Palestrina: Credo from Missa Papae Marcelli

Biography of Palestrina
With the Protestant reformation in full force throughout Europe, the Roman Catholic church began to look for ways to return the church to a more sincere form of Christian piety. The culmination of this movement, known as the Counter-reformation, was the Council of Trent which was convened in Rome in 1545 and stretched on for nearly twenty years. During these years, the council offered up opinions on all aspects of the life of the church from monastic strictures to the proper use of music in the church.
As can be seen from earlier documents, such as John XXII's Docta sanctorum of 1323 and even John of Salisbury's response to the polyphony of the Notre Dame School, the Catholic orthodoxy had expressed consternation with liturgical music. They tended to view he music as a corruption of the liturgy, whether through extravagance or secularization.
Extravangance was primarily related to a love of complexity both of ornamentation (within the music and by the performers) and in composition. The leaders of the church at the time (and to some extent also today) felt that intricate musical riddles and counterpoint served to make the religious text unintelligible. Secularism exhibited itself through the use of secular melodies as the cantus firmus of Mass settings and through a growing tradition of adding instruments, by nature secular, into the sacred space. Some cardinals advocated eliminating all counterpoint and with it polyphony and returning instead to purely Gregorian chant, which was still being composed and performed. In a perhaps related development, th earliest music of the English church was characterized by such austerity.
It is said that at point in the deliberation when it seemed that counterpoint would be banned altogether from liturgical music a composer and singer in the Pope's exclusive schola cantorum, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, came to the rescue of music. The legend recounts that Palestrina composed a Mass for Pope Marcellus that redeemed the art of music in the eyes of the church. Though this is likely apocryphal, Palestrina was held up to future generations as a composer who suceeded in respecting the integrity of the sacred texts. Legend relates that Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli was responsible for "saving" music.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525? - 1594)
Agostino Agazzari related the story in 1607:
Music of the older kind is no longer in use, both because of the confusion and babel of the words, arising from the long and intricate imitations, and because it has no grace, for, with all the voices singing, one hears neither period nor sense, these being infered with and covered up by imitations; indeed, at every moment, each voice has different words, a thing displeasing to men of competence and judgment. And on this account music would have come very near to being banished from the Holy Church by a sovereign pontiff, had not Giovanni Palestrina found the remedy, showing that the fault and error lay, not with the music, but with the composers, and composing in confirmation of this the Mass entitiled Missa Papae Marcelli

By 1828, the story had become more elaborate. Giuseppe Bardi writes:
Summoning Palestrina before him, Cardinal Borromeo told him face to face to compose a Mass in the desired manner, enjoining on him all possible effort to prevent that the Pope and Congregation of Cardinals might be encouraged to ban music from the apostolic chapel and the church. Poor Pierluigi! He was placed in the hardest straits of his career. The fate of the church hung from his pen, and so did his own career, at the height of his fame.
On Saturday, 28 April 1565, by order of Cardinal Vitellozzi, all the singers of the papl chapel were gathered together at his residence. Cardinal Borromeo was already there, together with the other six cardinals of the papal commission. Palestrina was there as well; he handed out the parts to the singers, and they sang three Masses, of which the "Pope Marcellus Mass" was the last. The most eminent audience enjoyed them very much. But the greatest and most incessant praise was given to the third, which was extraordinarily acclaimed and, by virtue of its entirely novel character, astonished even the performers themselves. Their Eminences heaped their congratulations on the compser, recommending to him to go on writing in that style and to communicate it to his pupils.

Things to Note
To this day, analysis of Palestrina's style of note-on-note writing is the backbone of any composer's study. Note how clearly his individual lines relate to each other and themselves. Melodies often maintain a gentle arch, ascend quickly and descend slowly, matching the natural rise and fall both of the voice itself in speaking, and of the finest plainchant. Consonances and dissonances are always closely controlled. Expanding upon the Early Renaissance understanding of consonance, imperfect consonances such as thirds and sixths are used with impunity. The Palestrina style is one of intense clarity, both melodically and harmonically.
The Credo is the Christian's profession of faith. In the Mass, the Credo is sung after the priest's homily. Traditionally the music of this, the longest section of the Mass, is divided into several sections reflecting the different aspects of the Christian's faith.

Credo in unum Deum.
Patrem omnipotem, factorem
caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium
et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Jesum
Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum.
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia
saecula. Deum de Deo, lumen de
lumine. Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum, non factum:
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt. Qui propter
nos homines, et propter nostram
salutem descendit de caelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria virgine: et homo factus est
Crucifixius etiam prop nobis
sub Pntio Pilato:
passus, et sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia dia secundum
Scripturas. Et ascendit
in caelum: sedet ad dexteram
Patris. Et iterum
venturus est cum gloria
judicare vivos et mortuos
cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in spiritum Sanctum
Dominum et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre.
Filioque procedit. Qui cum
Patre, et filio simul
adoratur, et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per Propetas.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam
et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma
in remissionem paccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem
mortuorum. Et vitam
venturi saeculi. Amen.

I believe in one God
the Father Almighty. Maker of
heaven and earth. And of all things visible
and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus
Christ, the only-begotten Son of God:
Begotten of his father before all
worlds. Gog of God. Light of
Light. Very God of very God:
Begotten, not made:
Being of one substance with the Father:
By whom all things were made: Who for
us men and for our
salvation came down from heaven.
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary. And was made man:
And was crucified also for us
under Pontius Pilate:
He suffered and was buried:
And on the third day he rose again according
to the Scriptures: And ascended
into heaven. And sitteth on the right hand
of the Father: And he shall
come again with glory
to judge both the quick and the dead.
Whose kingdom shall have no evnd.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost.
The Lord, annd Giver of Life.
Who proceedeth from the
Father and the Son: Who with the
Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified:
Who spake by the Prophets:
And I believe one Holy Catholic
and Apostolic Church:
I acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins:
And I look for the Resurrection
of the Dead: And the Life
of the world to come. Amen.

Palestrina presenting his music to the Pope

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All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.