Feature: Francisco de Peñalosa (±1470 -1528) Missa Ave Maria peregrina

Peñalosa Guerrero buried Seville CathedalFrancisco de Peñalosa was probably born in 1470 at Talavera de la Reina, near Madrid. His career encompassed the early period of Spain’s Golden Age, the combined effect of the penultimate moments of the Reconquista, the unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon under  Ferdinand and Isabella, and the discovery of the New World marked the beginning of Spain’s ascent to world dominance in the early sixteenth century. Musically too times were good, there were aristocrats, clergy, and royalty all with an interest in sponsoring music and with the money to do it.

Spanish music and Spanish composers flourished in this atmosphere of confidence and prosperity. The influence of the ‘Flemmish school’ was pervasive but far from hindering the emergence of composers of real quality such as Peñalosa the Flemish influence provided a framework in which the Spanish composers could experiment with their art with ever-increasing confidence. Of these composers – the generation of composers before the towering figure of Cristóbal de Morales arrived on the scene Peñalosa is, to my mind, the most important.

Peñalosa’s compositions seem be associated with his career at the Aragonese royal court the time during which he was active as a composer seems sto have lasted about 20 years. It’s beautiful if occasionally somewhat austere music. Rather less of it has survived than one might wish but his surviving religious music includes 22 motets and six settings of the Mass. He made use of a wide variety of compositional techniques such as ostinato, imitation, cambiata figurations, and canon but his music never becomes excessive or boisterous. I think it fair to say that musically he followed Josquin Des Prez far more than he followed Nicholas Champion, Pierre de La Rue, Marbrianus de Orto, or Alexander Agricola all of whom accepted appointments in Spain at the chapel of Philip the Fair  between 1501 and 1506.  Not that Peñalosa’s music slavishly follows Josquin – it doesn’t, like every other composer of the period he considered borrowing another composer’s technique or melody to be a compliment. There was nothing slavish in such borrowings by the time Peñalosa  had finished with them he’d well and truly set his own stamp of simplicity combined with considerable variety of figuration and texture upon them.

Missa Ave Maria peregrina

I’ll be writing from time to time about Peñalosa’s motets (see: Francisco de Peñalosa (±1470-1528) Transeunte Domino Jesu – YouTube | Saturday Chorale) but for present purposes I want to concentrate on his Masses. These, as you might expect are mainly based on secular melodies. There are six that have survived intact:

  1. Missa L’Homme armé
  2. Missa Por la mar
  3. Missa Adieu mes amours
  4. Missa El Ojo
  5. Missa Nunca fue pena mayor
  6. Missa Ave Maria peregrina

Of these six it is the last that is the subject of this posting.

Of these six Masses that have survived the five centuries since they were composed only the Missa Ave Maria peregrina is chant-based. It’s a beautiful piece of music into which Peñalosa wove sections of the plainchant Ave Maria. Not content with that  he uses sections of the Salve Regina in the Sanctus and Hosanna where you can hear the tenor singing the chant melody associated with the words ‘Spes nostra’ and ‘Illos tuos misericordes’. Then there’s the Agnus Dei, which is beyond my capacity to  describe. Happily Martyn Imrie’s description in the notes for the CD cannot be bettered:

As a final tour de force Peñalosa constructs the climactic five-voice Agnus Dei around a secular tune, that of the Hayne chanson De tous biens plaine (there being an obvious symbolic significance of a love song in a Mass to the Virgin), in cancrizans canon against the section of the Salve regina beginning at the ‘Vita dulcedo’ verse, all the while surrounding the two structural voices with flowing counterpoints of his own invention.

It is quite simply a beautiful piece of music by a composer we rarely hear of, it’s beautifully sung in the recording below by Westminster Cathedral Choir conducted by James O’Donnell. Enjoy :-).


Follow this link to open and save a copy of the Mass text in PDF form: Francisco de Peñalosa (±1470 -1528) Missa Ave Maria peregrina.pdf

Video Source: Francisco de Peñalosa (c1470-1528) Missa Ave Maria peregrina – YouTube Published on May 5, 2012 by markfromireland the PDF will open in a new tab or window depending on your browser settings.

4 thoughts on “Feature: Francisco de Peñalosa (±1470 -1528) Missa Ave Maria peregrina

  1. Dear Mark,
    Thank you for this sublime and beautiful Mass. I listened to it, hushed softly, in the background for my simple celebration here in the Hermitage, on this the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. Nothing could have been more appropriate or inspiring. Bless you and your wonderful work.


  2. Thank you Mark for this sublime and beautiful “Missa”. A perfect selection for this day on which we celebrate the Birth of the Virgin.

    The article is fascinating, and informative. I look forward to hearing more. The “Missa Por la mar” intrigues me.
    Blessings upon you and your good work.

    Br. John

    • He was a remarkable composer and I wish both that more of his music had survived and that what has survived would be recorded more. I have a recording of his “Missa Nunca fue pena mayor” and his motets – and that’s it. I’ve only ever heard part of the Missa Por la mar (this was about 10 years ago in Seville Cathedral the choir were rehearsing) it sounded interesting, alas they were massacring it so I didn’t linger.

      I’ll be posting both the Missa Nunca fue pena mayor and more of his motets at some point in the not too distant future. If you use a feed reader this is location of the feed:


      Thanks for your comment and bless you, your work, and those you work for.


  3. Thank-you so much for this very informative article. There is really not nearly enough attention given to the soul-penetrating music of this great composer. I became an avid listener after hearing the l991 recording of his motets by the ensemble Pro Cantione Antiqua conducted by Bruno Tuner. I just recently acquired the recording by Ensemble Gilles Binchois that includes ‘Missa Nunca Fue Pena Mayor’, also very enjoyable. Thanks again.

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