The Catholic University of America

The Early Requiem Mass in Europe and Latin America

Grayson Wagstaff

 

The Missa pro defunctis or "Requiem Mass" has become one of the most important genres of sacred music, one developed by many composers since 1700. Though we now consider the Requiem a somewhat standard genre with specific texts, the early history of this work was much more varied. The genre was intertwined with the liturgy and ceremonial of Catholic tradition and the various local "uses" of chant. Before the Council of Trent, churches in many areas of Europe maintained a distinct version of the chants for the Requiem Mass; during this era, composers who wrote polyphonic settings of the Requiem thus had to conform to the various local versions of the Mass for the church in which their work would be performed. Though various important Renaissance composers (including Dufay, Ockeghem, La Rue, and the Iberian composer Escobar) are known to have written polyphonic Requiems, this genre would be defined by the Spaniard Cristóbal Morales (d. 1553); his five-voice Mass became the first widely known Requiem performed throughout much of Western Europe and later in Colonial Latin America. Morales also wrote a number of items for the parallel service of Matins for the dead. Among these pieces is the first European polyphonic work known to have been sung in the Western Hemisphere. In Latin American as in Europe, these Renaissance works proved amazingly long lasting in the repertory; Morales’ works seemingly continued to be performed in a number of places in a living performance tradition until the twentieth century.
 
This seminar will examine these early pieces in terms of each composer’s approach to setting the required texts and chants. How did each find ways to structure such a Mass in polyphonic music? We will examine the development of the chants and liturgy for the Office for the Dead and how the theological discussions of Purgatory and the "Good Death" affected the desire for music to elaborate these services. The early traditions in Latin America will be discussed with the important manuscript sources examined. Each student will plan their own in-depth research project related to one of the early settings of the Mass or items for the Office. Students will present a formal in-class presentation and a significant research paper at the end of the term.

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