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This article discusses the Mass as a standard form of classical music composition. For the Mass and its meaning as a part of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, see Mass (liturgy). For mass as a concept in physics, see mass.
Masses can be a cappella, for the human voice alone, or they can be accompanied by instrumental obbligatos up to and including a full orchestra. Sometimes the music in the Mass format was never intended to really be used in a real Mass.
Generally, for a composition to be a full Mass, it must contain the following six sections, which together constitute the "ordinary" of the Mass:
The text of the Kyrie is simply: Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison (Κυριε ελεησον; Χριστε ελεησον; Κυριε ελεησον). This is Greek for "Lord have mercy on us; Christ, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us."
The Gloria is a celebratory passage praising God and Christ, which sets the following text:
- Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.
- Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God the Father.
- Domine Fili unigenite, Iesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.
- Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, Thou who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; Thou who takest away the sins of the world, hear our prayers. Thou who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
- Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus, Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.
- For Thou art the only Holy One, the only Lord, the only Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father, Amen.
The longest text of the Mass, this is a setting in Latin of the Nicene Creed.
This is a doxology praising the Trinity which begins with the words Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Domine Deus Sabaoth; pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts; Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory). There is also a section that begins with the words Hosanna in excelsis, "Hosanna in the highest."
This is a setting of the Latin words Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord).
After this is sung, the Hosanna is usually repeated.
VI. Agnus Dei
The Agnus Dei is a setting of the Latin phrases,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
- miserere nobis /
- dona nobis pacem.
(Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us / give us peace.)
In a liturgical Mass, there are other sections that may be sung, often in Gregorian chant. These sections, the "proper" of the mass, change with the day and season according to the Church calendar, and are usually not set to music by a composer who wishes to write a Mass. They can, and have been made the subject of motets and other musical compositions, however.
These sections of the Mass as a musical composition have been standard since the Middle Ages; the very earliest Masses may include other parts, and omit some of the standard ones. The first complete Mass we know of whose composer can be identified was the Messa de Nostre Dame (Mass of Our Lady) by Guillaume de Machaut in the 14th century. Many masses by Guillaume Dufay and others in the 15th and 16th centuries used melodies from popular songs, such as L'homme armé as cantus firmus, scandalizing the conservative-minded. Such a practice was of great antiquity, however; it had been attributed to the 4th century heretic, Arius, that he allowed his sacred songs or hymns contained in his book Thaleia to be set to melodies with infamous associations.
The mass as a musical form flourished during the Renaissance, where it served as the principal large-scale form of composition for most composers. Many important masses were composed by Josquin des Prez. At the end of the 16th century a cappella choral counterpoint reached an apogee in masses by the English William Byrd, the Castilian Tomas Luis de Victoria and the Roman Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whose Mass for Pope Marcellus is credited with saving polyphony from the censure of the Council of Trent. By the time of Palestrina, however, the mass had already been replaced by other forms, principally the motet and the madrigale spirituale, as the most significant outlet for expression in the realm of sacred music; composers such as Lassus wrote relatively few masses, preferring the greater latitude for expression offered by the other forms.
After the Renaissance, the mass tended not to be the central genre for any one composer, yet some of the most famous of all musical works of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods are masses. These include the B Minor Mass of Johann Sebastian Bach (who was not a Roman Catholic), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Mass in C minor , the late masses of Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Mass in C major . Great masses have been written since Schubert, but they have mostly been Requiems.
In the 20th century, composers continued to write masses, in an even wider diversity of style, form and function than before. Some examples include the Mass of Life by Frederick Delius; the Mass by Igor Stravinsky; the Mass by Leonard Bernstein.
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