Five Kyrie's

Seldom do I have the opportunity to speak of sacred music here on LAJ, but today I thought I would share a few pieces with you.  As many of our readers will know, a traditional Mass setting is made up of the five ordinary parts of the Mass set to music: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.  Now of these parts, the Kyrie has always been a particular favourite of mine and I believe that its simplicity, founded as it is in the repetition of two simple phrases, has given composers an ability to exercise their craft with a freedom and creativity that has produced some of the most hauntingly beautiful compositions of sacred music ever written.

Of course, the Kyrie has the additional advantage of being sung concurrent with one of the early dramatic points of the sacred liturgy, namely the incensation of the altar. While this has been regrettably lost in much of the modern rite, in the patrimonial liturgical rites of the Church there is a moving and dramatic intersection of these various elements that come together into a marvellous harmony of the senses; words and gestures mesh with sacred music and liturgical ceremonial. Rather than trying to describe what I mean, it may be best to simply show it:


At some point this is a theme I'd like to pick back up on again, but for today the focus is rather the music specifically. With that in mind, here are five Kyrie's for your enjoyment, the first taken from the Requiem Mass setting of the 16th century Spanish composer, Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611).


The next Kyrie comes from the justly famed Missa Papae Marcelli of Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina (1525-1594).


From Palestrina's Missa Brevis:


From William Byrd's (1538-1623) Mass for Five Voices:


Finally, from Domenico Scarlatti's (1685-1757) Missa quatuor vocum:


Before we leave this subject. These examples all fall within the school of Renaissance polyphony. If, however, you'd like to take a step back further, here is a wonderful chanted version of the Kyrie celebrated by the FSSP recently in the Monastery of AlcobaƧa, Portugal. (Source: Semper Idem)

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

Share: