Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Parody" Masses

I was perusing some of the posts over at the discussion forums at, and one thread dealt with the concept of modern "parody" masses. The composer had written a "Morning Has Broken" Mass which makes me wince in pain to even think of it.

Someone then responded that the use of a familiar tune as the basis of an Ordinary setting usually wound up to be a bit tedious in practice. I must agree.

Though this was a common practice in the Renaissance era, the treatment of the melodies were much different than how they are done now. Now, the melodies are not placed within the context of an imitative technique that treated the tune with reverence and care. Now, we get the exact tune, nearly note-for-note, on which the text of the Ordinary is grafted. It has an air of artificiality and manipulation about it if you ask me.

Two of the most obvious settings are Proulx's "Missa Emmanuel" and his "Corpus Christi Mass", the former using "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and the latter using "Adoro Te Devote." Though both of the melodies are strikingly beautiful, and the settings well-composed (as is most of his music), the practical effect is less than desirable. If you use the "Missa Emmanuel" throughout Advent, what happens on the 4th Sunday of Advent when you actually want to use "O Come" ? I'd be so sick of that melody that the original tune would be ruined for me. It's just overkill.

I wonder though if you could pull off the parody technique in a way that the effect isn't so overwhelming. For instance, what about a mass setting that uses a number of different familiar tunes. Such as an Advent setting that uses a chant Kyrie traditionally associated with Advent (Mass XVII, perhaps), an Alleuia from "O Come", NUN KOMM DER HEILAND HEIDEN for the Sanctus, etc. . . Is this too contrived?

Am I missing anything in this discussion? Would anyone like to stick up for the Proulx parody masses?


At Wednesday, November 01, 2006 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...

I think you’re looking at this as a musician whose life’s sountrack includes a copious amount of liturgical music.

Average Joe doesn’t get tired of Missa Emmanuel nearly so much as we do, I think. They may not even notice it’s the same tune - I have a parishioner who never noticed our funeral song of farewell was to the same tune as “All creatures that on Earth do dwell” (OLD HUNDREDTH).

At Wednesday, November 01, 2006 10:07:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

I also am not crazy about these, although I think within the masses there ought to be some unifying characteristics (such as melody). I think it'd be a better idea with less-used hymns. That way people won't be sick of the hymn when it comes up.

At Wednesday, November 01, 2006 10:10:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

...except the whole point of these Masses is that it is very easy for people to catch on. If the tune on which a Mass is based is not familiar, then there is little difference between a “parody” Mass and just any old Mass.

At Thursday, November 02, 2006 8:23:00 AM, Blogger Gavin said...

I'd disagree. Use a hymn which is unfamiliar yet easy to sing. My congregation doesn't know HAMBURG - "when I survey the wondrous cross". It isn't in the hymnal (GASP!), so it's not my fault. But anyway, I doubt you'd disagree that's one of the easiest tunes to learn. That's more what I'm talking about: using an (easy) unfamiliar tune for a Mass setting to get them familiar with the tune.

In theory, I'm not a fan of parody Masses.

At Saturday, November 04, 2006 10:44:00 PM, Anonymous moconnor said...

One problem is that using a tune such O Come Emmanuel as the principal tune is not really a parody Mass in the Renaissance sense. It would be a cantus firmus Mass. A parody Mass borrows the entire polyphonic fabric of a motet or a chanson. The parodying composer selects certain points of imitation and rearranges them with the Mass texts. Often the borrowed material is only noticeable at the beginning of a text phrase before disappearing in new polyphonic counterpoint. The Morning Has Broken Mass then is not really a parody, but a cantus firmus Mass. BTW contemporary scholarship prefers the term Imitation Mass now.



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