Dufay: Missa Se la face ay pale / Missa L'Homme armé

Dufay: The Masses for 1453
Missa Se la face ay pale / Missa L'Homme armé
Cantica Symphonia - Giuseppe Maletto
Glossa Platinum 31907

These are two of Dufay's most famous masses, and so make a natural program to include on this list. The Missa Se la face ay pale was one of the most influential early cantus firmus masses — in this case, apparently inaugurating the idea of creating a mass cycle on a chanson theme. (The medieval motet, which Dufay can possibly be said to have been the last practitioner, with his work in the form recorded extensively by the present ensemble among others, had already mixed Latin/sacred & French/secular texts, so in this sense, Dufay's innovation probably seemed obvious to him.) The Missa L'Homme armé is not generally considered to be the earliest on that theme, but Dufay's participation surely granted it additional legitimacy. Moreover, Dufay composed other material regarding the fall of Constantinople, with which the momentum of this theme is associated.

The performances make heavy use of instruments, by which I mean they use instruments whenever it seems convenient. The Missa Se la face ay pale in particular has, going back to Binkley, been posited as a piece that requires an instrumental tenor, although other groups have performed it entirely vocally. In any case, the current approach can be considered wholly practical, in that the emphasis is on bringing out the structure & detail of the music via whatever means would have been at the disposal of well-equipped chapels in the day.

The result is indeed very clear, for both masses, and so these interpretations become the most forceful & direct articulations of this music to date. That the program pairs two of Dufay's most prominent masses makes it an easy choice.

To renaissance sacred list

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 23 November 2014