All music lovers have their “go-to” comfort music, music to soothe their souls when soul-soothing is necessary. Certainly one of the composers whose music I feel that way about is Palestrina. Some 14 months ago, I posted the Kyrie from his Pope Marcellus Mass (Music I Love #79). Today, I’ll continue on in this same mass with the Gloria movement.

The musical setting of the Mass consisted of five movements: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. From one musical setting of the mass to another, the texts of these movements would stay invariably the same.

In the Renaissance, composers often gave their best efforts to their mass compositions. If you were a musician, and especially if you were a composer, the “route” to success—and to being heard—was through the Church. Palestrina, who lived from 1525 to 1594, was certainly one of these composers who applied his best efforts to his masses.

Palestrina was the leading composer of the Counter-Reformation. Talking about the Counter-Reformation requires just a little explication.

The Reformation began in 1517 with a rebellion against the authority of the Catholic Church—which, of course, had been the only church—it was THE Church—in the Christian world. The liturgical changes in what became known as Protestantism were brought about by Martin Luther. These in turn caused a ripple effect within the Lutheran Church—and then all Protestant churches, particularly as relates to music. A simple, more direct, more accessible-to-the-people kind of music was desired than had been the case in the Catholic Church. Strophic hymns utilizing repetitive music for each stanza were favored, especially toward mid-sixteenth century. These hymn tunes eventually became the basis for the direct, but nevertheless complex, music of J.S. Bach, whose music was the very peak of Reformation music.

In general, Protestants distrusted—especially at the outset—the allure of art, including music, in their services. Catholic music had been seen—correctly—as being too complex, too much art-for-art’s-sake and therefore not so meaningful to congregations. The Counter-Reformation sought to address the Reformation head-on by purposefully appealing to those who had left the (“true”) faith by intentionally appealing to their senses in art and music. Yet, the prime directive for all Counter-Reformation artists was to primarily be communicative and only secondarily be “artsy.” This was the dictum that Counter-Reformation composers abided by.

Palestrina, who wrote—among an absolutely enormous life’s works—107 masses became the leading, and most loved, composer of the Counter-Reformation. One can pick virtually any one of his works and be instantly transported into a world of beauty and harmony (using the word “harmony” here in the abstract, not as a parameter of music). The words of his mass texts are clearly understood and not obscured by unnecessary melismas. His use of harmony is more diatonic, less chromatic than had heretofore been the case.

The Missa Papae Marcelli—the Pope Marcellus Mass, dedicated to the memory of the pope by that name—has justifiably become the sine qua non of Palestrina masses. I have yet to see a music history textbook that does NOT include this mass as the shining example of Counter Reformation beauty.


The second movement—the Gloria movement—is presented here.

The text of the Gloria is meant to celebrate God the Father and Christ:

• Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. We praise You, we bless You, we adore You, we glorify You, we give You thanks for Your great glory

• Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens

Lord God, heavenly King, O God Almighty Father

• Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis

Lord Jesus Christ, Only-Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us

Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis

You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. You are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on u

• Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen

For You alone are the Holy One, you alone the Lord, you alone the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the Glory of God the Father. Amen

Pictures: Palestrina; Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major at the Vatican.