Josquin’s Missa Pange Lingua is his last known mass setting. Written circa 1515, the mass is based on Thomas Aquinas’ famous eucharistic hymn, Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium. Missa Pange Lingua has become a part of the canon of Renaissance music, and represents Josquin in the height of his compositional prowess.
Missa Pange Lingua is a cantus firmus mass which uses the Pange Lingua chant as the basis for each movement. The work features the typical five movements of the Ordinary of the Mass and excludes the Ite Missa Est, an omission that had practically become universal for most mass settings by this time. Since the mass uses the Pange Lingua melody in all movements, across all voices then it is also categorized as a Paraphrase Mass. This technique had become fairly common during Josquin’s life and would continue to permeate mass settings for the next hundred years.
Given that Josquin sets each movement in very similar ways using the chant melody as a basis, a brief examination of the Kyrie will serve as a consistent basis for the entire mass. The Mass begins with the first two phrases of the chant melody in paired imitation (tenor/bass, then soprano/alto), his stylistic hallmark, and in this way he plays out Kyrie I in sixteen compact measures. The Christe continues, now engaging phrases three and four of the chant, with the dueting arranged bass/alto, tenor/soprano. The final Kyrie utilizes the last two phrases of the plainsong. Another specific stylistic gesture found in this movement occurs at the text Rex effudit in original plainsong lyric. Here he constructs a three-note motive that he repeats again and again. This incessant motive will become more and more clear in the subsequent movements of the mass, and by using this constant iteration he drives to a final cadence. Only when the soprano has reached the final E will the bass bring a sense closure to the movement by falling down in a succession of thirds, another typical "Josquinian" compositional technique.
Another famous piece of Josquin des Prez is the motet Ave Maria...Virgo Serena. This motet shares much in common with the Missa Pange Lingua. It features extensive imitative polyphony, point-of-imitation, and voice pairing. However, the motet is not based of off an existing plainsong. It also utilizes voice pairings in much more direct. The voices are often duet-ing in syllabic structure and are fairly homophonic in the motet. The mass features voice pairings, but they are often staggered and also include the other voices intoning other lines. The motet also features clear sections of four voice homophony for several “measures.” This technique is not near so prevalent in the mass.
This piece has intrigued me since I first began to study music history several years ago. I loved the mastery of the imitative polyphony and the use of such a wonderful melody. The music has the potential to become stale and repetitive, as each movement utilizes this chant, but Josquin comes through in the imaginative ways he uses the same material. The piece is also simply aesthetically beautiful. The rather simple lines and four part texture combine to create an atmosphere that is stunning in it’s simplicity.
Patrick Macey, et al. "Josquin des Prez." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 11, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/14497pg12.
Perkins, Leeman. "Mode and Structure in the Masses of Josquin." Journal of the American Musicological Society. no. 2 (1876): 189-239. http://www.jstor.org/stable/830665 (accessed February 9, 2014).
Link to Full Score: Missa Pange Lingua