Josquin Des Prez (±1450 1521): Missa Pange Lingua

Josquin Signature 180x143 Josquin’s Mass setting Missa Pange Lingua is based upon the melody of Pange Lingua, Aquinas’s adaptation of Venantius Fortunatus’ hymn for Corpus Christi. It’s a remarkable piece of music, composed when Josquin was at the height of his power. It’s both a cantus firmus Mass and a paraphrase setting, cantus firmus because Josquin uses the Pange Lingua chant as the basis for each movement and paraphrase because he uses Pange Lingua’s melody in each of the Mass’ sections.

You can hear how Josquin uses the melody right from the start in the Kyrie. He begins the Mass – the Kyrie, by taking the first two phrases of the chant melody and setting them in paired imitation tenor ➝ bass then soprano ➝ alto.  Kyrie Eleison takes up sixteen measures and is succeeded by the Christe which he bases upon the third and fourth phrases of  the chant rearranging the dueting as follows bass ➝ alto and tenor ➝ soprano.The final Kyrie uses the last two phrases of the plainsong as its bases. As well as introducing the chant melody Josquin uses the first movement to introduce the three note motif that can be heard repeatedly throughout the Mass.

The remainder of the Mass is similar to the Kyrie in that Josquin takes the chant and uses it to build a melodic framework in which the text’s declamation is not only made crystal clear but is enhanced. Thus in sections with lengthy texts such as the Gloria and the Credo  phrase openings are sung using a sparse minimalistic structure which follows the declamation of the text and which are then confirmed and emphasised by imitation. The melodic continuation which follows tends to follow the principle of one note to one syllable but Josquin is perfectly willing to emphasise particular words by adding extra notes where the text demands it. While in the shorter sections such as the Sanctus Josquin’s typically step-wise presentation of the text adds both interest and forward movement without ever sacrificing clarity. The entire Mass is both refined and elegant with not one extraneous or misplaced note throughout its counterpoint no wonder that Luther called him the "Master of notes". Enjoy :-).

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Video Source: ▶ Josquin: Missa Pange lingua (Tallis Scholars) – YouTube Uploaded on 15 Jun 2011 by Edward Murray.

Note: I posted Pange Lingua together with its text and translation earlier during the week [see: Pange Lingua | Saturday Chorale] and have re-posted it below, if you’re not familiar with the chant melody I recommend you listen to it before listening to the Mass .

Pange Lingua

Performers: The Tallis Scholars conducted by Peter Phillips

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