O beate pater Donatiane

This short antiphon, a communal plea for St. Donatian’s intercession, is the only cantus firmus to appear more than once in Obrecht’s Mass; it is heard three times in the Kyrie, three times in the Sanctus, and twice in the Agnus Dei. It is in Mode 8, also known as the Hypomixolydian mode, with a finalis on G and a rather narrow range extending below (to e) and above (to c’) the final. Its short phrases and emphasis on the final make it well-suited as the underpinning for the short sections into which Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei naturally divide (as opposed to the longer sections of the verbose Gloria and Credo).

But more important for Obrecht’s purposes was the familiarity of this plainsong. A breviary printed for the canons of the Sint-Donaaskerk. Breviarium ad usum insignus ecclesiae Sancti Donatiani Brugensis (Paris: Anthonius Bonnemere, 1520) presents this antiphon among the suffragia communia, chants deemed appropriate for votive and private ceremonies beyond the prescribed daily liturgy of the local churches. As a simple and memorable suffrage antiphon beseeching the help of the city‘s patron saint Donatian, this antiphon was surely known to most citizens of Bruges; by retaining the text of the chant within the polyphony and sounding the melody in long tones as a cantus firmus, Obrecht ensured that Donaes de Moor’s name saint was audibly invoked over the course of his Mass.

No sources of plainsong from Bruges preserve the original melody of this antiphon, but it was known as early as the 12th century in the liturgy of the St Mary’s Church in Utrecht — the tune is found in the 12th-century antiphoner Utrecht, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, 406 (3.J.7) as well as in several 15th-century antiphoners from that church with the text directed to St. Martin (O beate pater Martine). For the melody and text as preserved in the 12th-century Utrecht antiphoner, see the Cantus database, and f.196v in the digitized manuscript.

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.

View the original manuscript