Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/245

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clearly intended to be sung pianissimo—an extremely beautiful idea, in perfect accordance with the character of this part of the Service, during which the Celebrant is proceeding, secreto, with the Prayers which immediately precede the Consecration of the Host. After the Elevation—which takes place in silence—the Choir begin the Benedictus, in soft low tones, almost always entrusted to Solo Voices. The Osanna, which concludes the movement, is, in the great majority of cases, identical with that which follows the Sanctus. The Pater noster is sung, by the Celebrant, to a Plain Chaunt melody, contained in the Missal. After its conclusion, the Choir sings the last movement of the Mass—the Agnus Dei—while the Celebrant is receiving the Host. The first division of the Agnus Dei may be very effectively sung by Solo Voices, and the second, in subdued chorus (Figure rythmique blanche hampe bas.svg = 50–72), with gentle gradations of piano, and pianissimo, as in the Kyrie. When there is only one movement, it must be sung twice; the words dona nobis pacem being substituted, the second time, for miserere nobis. The Agnus Dei of Josquin's Missa 'L'Homme armé' is in three distinct movements.

The Choir next sings the Plain Chaunt Communio, as given in the Gradual. The Celebrant recites the Prayer called the Post-Communion. The Deacon sings the words, 'Ite, missa est,' from which the Service derives its name. And the Rite concludes with the Domine salvum fac, and Prayer for the reigning Sovereign.

The Ceremonies we have described are those peculiar to High or Solemn Mass. When the Service is sung by the Celebrant and Choir, without the assistance of a Deacon and Subdeacon, and without the use of Incense, it is called a Missa cantata, or Sung Mass. Low Mass is said by j the Celebrant, alone, attended by a single Server. I According to strict usage, no music whatever is admissible, at Low Mass: but, in French and German village Churches, and, even in those of Italy, it is not unusual to hear the Congregations sing Hymns, or Litanies, appropriate to the occasion, though not forming part of the Service. Under no circumstances can the duties proper to the Choir, at High Mass, be transferred to the general Congregation.

It is scarcely necessary to say, that the music of every Mass worth singing will naturally demand a style of treatment peculiar to itself; especially with regard to the Tempi of its different movements. A modern editor tells us that more than four bars of Palestrina should never be sung, continuously, in the same time.[1] This is, of course, an exaggeration. Nevertheless, immense variety of expression is indispensable. Everything depends upon it: and, though the leader will not always find it easy to decide upon the best method, a little careful attention to the points we have mentioned will, in most cases, enable him to produce results very different from any that are attainable by the hard dry manner which is too often supposed to be inseparable from the performance of antient figured music.

Our narrative was interrupted, at a transitional period, when the grand old mediæval style was gradually dying out, and a newer one courageously struggling into existence, in the face of difficulties which, sometimes, seemed insurmountable. We resume it, after the death of the last representative of the old régime, Gregorio Allegri, in the year 1652.

The most remarkable Composers of the period which we shall designate as the Seventh Epoch in the history of the vocal Mass—comprising the latter part of the Seventeenth Century, and the earlier years of the Eighteenth—were, Alessandro Scarlatti, Leo, and Durante: men whose position in the chronicles of Art is rendered somewhat anomalous, though none the less honourable, by the indisputable fact, that they all entertained a sincere affection for the older School, while labouring, with all their might, for the advancement of the newer. It was, undoubtedly, to their love for the Masters of the Sixteenth Century that they owed the dignity of style which constitutes the chief merit of their compositions for the Church: but, their real work lay in the direction of instrumental accompaniment, for which Durante, especially, did more than any other writer of the period. His genius was, indeed, a very exceptional one. While others were content with cautiously feeling their way, in some new and untried direction, he boldly started off, with a style of his own, which gave an extraordinary impulse to the progress of Art, and impressed its character so strongly upon the productions of his followers, that he has been not unfrequently regarded as the founder of the modern Italian School. Whatever opinion may be entertained on that point, it is certain that the simplicity of his melodies tended, in no small degree, to the encouragement of those graces which now seem inseparable from Italian Art; while it is equally undeniable that the style of the Cantata, which he, no less than Alessandro Scarlatti, held in the highest estimation, exercised an irresistible influence over the future of the Mass.

The Eighth Epoch is represented by one single work, of such gigantic proportions, and so exceptional a character, that it is impossible, either to class it with any other, or to trace its pedigree through any of the Schools of which we have hitherto spoken. The artistic status of John Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor,—produced in the year 1733—only becomes intelligible, when we consider it as the natural result of principles, inherited through a long line of masters, who bequeathed their musical acquirements, from father to son, as other men bequeath their riches: principles, upon which rest the very foundations of the later German Schools. Bearing this in mind, we are not surprised at finding it free from all trace of the older Ecclesiastical traditions. To compare it with Palestrina's Missa Papæ Marcelli—even were such a perversion of criticism possible—would be as unfair, to either side, as an attempt to judge the master pieces of Rembrandt

  1. The only other Composer, antient, or modern, with regard to whose works such a remark could have been hazarded, is Chopin—the unfettered exponent of the wildest dreams of modern romanticism. So strangely does experience prove that 'there is nothing new under the Sun'!