to Shrock, Beethoven considered
the mass his greatest work, perhaps evidenced by Beethovens inscription on
the mass, Von Herzen Mge es wieder zu Herzen gehn (From the heart
May it again go to the heart).

Edition: Breitkopf & Hrtel (vocal

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) composed eight masses, including two
Requiems. According to Shrock, Bruckners masses can be divided into two
styles: a capella neo-Renaissance settings that Bruckner composed for
conservative employers, and fully scored, expansively Romantic settings
more in keeping with Bruckners personal tastes.

Bruckners Messe in D-Moll (Mass in D minor) was composed in 1864 and

performed at the Linz Cathedral that same year under Bruckners direction.
The scoring and form maintain some of the symphonic mass traditions
established by Haydn: there is a quartet of soloists, the Gloria and Credo are
in one movement but divided into multiple sections delineated by varying
tempos, and the music of the opening Kyrie returns in the Agnus Dei.
However, there are also Romantic elements. Motifs occur in multiple
movements to unify the entire mass, such as ascending scalar passages in
the Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei movements. Orchestral
transitions bind sections of music together in a fluid manner, and word
painting devices are used, such as descending chromatic lines to
characterize the word mortuorum in the Credo.


Post-Romanticism (1900 and beyond)

According to Shrock, the Modern era is unlike all previous historical musical
eras in that it does not have a unifying stylistic characteristic. It began with a
search for something new. The expanded forms, scoring and highly
chromatic harmonies of the Romantic era had been stretched to the limit, if
not exhausted. In the desire for a new form of communication, and perhaps
in reaction to the dominance of Austrian-German composers during the
Romantic era, countries offered their own alternatives to functional harmony.
Nationalism, then, is partly the reason for the divergent response to
Romanticism. In France, composers like Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) began using chords just for their color. Their
approach became known as Impressionism, which Shrock characterizes as
juxtaposing higher tertian harmonies in nontraditional ways to produce

effects of color, moving chords in parallel motion, and varying short motifs to
express the specific content of textual phrases. In Germany, Arnold
Schoenberg (1874-1951) broke with tonality by using all twelve tones of the
chromatic scale equally in serialism. In fact, the twentieth century is
abundant with various -isms, as composers sought for new ways of
expression (minimalism, pandiatonicism, primitivism, neo-Classicism,
tintinnabulism, aleatoricism, etc.).
Composers in many countries also incorporated folk idioms into their music,
including music from non-Western cultures. Shrock observes that Asian
elements became particularly evident in music of the early modern French
composers, and American jazz styles were incorporated into the textures of
twentieth-century German works. Many mass settings have also used folk
material. The Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez is a 1964 setting based on the
music of native Argentinian folk dances. The scoring is for T solo, SATB
chorus, percussion (including native Andean instruments), and keyboard. The
Missa brevis by Zoltan Kodaly (18821967), composed in 1948, uses modal
harmonies and imitative textures to invoke Hungarian music of past
Finally, as in previous eras, twentieth century composers also contributed to
mass traditions by writing in older styles. Notable examples include neoMedieval masses by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and neo-Renaissance a
cappella masses by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Francis Poulenc
(1899-1963), Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) and Paul Hindemith (18951963).
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