The Osanna section of the Sanctus is, in terms of ritual significance, the most important music that Obrecht composed. The first Osanna accompanied the Elevation of the Host by the celebrant, which took place during the Canon immediately following the priest’s declaration “Hoc est corpus meum” (“This is my body”). These words, taken from Christ’s words at the Last Supper, signaled the moment of transubstantiation, when Jesus because physically present in the substance of the Host. During the Middle Ages. when the sacrament of Holy Communion was generally taken only at Easter, simply the sight of the elevated Host was believed to have salvific power; it was widely believed, for example, that a person was protected from sudden death on a day they witnessed the Elevation at Mass. In many
churches a small bell rung thrice signaled the imminent raising of the Host.
Osanna settings, like the Elevation motets that sometimes replaced them, often employ a more homophonic texture and longer note values in order to create an atmosphere of special solemnity and inspire a feeling of awe. Here Obrecht creates a largely homophonic and slow-moving passage akin to the manner in which he set the “Et resurrexit” clause of the Credo. The tenor cantus firmus, the familiar suffrage antiphon O beate pater Donatiane, is here at its most chant-like, being presented mostly in breves until the last ten bars. In the manuscript sources of Obrecht’s Mass, this passage even looks like chant notation. Praise for the now-present God is thus joined to the prayer for the saint’s intercession with Jesus Christ.
Obrecht takes the opportunity in this Osanna to pay his most overt homage to Johannes Ockeghem, the composer of the French King from whose Missa Ecce ancilla Domini Obrecht drew the opening of the bass line in Kyrie I. Here, the first five bars of the Osanna are a direct quotation from the Osanna of Ockeghem’s Mass. The angels’ exclamation of praise to the Lord thus does double duty, serving also as Obrecht’s own acclamation for his admired colleague. This quotation does not disrupt the stylistic coherence of the Mass; rather, it blends seamlessly into the surrounding counterpoint – testimony to Obrecht’s success in emulating the overall style of Ockeghem.
For more information, see:
Crocker, Richard L., and David Hiley. 2001 “Sanctus.” Grove Music Online. 30 Jul. 2018. www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
Hiley, David. Western Plainchant: A Handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. See in particular pp. 161-65.
Strohm, Reinhard. Music in Late Medieval Bruges. New York: Oxford University Press. 1985. See in particular pp. 146-48.
Thurston, Herbert. “Elevation.” Catholic Encyclopedia Online. www.newadvent.org.
Wegman, Rob C. Born for the Muses: The Life and Masses of Jacob Obrecht. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. See in particular pp. 169-74.