The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were a time of great musical innovation and achievement. One of the most important of the achievements was the development of the so-called cyclic Mass. (A cyclic Mass is a Mass setting whose components are united by a common musical theme).
Perhaps because it was in many ways a logical development of the great English tradition of the Festal Mass English composers – in particular Robert Fayrfax and Nicholas Ludford were at the forefront of this musical innovation. Missa O bone Ihesu epitomises this form of the Mass and takes it further. It is unusual amongst Fayrfax’s Masses in three ways:
- It’s entirely original – it isn’t based upon a cantus firmus.
- It is dedicated to Jesus rather than to Mary or some other saint.
- It’s paired with a Magnificat and an antiphon with which it shares musical themes (making it the earliest known example of such a pairing).
The combination must have been very popular with Fayrfax’s contemporaries the Mass is preserved in no fewer than six sources while the Magnificat is found in no less than eleven, clearly Renaissance Englishmen liked novelty quite as much as we do and creating a set of three strongly linked pieces was very novel indeed.
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