Choirbooks of Obrecht’s Mass

Jena. Universitätsbibliothek. MS 32.

This manuscript includes fifteen Masses(from Latin missa, “dismissed”) (1) Main service of Roman Catholic worship (2) Musical setting of the texts of the Ordinary of the Mass, usually the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei and one Credo, requiring 282 paper folios. No composer attributions are provided in the manuscript, but concordances allow the identification of one Mass each by Antoine Brumel, Loyset Compère, Johannes Ghiselin, Johannes Martini, Marbrianus de Orto, and Matthaeus Pipelare, as well as two each by Josquin des Prez and ObrechtJacob Obrecht was a South Netherlandish composer known mainly for his substantial output of Mass Ordinary settings in the late 15th century, as well as for his motets and songs…. The single Credo is by Heinrich Isaac, and two Masses unique to this source remain anonymous. A third unique Mass, the Missa Beata progenies, is sandwiched between the two known Obrecht Masses (the Missa de Sancto Donatiano and the Missa Adieu mes amours), all three contained in one discrete fascicle; this may well be by Obrecht as well.

JenaU 32 was long thought to have been copied between 1500 and 1520 for the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, but exhaustive codicological and repertorial analysis subsequently revealed that this manuscript was made in southern Germany around 1500 for use by the court chapel of Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony (ruled 1486 until his death in 1525). The watermark indicates that the paper came from northern Italy, and much of the repertory probably came through Italian channels as well – Obrecht, for example, sojourned in Italy soon after he composed the Missa de Sancto Donatiano in Bruges, perhaps bringing with him an exemplar of the piece from which the versions in JenaU 32 and VatS 35 derive.

This copy of Obrecht’s Mass for St. Donatian preserves the superior reading, incorporating most of the ProperThe category of plainsongs and readings for the Mass whose texts vary according to the focus of the feast day texts of the cantus firmiA Latin term meaning “firm song,” applied to a previously existing melody, usually drawn from the chant or song repertories, used as the basis for a new polyphonic setting and evincing considerable care in text underlay generally.

You can browse this manuscript online, and learn more about the notation here. Obrecht’s Mass for St. Donatian is found on ff.179v-199 – this is what the singers clustered around the music stand were reading from as they sang the first Kyrie.

M. Jennifer Bloxam

Select Bibliography:

Jürgen Heidrich. Die Deutschen Chorbücher aus der Hofkapelle Friedrichs des Weisen: Ein Beitrag zur mitteldeutschen geistlichen Musikpraxis um 1500. Collection d’études musicologiques/Sammlung musikwissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen 84. Baden-Baden: Valentin Koerner, 1993. See in particular pp.129-57.

Vatican City. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. MS Cappella Sistina 35.

The VatS 35 manuscript has twenty-seven Masses, Mass sections, and motets by Philippe Basiron, Loyset Compère, Heinrich Isaac, Josquin des Prez, Johannes Martini, Obrecht, Johannes OckeghemJohannes Ockeghem, a native of Hainaut, earned considerable prominence due to his employment at the French royal court…, Marbrianus de Orto, Denis Prieur (Dionisius Prioris), Johannes Tinctoris, Bertrandus Vaqueras, Gaspar van Weerbeke, and anonymous composers. Its 207 folios have experienced considerable damage from ink corrosion, and six scribes other than the original added voices to many of the Mass sections included. The manuscript has some decorative initials in ink and watercolor, depicting human faces, animals, and floral designs. The original layer was copied in Rome between 1487 and 1490 for the Cappella Sistina, with additions made most likely between 1492 and 1499; the folios preserving Obrecht’s Mass for St. Donatian belong to the first layer, and were probably copied in 1488.

Despite the fact that this copy of Obrecht’s Mass was made soon after the work’s composition, the reading it preserves is problematic: most of the ProperThe category of plainsongs and readings for the Mass whose texts vary according to the focus of the feast day texts for the cantus firmi were omitted (possibly because they had no significance within the liturgyThe prescribed body of texts to be spoken or sung and ritual actions to be performed in a religious service of the Cappella Sistina), and the Et incarnatus duet is missing.

Sarah Riskind with M. Jennifer Bloxam

Select Bibliography:

Roth, Adalbert. “Die Entstehung des ältesten Chorbuches mit polyphoner Musik der päpstlichen Kapelle: Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Fondo Cappella Sistina, MS 35.” In Gestalt und Entstehung musikalischer Quellen im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert, edited by Martin Staehelin, 43-63. Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 83/Quellenstudien zur Musik der Renaissance 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998.