João Pedro d’Alvarenga

Portuguese Polyphonic Settings of the Mass for the Dead from the Late 16th and Early 17th Century: Convention and Innovation in Style and Structure

Portuguese polyphonic settings of the Requiem mass in the 16th and early-17th centuries parallel Spanish trends for the genre, which are characterized by an intimate relation to chant and its performance practices. These determine for each movement which segments are to be set polyphonically, which are to be varied in texture, and which are to be performed monophonically. Use of the chant melody as a structural ‘cantus firmus’ with little elaboration, typically in the upper voice, for most of the movements—notably the Introit, Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei—favours non-imitative, pseudo-imitative or free-imitative textures, given that chant is presented in full as a distinct element; chant paraphrase favouring full-imitative polyphony and motet-like segmented structure is usually restricted to the Gradual, Offertory, and Communion. Close connection to chant gives Spanish and Portuguese settings the appearance of a uniform repertory with a common style and structuring, which accordingly is often labelled as ‘Iberian’. But Portuguese polyphonic Requiem masses do not compare with the Spanish for instance, in the array of movements and texts set. There is a pattern for polyphonic movements in 16th- and early-17th-century Portuguese Requiem masses, which avoid setting variable texts, most notably for the Tract. Successive generations of composers working in Portugal, while preserving convention in the handling of chant and overall structuring of their polyphonic Requiem masses, increasingly expanded tonal space, use of motivic counterpoint and redundancy between text and musical gesture. This kind of innovation within tradition will be tentatively shown by comparing selected movements from different settings, especially the four-voice Requiem masses by Manuel Mendes, Lourenço Ribeiro, and Estêvão Lopes Morago.