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Thread: How do you listen to 15th-18th cent Mass recordings?

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    Default How do you listen to 15th-18th cent Mass recordings?

    Some recordings of Mozart’s Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Fidelio include only the musical numbers set by those composers, omitting the intervening dialogue. For many purposes, that’s exactly what most listeners want. But it comes at a price. When the intervening dialogue is omitted, musical numbers are directly juxtaposed in ways that the composer never intended, sometimes spoiling the effect of the music.

    Most recordings of 15th-18th century masses are similar. They include only the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus+Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, omitting all the intervening material. Again, that’s exactly what most listeners want. But again it can result in unintended juxtapositions.

    The Sanctus is commonly a casualty. In liturgical masses it always arose out of the preceding plainchant Preface—generally to spectacular effect. But when all the plainchant is omitted, the Sanctus falls in the immediate shadow of the grand ending to the Credo, and doesn’t have half as much impact. (If you’ve ever heard Josquin’s Missa Pange lingua or Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli with a plainchant Preface before the Sanctus, you’ll know what I mean.)

    I appreciate that most listeners won’t be troubled by this. But if you are, what can you do about it?

    1. Do you stop the disc after the Credo, wait a few minutes in silence, and then play the Sanctus?

    2. Do you take off the disc after the Credo, play the Preface from another disc, and then return to the first disc?

    3. Do you use recordings that actually perform the appointed Preface before the Sanctus? If so, where can you get such recordings?

    (The problem only arises with masses that were originally designed for liturgical use. In masses designed for concert performance, such as Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, the Sanctus is meant to follow straight after the Credo, and the music is designed to allow for that.)

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    I just listen to the music. I delete any dialogue or unaccompanied recitative out of iTunes before I sync to my phone. I don’t need to hear the dialogue or secco at all. I want the music. I don’t think doing so ever spoils the effect of the music. When you’re listening to one number after another, that is separated from dialogue or secco there’s no flow between the musical numbers any way.
    Follow me on Instragam: figaro_under_the_moonlight.

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    For Medieval and Renaissance masses I prefer a full liturgical performance, i.e. with all of the chanted sections and motes in addition to the Ordinary sections.

    I don't listen to hardly any masses beyond Palestrina.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    For Medieval and Renaissance masses I prefer a full liturgical performance, i.e. with all of the chanted sections and motes in addition to the Ordinary sections.
    Do you have any favorite recordings of this kind? I've found a few, but I suspect I've only scratched the surface so far.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    I just listen to the music. I delete any dialogue or unaccompanied recitative out of iTunes before I sync to my phone. I don’t need to hear the dialogue or secco at all. I want the music. I don’t think doing so ever spoils the effect of the music. When you’re listening to one number after another, that is separated from dialogue or secco there’s no flow between the musical numbers any way.
    I muddled the waters thoroughly when I wrote the opening sentence of this thread! I shouldn't have dragged in Fidelio and Zauberflöte at all.

    When I referred to "intervening material" in recordings of Medieval and Renaissance Masses, I didn't mean spoken dialogue or recitativo secco, but Gregorian chant and/or polyphonic music between the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus+Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. Thus this isn't really a situation where music alternates with non-music. It's a situation where music of one style alternates with another.
    Last edited by gvn; Feb-15-2021 at 09:06.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Do you have any favorite recordings of this kind? I've found a few, but I suspect I've only scratched the surface so far.
    The only one where I've made it a point to find a number of different recordings is the Machaut Messe de Nostre Dame.

    These three are my favorites:

    Andrew Parrott, Tavener Consort
    Mary Berry, Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge
    Dominque Vellard, Ensemble Gilles Binchois

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post

    1. Do you stop the disc after the Credo, wait a few minutes in silence, and then play the Sanctus?

    No. I'm not Catholic, so I didn't know I was supposed to.

    2. Do you take off the disc after the Credo, play the Preface from another disc, and then return to the first disc?

    No.

    3. Do you use recordings that actually perform the appointed Preface before the Sanctus? If so, where can you get such recordings?

    No.
    I consider myself religious/spiritual, but when it comes to listening to recordings of mass settings at home, I'm there for the music. I have a McCreesh reconstruction of a mass with all the bells and chanting, and I skip the bells and chanting, because what happens live doesn't come across in a recording.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    The only one where I've made it a point to find a number of different recordings is the Machaut Messe de Nostre Dame.

    These three are my favorites:

    Andrew Parrott, Tavener Consort
    Mary Berry, Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge
    Dominque Vellard, Ensemble Gilles Binchois
    Thanks. The Parrott and Vellard are favorites in our house too. I hadn't realized that Mary Berry also did a recording of this work. Just listened to some online samples of it, and it's gone straight onto my next shopping list. Every good recording of Machaut's mass comes out so different that it might be a recording of a different work!

    I've found a few recordings of Renaissance Masses with the Ordinary punctuated, at least partially, with Gregorian or polyphonic Propers and/or motets (not always a full liturgical performance). Those that spring to mind are:

    DUFAY

    For his three middle-period Masses (St. James and the two St. Anthony Masses), Dufay himself supplied polyphonic settings of the Propers as well as the Ordinary, so these are included as integral parts of the work in all recordings. (The Binchois Consort recorded all three for Hyperion; Pomerium recorded the St. Anthony of Padua Mass for DG Archiv.)

    Propers associated with Dufay have also been included on a few recordings of three of his four late Masses:

    Missa Se la face ay pale with Proper cycle 06 [for St. Maurice] attributed to Dufay: Binchois Consort (“Dufay and the Court of Savoy,” Hyperion CDA 67715).

    Missa Ecce ancilla Domini with Proper cycle 03 [for Angels] attributed to Dufay: Ensemble Gilles Binchois (Virgin CDC 5 45050 2 = VBD 5 61818 2).

    Missa Ave regina caelorum with Cambrai MS forms of Gregorian Propers for Pentecost: Ensemble Cantus Figuratus & Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Stil 0710 SAN 85).

    LATER RENAISSANCE

    The Saint Gregory Society of New Haven, Connecticut, has issued CDs or CD-Rs of nine Renaissance Masses in full liturgical contexts:

    Corpus Christi (Josquin, Missa Pange lingua)

    Christmas Day (Palestrina, Missa O magnum mysterium)

    Easter Day (Palestrina, Missa Regina caeli)

    Pentecost (Palestrina, Missa Dum complerentur)

    Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Palestrina, Missa Sacerdos et Pontifex)

    Sacred Heart (Victoria, Missa Quam pulchri sunt)

    Assumption (Victoria, Missa Gaudeamus)

    Epiphany (Lassus, Missa Bell’ Amphtrit’ altera)

    St. Gregory the Great (Lassus, Missa In te Domine speravi)

    As well as Gregorian chant, the performances also include Renaissance polyphonic motets relevant to the occasion. These are live recordings, with occasional quirks, but the general standard of the singing is remarkably high.

    I personally have found the Josquin recording particularly illuminating. The Missa Pange lingua is a work that sounds good in any context; but hearing it in the context for which it was originally designed seems to take it into a new dimension.

    I suspect there must be other groups like this around the world, selling their own recordings on their own websites. I wish I could track them down!

    PALESTRINA: MISSA PAPAE MARCELLI

    Considering this is by far the most frequently recorded of all Renaissance Masses, it's surprising how few groups have recorded anything more than the Ordinary items.

    Pro Cantione Antiqua dir. Mark Brown (Peerless PCD 863 = MCA MCAD 25191 = Carlton 30366 00702 = Alto ALC 1225; also in
    Brilliant 99711/5) include Gregorian Propers for the Assumption.

    The William Byrd Choir dir. Gavin Turner (BBC Atrium CD 572) recorded in the Sistine Chapel a reconstruction of a 1613 Mass of St. Sylvester, including an 8-part arrangement of Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina's pupil Soriano. Regrettably the boomy acoustics of the Sistine Chapel all but defeated the BBC's sound engineers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Manxfeeder View Post
    1. Do you stop the disc after the Credo, wait a few minutes in silence, and then play the Sanctus?

    No. I'm not Catholic, so I didn't know I was supposed to.
    Thanks. I hasten to add that I'm not Roman Catholic either, and I didn't mean to suggest that anyone is "supposed" to do anything like that. My OP was prompted purely by musical/esthetic considerations. As far as I know, Medieval & Renaissance composers never dreamed that anyone would try to go straight from Credo to Sanctus, and didn't compose their music with that possibility in mind.

    My musical (not religious) problem was this: If one feels, in a particular recording of a particular Medieval or Renaissance Mass, that (e.g.) the sumptuous end of the Credo tends to overshadow the quiet start to the Sanctus, what can one do to minimize the damage?

    I recognize, of course, that this is a subjective matter, like all esthetic questions, and that most listeners probably wouldn't be troubled by it at all. The question is simply what one can do if one is thus troubled.
    Last edited by gvn; Feb-16-2021 at 13:27.

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    I completely agree with you that on a purely aesthetic level something is lost by presenting just the polyphonic parts of masses! When polyphony follows chant, I tend to hear it as a kind of profound deepening of the melodic experience of the chant, a dramatic turn inwards to an affective or spiritual interiority which had somehow been implied but not expressed in the chant alone... it's almost psychedelic in a certain sense. And I think (part of) why this happens is that even just a few minutes of the chant conditions me to listen melodically, to hear music as a horizontal flowing line, and so then after this conditioning, hearing multiple overlapping melodic lines in harmony is even more beautiful...

    I also think that presenting only the polyphony contributes towards an understanding of masses as akin to symphonic works, expressing a composer's unique vision and personality alone... whereas a mass with everything else highlights the interplay between the composer and the traditional melodies and potentially other composers' work as well...

    As for recording ensembles that embrace this idea, my favorite has to be Cappella Pratensis (and within Cappella Pratensis, the earlier series of recordings from the mid-90s), who also do things like: sing from a central part-book rather than from scores because psychologically this conditions singers to hear and think horizontally instead of vertically; pay attention to period- and region-appropriate pronunciations of latin, as the music was written with these different rhythmic emphases and levels of nasality in mind; etc... it's not 'authenticity' for its own sake but rather the idea that doing things this way, just like presenting a complete mass with chant, unlocks something about the music itself.

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