Introduction to the Renaissance Mass

The vocal repertoire of the Renaissance (1450-1520) includes chansons, motets, and Masses. Many are based on sacred text from the Roman Catholic church, such as the Mass, and used for Catholic church services. Masses were based on same texts and melodies of earlier monophonic Gregorian chants, but with multiple voice parts added to the chant. The Ordinary Mass consists of multiple movements, using the texts of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and other liturgy. All of the movements use Latin prayers, except for Kyrie, which is a Greek prayer for mercy. The Greek language suggests that Kyrie is older than the rest of the Latin texts. In the Kyrie, the text is divided into three sections, which are repeated multiple times in a church service. The structure of the text naturally gives the Kyrie a ternary form, A-B-C, with a new melody or theme for each section. The brevity of the text cause composers to write in lengthy, highly melismatic lines. Traditionally, the clergymen led Kyrie, while people attending the Mass service responded.

Latin Text

English Translation

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Christe eleison

Christe eleison

Christe eleison

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

The Kyrie has been evolving throughout Western music history. Set to Gregorian chants during the Medieval Period, the Kyrie was sung in a chant like, monophonic texture.

Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKtyZwtrTCQ

During the Renaissance, Masses continued to be sung in the a cappella style, and retain some of the modes used in Medieval music, however, composers began to write polyphonic Masses, using imitation and the cantus firmus. Cantus firmus (Latin: “Fixed melody”) is a melody that forms the basis for ornamentation in the other voices. This melody can be borrowed from a preexisting source. In Missa D’ung Aultre Amer, Josquin Des Prez uses the cantus firmus technique in the tenor line, and borrows from an Ockeghen chanson for the superius line.

In terms of harmony, Renaissance composers started to use more vocal parts, allowing chords to sound fuller. The open harmony of pre-Renaissance music was abandoned for 3rd and 6th intervals. The entire mass is written in G Dorian mode.

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