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Celebrations from the Mediterranean

           The parody mass is a method by which a composer recycles earlier material or that of another composer to set to the Latin Ordinary of The Mass.  These masses have proved a major contributor to the repertoire of early music since its revival in the mid-20th century, from the numerous masses based upon the tune "l'Homme arme" to Josquin's revered Missa "Pange Lingua."  Even J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor could be reconstrued as parody mass, as it borrows material from his cantatas and Lutheran masses.

           In this program we present two such parody masses.  The first by Cristobal de Morales takes as its model the motet Vulnerasti cor meum, attributed to the Flemish composer Jean Mouton (1459-1522).  Francisco Guerrero's setting of Quae est ista ("Who is this so fair") quotes the same passage from King Solomon's poem.  The influence of the sensual Song of Songs text "You have ravaged my heart" is evident in the transplanted mass texts.  Contrary to the parody masses of Lassus and his fellow Flemish school which often used bawdy songs to bring the secular flavor to the sacred, in the Spanish school these lusty songs become, in effect, love songs to the Virgin Mary and therefore the basis for a Lady mass. 

           Guerrero is more extravagant and ebulant in his writing than his teacher Morales. Much like Victoria, he maintains the characteristic Spanish flavor of open fifth harmonies using thirds and cross relations only in the most expressive of passages.  Comparing Guerrero to Victoria and Morales, Bruno Turner writes: "Compared to the dour Morales, his manner is less rugged, less powerful; compared to Victoria, Guerrero seems less tightly organized, less concise."  The Morales Missa Vulnerasti cor meum belongs to the earlier generation still seeking to shed the stark angular nature of medieval polyphonic writing.  Most remarkable to the ear is a sense of unrequited anticipation.  Moments of clear destination or arrival in this mass are few and far between, which cause the text laden Gloria and Credo movements to have less gravitas than the lengthy Kyrie, Sanctus, and threefold Agnus Dei.  The challenge therefore to the singer and listener is to nurture and hear the marriage of sound and silence in space or in a more practical sense, the marriage of music and liturgy.

           One of the great curiosities with much of the Renaissance sacred repertoire is the adding of voices at the end of masses, motets, and magnificats.  This could be easily excused as a grandiose ending but the real musicological question is the practicality of adding voices to a previously balanced group of singers.  Therefore, in this performance is added only a single tenor voice to the third Agnus Dei.  The likelihood is that much of this music would have been doubled by instruments but can't one just imagine performances of this mass in Morales' day as a chance for a student, or the composer himself to step into the group of singers? 

           The motets Gaudent in caelis by Victoria and Palestrina are sung in their liturgical function as an Antiphon to the Magnificat on Feasts of Two or more Martyrs.  Palestrina and the less well known Suriano represent the pinnacle of the Counter Reformation focused on brevity and clarity of text inflection.  This repertoire bleeds Roman churchmanship which so heavily influenced the musical mission of the Catholic Church compounded in Spain as they colonized the globe taking this repertoire and liturgy as far as the New World with the music of Guerrero making regular appearances in Guatemala, Lima, Mexico City and Puebla.

           Every year on or about the Feast of All Saints on the 1st of November, choirs are heard singing Victoria's motet O quam gloriosum or its equally sublime parody mass.  Surely the cause for the popularity of this mass exceeds the affordable performing editions which sprang up in the mid-20th century.  The original motet, much like the Victoria and Palestrina antiphons described above, is an exuberant and boisterous caterwauling in honor of the myriad of saints rejoicing.  The mass however is striking in contrast.  It presents a world of calm and serenity though it is a relatively simple cut and paste of notes and rhythm to new text - a rejoicing spirituality of a completely different nature.  Perhaps the attraction to vocal ensembles of all skill levels is that to learn the motet is to quickly learn the mass as well.  However, simply approaching the twists and turns of the mass texts as you would the motet is a disservice both to the texts and the polyphony itself.  This is much like the revered carol "Silent Night" in its English version which regrettably doesn't carry with it the same aesthetic as its original German fore bearer. Victoria is clearly more gifted in setting text than his predecessor Morales.  Like William Byrd in his three masses, Victoria (a priest himself) shares his own theology and faith in his crafting of polyphony.  The Kyrie eleison leads as an upbeat to the Gloria in excelsis as would be liturgically appropriate.  Victoria sets texts most beautifully in the Credo. Where Byrd would focus on the one holy catholic church, Victoria saves that care and grace for "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine/and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary" - becoming at once both composer and missionary.