This is pre-eminently the case, in the Kyrie of his Missa brevis, a few bars of which have already been given, as an example, under the heading Hexachord [vol. i. p. 735]. The same feeling is distinctly perceptible throughout the Kyrie of the Missa Papæ Marcelli; but associated, there, with a spirit of hopeful confidence which at once stamps it as the nearest approach to a perfect ideal that has ever yet been reached. More simple in construction, yet, scarcely less beautiful, is the opening movement of the same composer's Missa pro Defunctis, in which the Plain Chaunt Canto fermo given above is invested with a plaintive tenderness which entirely conceals the consummate Art displayed in its contrapuntal treatment—
The effect of these pure vocal harmonies, when sung, as they are intended to be sung, in immediate contrast to the stern unisonous Plain Chaunt of the Introit, is one which, once heard, can never be forgotten. The manner of singing them, however, requires careful consideration. One great difficulty arises from the fact, that, in the old partbooks, no indication whatever is given as to the way in which the words and music are to be fitted together: and modern editors differ so much in their ideas on the subject, that no two editions are found to correspond. The following phrase from the Kyrie of the Missa Papæ Marcelli only exhibits one instance of divergence out of a thousand.
|(As edited by Proske.)|
|(As edited by Lafage.)|
In this case, Lafage is undoubtedly right in allotting a distinct note to each syllable of the word, Ky-ri-e: but, nothing can justify his division of the penultimate semibreve into a dotted minim and crotchet. The second and third syllables of e-le-i-son can be perfectly enunciated, after the Italian manner, to a single note. In all such cases, the conductor must use his own judgment as to the best mode of procedure.
Without pausing to trace the progress of the polyphonic Kyrie through the decadence of the School to which it owed its existence, or the rise of that which followed—a School in which instrumental accompaniment first seriously asserted its claim to notice—we pass on to a period at which an entirely new phase of Art had already attained its highest degree of perfection. The Kyrie of Bach's great Mass in B minor differs, toto cælo, from its polyphonic predecessors. Though moulded in the old tripartite form, its two stupendous Fugues, and the melodious and elaborately developed Duet which separates them, have nothing but that division in common with the grave slow movements of the older Masters, and are such, indeed, as Bach alone could ever have conceived. Too long for practical use, as a part of the Church Service, they unite in forming a monument of artistic excellence, representing a School, which, while it scorned to imitate anything which had gone before it, was able to defy the imitation of later composers.
The Kyries of Haydn, and Mozart—legitimate descendants of those of Pergolesi, and Jomelli—abound with beauties of a wholly different order. The well-known opening of Haydn's grand Missa Imperialis (in D minor) is a fiery Allegro, in which bright passages of semiquavers, and short but telling points of fugal imitation, are contrasted together with striking effect, but with very little trace of the expression which we should naturally expect in a petition for mercy. That of the favourite Mass commonly called 'Mozart's Twelfth' is too well known to need more than a passing allusion. Neither Beethoven, in his Missa Solemnis, nor Cherubini, in his great Mass in D minor, can be said to have struck out a new ideal; though both infused into the Kyrie an amount of dramatic power previously unknown in Church Music. In the Kyries of Rossini, and Gounod, free use is made of the same forcible means of expression, notwithstanding the feigned return to an older style, in the Christe of the first-named composer's Messe Solennelle.
In tracing the history of the Kyrie, from its first appearance as a polyphonic composition, to the latest development of modern times, we find, that, apart from the idiosyncratic peculiarities of varying Schools, and individual composers, it has clothed itself in no more than three distinct ideal forms; of which the first depends, for its effect, upon the expression of devotional feeling, while the second appeals more strongly to the intellect, and the third, to the power of human emotion. Each of these types may fairly lay claim to its own peculiar merits: but, if it be conceded that devotional feeling is the most necessary attribute of true Church Music, it is certain, that, whatever may be in store for the future, that particular