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16th - century
The Netherlands
Missa pro fidelibus defunctis
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1559c
Musical form:mass
Text/libretto:Latin mass
Label(s):Listen: Etcetera KTC 1412
This eight-movement requiem mass is scored for four parts: superior, altus, tenor and bass, and it is (like all Renaissance requiems) based on the corresponding melodies from the plainsong Mass for the Dead, the plainchant. This Requiem Mass by a anonymous composer is found in Volume III / Codex III of the meanwhile famous Leiden Choirbooks belonging to the former college of the Seven Liturgical Hours (Het College van de zeven Getijdenmeesteren) of the Pieterskerk (Peterchurch) in Leiden. That singing college gathered together in that times (16th century) seven times a day to sing: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.
It is interesting to see a series of works by the famous Netherlandish composers are in this Codex in total consisting out of seven Choirbooks. Those Choirbooks did survive the Iconoclastic fury in 1566. Anthonius de Blauwe is the music copyist who made this volume/Codex III in his offices in Leiden. Unique in this Choirbook is the presence of two Requiem Masses in it one by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1547) and one unfortunately set by an anonymous composer four-part setting.
The eight movements of this Anonym Missa pro fidelibus defunctis are:

Introitus: Requiem aeternam. 4’21”
Kyrie Christe Kyrie 2’26”
Graduale: Si ambulem 4’35”
Tractus: Sicut servus. 7’34”
Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe.9’35”
Sanctus & Benedictus 4’57”
Agnus Dei I, II, III 5’01”
Communio: Lux aeterna. 3’46”

This sober masterpiece Missa pro fidelibus defunctis consists out of eight movements. The whole Mass is set in a real sober, austere and restrained style. But the plainchant is clearly to be heard in one or more voices (Superior and Tenor). The first impression is a style like Jacobus Clemens (1510-1556) or the late Anthonius Divitis (1473-1528). In fact this anonymous composer uses the same texture like for instance Divitis/Févin did. So he uses in the Tractus the text “Sicut servus”. Others did use in the Tractus the “Absolve Domine” text like we saw in the Requiem settings by Jacobus Clemens non Papa , Esquivel (1560-1615) Requiem 1613, Lassus (1532-1594) Requiem 1580 and Asola (1528-1609) Requiem 1574. This Missa pro fidelibus Defunctis is set in a more homophonic way rather than a presentation of contrapuntal passages which we see more in the late fourth Netherlandish generation.
This Missa pro fidelibus defunctis starts as usual with the Introitus Requiem aeternam. Introitus: Requieme aeternam: this setting is built round the well known plainchant. which is located in the Superior and Tenor line. After the short intro plainchant ‘Requiem’ by the Tenor part, all parts follow in a more homophonic way. The composer uses some short dissonances to expressive his feelings in underlining the text. The “Te decet hymnus” is again plainchant (Tenor) end the following “et tibi redetur votum” is more lively set in an imitative way. Kyrië: the Kyrië, Christe and Kyrië movements are set in a modest homophonic polyphonic way, but not as rich as the real Proper‘s pro defunctis plainchant phrases of this Mass. Graduale: as Gradual plainchant this anonymous composer uses the text ‘Si Ambulem’ Before the reforms of the Council of Trent (1543-1563) there were diverse alternative texts for the Proper’s of the Mass of the Dead in use, which differs per region. Nowadays we use ‘Requiem aeternam’. We already saw the use of this particular Gradual-text “Si Ambulem” among others by the Netherlandish composers like Ockeghem (c.1420-1497), Divitis (c.1473-c.1528), de Févin (1473-1512), Prioris (c.1460-c.1514), Richafort (1480-1547), Claudin Sermisy (c.1490-1562), Benedictus Appenzeller (c.1480-1558aft), Jacobus de Kerle (1531-1591) and Lassus (1532-1594). This use depends on and vary per region. For instance and on the other hand the Spanish Polyphonists and the Netherlandish Engarandus Juvenis (16th Century) used the now known Gradual-text ‘Requiem aeternam’, page 1808 Liber Usualis, nor others did use this Gradual-text but other parts of the Proper’s for instance ‘Tractus: sicut servus’ like Pierre de la Rue ( 1460-1518) did. But in this Missa the Tractus “Sicut servus” is set by this anonymous composer. This ”Si Ambulem” starts with the normal plainchant-intro and is followed by modest polyphonic movements for four parts. The last part “Virga tua” is more lively and is set for two voices ((AT) like Divitis/Févin did. Sequentia: the Sequence Dies Irae is not set by this composer, therefore is used the Tractus. Tractus: as Sequentia chant is chosen “Sicut Servus” . This composer starts with plainchant “Sicut servus” followed by more lively imitative style in all voices! Like Divitis/Févin the second part of this tractus “Sitivit anima mea” is set for three voices (ATB). The last part “Fuerunt mihi lacrimae” is full of tension and even more considered in contemplation and is set for four parts (SATB). Offertorium: in the ‘offertorium Domine Jesu Christe’ included the ‘Secreta, Hostias’ the unkown composer uses again a diversity of imitative lively polyphonic style. “Domine Jesu Christe” starts with the Plainchant in Tenor. “Quam olim” is set for lower voices (ATTB). The secreta “Hostias” starts again with plainchant in the Tenor. The following “Tu Suscipe” (ATTB) is set in polyphonic imitative style ending with a low Bass. The Requiem aeternam (Tenor) is again set in Plainchant and followed with a very impressive homophonic “Et Lux perpetua luceat eis” (SATB) in underlining that important wording ending with a closure setting for a high Altus on “Et Lux perpetua Luceat eis.” We don’t see this coda in the original manuscript. And that treble will come back in the last (major) chords in the last Quam olim in “et semini eius” to underline a hopeful end. Sanctus, Benedictus & Agnus Dei: the Sanctus, Benedictus and the threefold Agnus Dei are set in a more modest polyphonic way like we saw in the Kyrië settings. The Sanctus starts in plainchant followed in a more imitative way where the “ pleni sunt coeli “ is set homophonic followed by a lively and joyful with syncope’s “Hosanna in excelsis.” The “Benedictus” is due to the wording more introvert and more with contemplation. The “Hosanna” is short, starting with a dissonant with a powerful ending up in major. All the three Agnus Dei starts with the Plainchant followed by a modest polyphonic or a more warning style with long notes in the upper voice. The “sempiternam” ( 3/2 scored) is set full balanced but more homophonic with a treble ending in a maxima longus underlining “sempiternam” and a low Bass in the same conclusion (A fifth with Tenor). Communio: in the ‘Communio Lux Aeterna’ the composer quotes the plainchant setting clear in further using a modest imitative counterpoint. Very impressive are the three version of the “Et Lux perpetua luceat eis” with in the third version even the same high Altus and low Bass as we saw in the Offertorium. We don’t see this coda in the original manuscript out of 1559. The verse: “The Requiem aeternam” is even omitted by the copyist, but we suppose it could be sung in plainchant and that’s possible, see for instance the version by Divitis/Févin. Of course all the Missa pro defunctis composed in the Renaissance period we saw are pieces written with deep devotion and painful hope, but in music terms they seem unbeatable most impressive and expressive. The same is applicable for the creation from this unknown composer here.
This Missa pro fidelibus defunctis is composed in about 1540 and is as stated before in all a master piece by in his time. This Missa pro defunctis is published in 1559 in a Volume C / Codex III fl 49-fl 75 of Leiden Choirbooks by Anthonius de Blauwe, copyist.
Author:Wim Goossens