O sanctissime presul

This lengthy responsory was sung in Bruges on the Feast of St. Donatian on 14 October each year. It was the eighth of nine long responsories performed during the office of Matins, which took place in the pre-dawn hours. This melody survives only in a fragmentary antiphoner now preserved in the Stadsarchief in Bruges (Out Archief no. 538).

This responsory is in Mode 2, also called the Hypodorian mode, with the finalis on D and a melodic range extending to the A above and the A below the final.

Responsories involve alternation between soloists and choir. The soloist begins the chant with the intonatio of the respond; the choir then continues to the end of the respond. The verse is then performed by the soloist, after which the latter part of the respond is sung by the choir.

Composers seldom chose entire responsory melodies as cantus firmi– they are too long and diffuse to easily underpin sections of the Ordinary of the Mass. Obrecht succeeds by incorporating this responsory only in the longest section of his Mass Ordinary setting, the Credo; he segments the long responsory text and tune into three discrete units (the respond into its two constituent phrases, with the verse as the third unit); and he omits the last part of the respond required in the performance of the responsory as part of the cantus firmus. Surely it was the powerful text of this chant that inspired Obrecht to incorporate it into the Credo of his Mass for St. Donatian; he thus fuses the profession of faith articulated in the Creed with praise for St. Donatian and eloquent pleas for the saint’s intercession.

For more information, see:
Bloxam. M. Jennifer. “Sacred Polyphony and Local Traditions of Liturgy and Plainsong: Reflections on Music by Jacob Obrecht.” In Plainsong in the Age of Polyphony, edited by Thomas Forrest Kelly, pp.140—77. Cambridge Studies in Performance Practice 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992.
Obrecht, Jacob. “Missa de Sancto Donatiano: Introduction” in New Obrecht Edition, 3:ix-xvii. Utrecht: Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiednis, 1984.

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