Missa Pange lingua
Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450s-1521)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 2 Tracks 33-36
Says des Prez, even the most conservative harmony should be a consequence of melodic line. To my ear, the clash of uncompromising voices is a great deal of good listening. However, with this Kyrie, Josquin gives us uncompromising voices without the clash. Each voice is distinct and yet able to blend with the ensemble. The distinction is accomplished by separating the starting point each voice. And because of this canonic treatment, the voices are able to take turns blending into the background or sharing the foreground.
The initial voice is significant. For example, when we start with the tenor we are starting with the voice most often buried in a four-voice texture. By giving this ungainly viola-player a moment to shine, we have a chance to learn that the least conspicuous of the group is as talent as the rest. As we then continue, our appreciation for the group as a whole is enhanced. Starting with the lowest or highest voice will also carry a specific experience for the listener. In all these beginnings, the listener's awareness of the individual voices and their melodies is focused.
What I like about this Kyrie is the rhythm. It may be a result of the symmetrical tune Mr. Josquin borrowed from the Liber usualis
, but the concise structure of the sections seems to demand a directness overall that may be untypical for this style. Consequently, the work has a clear pulse. And the exception that proves the pulse is found at the end of track 34, where there is one beautiful deviation.