Composer: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

Piece: Gloria from Missa Papae Marcelli

Date: 1567

Form: Mass, setting of the Ordinary

Setting: Six-part choir (SATTBB), originally all male

Texture: Mixture of homophony and imitative polyphony

The Pope Marcellus Mass was probably performed a cappella. It was written for six parts - soprano, alto, two tenors, and two basses, a typical setting for the all male church choirs of the time. The highest voice wa
s sung by boy sopranos or male falsettists, the alto part by male altos or countertenors, and the two lower parts distributed among the normal ranges of the male voice.

The Gloria exhibits the salient characteristics of Palestrina’s conservative style. As was typical, the work begins with a monophonic incantation of the opening line “Gloria in excelsis Deo”, followed by a carefully constructed polyphonic setting of the remaining text. Palestrina balances the harmonic and polyphonic elements so that the words of the sacred text are clear and audible, an effect desired by the Council of Trent. The text setting is clear and mostly syllabic. This conservative approach insures that the meaning of the words will not be obscured by musical embellishment and complexity.

Palestrina’s a cappella vocal style is pure and serene, befitting the devotional character of this text. It incarnates the pure ideal of vocal polyphony, in which the individual voice fulfills it’s destiny through submergence into the group.