A 40 voice Mass!
  • This one by Striggio, 1567, newly discovered
    Rome, Dec 02: A music scholar has rediscovered a 16th century choral work of Italian composer Alessandro Striggio in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the national library of France.

    The man who found this music piece is Davitt Moroney, a music professor from Berkley.

    Known as the ‘Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno’, this gigantic choral setting of music for the Catholic mass was composed in Florence for the Medici family, whom Striggio served as a highly paid court musician. It was sent as a gift to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1567 as one element in a campaign by the Medici to obtain a much-sought-after archducal title.

    "It's one of the first great pieces to use architecture and space, with musical phrases physically moving around the ring from choir to choir," said Moroney.

    The 30-minute mass, composed for a massive ensemble of five eight-part double choirs, is one of the most extraordinary artworks of the Italian Renaissance. But while references to it exist in period correspondence, the score itself had been lost since 1726.

    The score of ‘Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno’ was never, in fact, missing so much as hidden in plain sight. Its failure to be studied in depth by the musicologists of the past several centuries has more to do with the vagaries of bibliographic notation than with popular notions of treasures being forgotten in abandoned storerooms by forgetful descendants.

    More or less, the reason for the lost music work was the intervention of human error. A series of misspellings of the name Striggio by a series of copyists and archivists rendered the composer's name, variously, as ‘Strigeo,’ ‘Struseo,’ and ‘Strusco,’ while the number of choral parts was, early in the last century, reduced to a mere four (from 40) by a proof-reader who thought the number more reasonable.

    For these simple but ultimately confounding reasons, Striggio's grand 40-part mass essentially came to be regarded as lost, even as it remained accessible to scholars in France's greatest library under a different name.

    "The forty-part Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno by Alessandro Striggio languished throughout the twentieth century disguised as a nameless four-part Mass by Strusco," said Moroney. "Since such a work would appear to be entirely banal, and since no such composer ever existed, scholars have not been in a rush to study this music," he added.

    But, after tracing the peregrinations of at least four copies of the score over the decades, Moroney concluded that one complete set of partbooks came to rest in the "extraordinary library" of Italian and French scores of the composer Sébastien de Brossard, which ultimately was donated to the French King Louis XV in 1726 in return for the promise of a small pension.

    It thus entered the holdings of the Bibliothèque royale, which after considerable political turmoil later in that century were transferred to the Bibliothèque nationale.

    Moroney's scholarly pursuit of the mass lasted 20 years, until, in January 2005, he recognized information published by a French scholar as the crucial final piece of the puzzle that enabled him to locate the missing manuscript.

    After the discovery, Moroney also transcribed the mass into a modern musical notation and prepared the first modern performance in London's Royal Albert Hall in July this year.

    "The concert was a huge event," said Moroney. "We got Striggio back on the map," he added.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    Hopefully, this will get onto CD soon?
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    Humm, there's a CD on Amazon called 40 Voices. While there's a notation that it's not immediately available to ship (whatever that means), there is a blurb about the CD:

    This dazzling CD offers huge Renaissance pieces performed by the always spectacular Huelgas Ensemble under Paul van Nevel. The taste for complex polyphony was at its peak in the late 16th century. The Italian composer Alessandro Striggio amazed the civilized world with a motet in 40 parts, driving the Englishman Thomas Tallis to compose one even more complex in the same number of parts to honor Queen Elizabeth. It still hasn't been surpassed in formality and stringent creativity. Other works on this CD are a Gloria by Gomez in 12 parts, a Qui habitat by Desprez in 24 voices, and a lush 16-part work by Giovanni Gabrieli, among others. Van Nevel and his group (and the superb engineers) keep every line clear, with round tone balanced throughout all the vocal ranges, with the long, melodic lines flowing so naturally that the listener never gets lost. The Desprez reminds me of some works by Antoine Brumel, with imitation so close and frequent that the effect is that of a pulsating organism. The CD opens with a 35-voice piece by the contemporary composer Willem Ceuleers (a member of the Huelgas Ensemble, born in 1963), and while its harmonies certainly are not Renaissance, it is in spirit the kind of polyphony on the rest of the CD. Perhaps listening to this 71-minute CD in one sitting would be too rich; it's a feast to be savored.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    Ah, while the 40 part motet has been known, and recorded, Jeffrey's posting is about the newly discovered Mass setting. There's more info at:
  • Let's do it in Chicago, maybe along with Tallis's 40-voice Motet
  • Sure, let's break out the Missa Salisburgensis (a53) while we're at it! Seriously, a Josquin 4-pt motet beats any of that stuff.

  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    To make Daniel and Moconnor happy, let's just have the Josquin "Qui habitat"!
  • There is now a recording of the Striggio Mass in 40 Parts from the British group I Fagiolini that has just been released on Decca. There is a site with loads of background information at www.ifagiolini.com/striggio
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 2,000
    Hmmm, I'll have to order that for the library.
    Seriously, 40 voices is overkill. The Tallis barely works. I've performed it, but how many have? For most of us, even doing 6-part polyphony is a dream.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    which is exactly why we should do it at the colloquiem.
  • We had this discussion at NOLA intensive about SPEM SPEM SPEM SPEM, SPEM SPEM SPEM SPEM...
    I'm on the O'Connor/Quick side.
    Mahrt, Bartlett and IIRC Schaefer were on the other side.
    Ergo: only choose me for your side if it's dodgeball.
    But don's right; if anywhere, colloquium.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,832
    Forty-voice pieces are for singing together, not listening to. (I find them utterly uninteresting to listen to recorded.) That is, they are fun to jam together with (great if you're a Benedictine foundation and this is what the monks do for high fun), but if I ever encountered this in a parish during Mass, I'd seriously question the judgment of the DoM and pastor.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,070
    Might we say the harmonic rhythm moves rather slowly?
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 2,000
    When half the voices are out in an 8-voice piece, it's an audible difference. When half the voices are out in a 40-voice piece, it's business as usual. One of the things that makes the big Eton Choirbook pieces so effective is that you have this kaleidoscope of duets, trios and quartets, and then BAM you get hit with a solid wall of sound. IIRC, there's ONE moment like that in Spem.
    But yes. Colloquium is the place...or an early music festival. When we did it at Case, we had to press every available body into service (including the viols and early brass), including some people who you wouldn't ordinarily entrust with their own part. Yes, Spem is worth doing...but as much for the boast value as the musical value. The scoring makes more sense as conspicuous consumption than as musical necessity.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 673
    I tell you one thing... nobody in a choir like that would ever again complain that they never got to do solos. Everybody would have a solo.

    I do wonder why big huge massive choirs don't do pieces like this more often. Other than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir not being Catholic, what holds them back? I mean, certainly all the members in that choir are good enough at sightreading and holding parts. They ought to do multi-multi-part polyphony all the time.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 2,000
    I wonder if a group like the MTC (or one of the late Robert Shaw's bigger groups) could really make this work. Their stock in trade is a blended sound. In a performance 1/part, the vagaries of vocal timbre would make each part stand out more, whereas a big group would make each line sound more like every other line.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,832

    Because they are not that interesting to listen to as an audience without a score (remember, they weren't written with the idea that a congregation in a vast space would appreciate them, let alone understand them). And acoustics are the key to making them at least tolerable (I suspect the Tabernacle is not a great space for this kind of music - Santa Sabina, by contrast, probably is....).
  • Francesca
    Posts: 51
    Interesting discussion. I encountered 'Spem' as a listener and it moved me to tears many times. If I had the resources, and the time seemed right, I would do it for the sheer worship contained in it.

    I think there's a big difference in the available recordings. Some just sound like a blur, and others have much more distinction in the moving in and out of various parts. Acoustics, of course, are critical.