Gefft den armen

One of the most extraordinary features of Obrecht’s Mass for St. Donatian is its inclusion of this Dutch song, requesting alms for the “poor prisoners” and confirming the spiritual benefit of doing so. This text and melody are known only through their appearance in this Mass, and presumably draw from an unwritten tradition of simple monophonic devotional songs in Dutch. It is impossible to know to what extent Obrecht’s rhythmic setting of the text and melody reflects that of the original tune; the reconstruction heard here adopts a flexible triple rhythm suggested by the poetry. with an overarching duple organization and tempo that conjures a procession of almsmen through city streets. Likewise the varied alternation and repetition scheme between soloist and group adopted here is suggested by the “call and response” relationship of the two textual and musical phrases.

As Reinhard Strohm has observed, Obrecht’s motivation for incorporating this Dutch song into this Mass stems from the concerns and good works of Donaes de Moor himself. Not only did he and his wife found an almshouse in the parish, completed in 1480 and still standing, but they also made an endowment that provided alms to the inmates of the city’s donckercamer, or debtor’s prison. By embedding the text and tune of this little song within the final Kyrie. Obrecht thus sounds a two-fold plea for mercy, one directed to the Lord in Latin, the other on behalf of De Moor to the citizens gathered to remember him.

For more information, see:
Strohm, Reinhard. Music in Late Medieval Bruges. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. See in particular pp.145-47.
Obrecht, Jacob. “Missa de Sancto Donatiano: Introduction” in New Obrecht Edition, 3:ix-xvii. Utrecht: Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiednis, 1984.