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Polyphonic Introit: Signum magnum

August 15, 2011

Here is a recording of a polyphonic setting of the introit for today’s feast, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Signum magnum

(trying to figure out how to embed sound)

play file?

mp3 stored here

A few notes: This is recording is of a piece which I composed about two and a half years ago, and at the time I was in the middle of second semester theory.  This is the semester where you learn about secondary function chords, and how to modulate; hence the piece is rather abounding in these effects.  For example, the verse Cantate Domino is an exact canon, with each voice entering a fourth lower;  since I started in E major, by the time I had got through all my text, I had modulated to B-sharp major, which I had to re-spell as C, since B-sharp major doesn’t really exist.  Nevertheless, aside from maybe one place where the voice leading should be tweaked, I am rather pleased with this work.  It has a good motion which is suitable to the processional style of an introit, and the form ABCA’ is also appropriate.  I have also written settings of the gradual and alleluia for this Mass, but have yet to get around to the offertory and communion.

An interesting fact: after the Assumption was infallibly defined by Pius XII in 1950, a new set of propers for the feast was composed, including the introit we use today, Signum magnum.  Prior to this, the introit for the feast of the Assumption had been the familiar Gaudeamus omnes.  These older proper texts were what William Byrd (an English composer, contemporary of Shakespeare) set when he composed his set of polyphonic propers for the Assumption. 

With the 1962 missal, the majority of Byrd’s polyphonic propers for the Assumption are not usable for the feast, except as optional motets.  The 1974 graduale for the novus ordo, however, restores the offertory of Byrd’s time, and allows the use of either introit.  What this illustrates is the disservice that can be inadvertantly done to composers by changing the texts of the Mass.  For this reason (among many others) it is important that the texts of the liturgy remain stable as much as possible.

  1. Joseph Behe permalink

    not having the educational or professional background, I only was able to understand part of your comments, but, thought it was very interesting. I did like the picture of your lovely little sister!!

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