UPDATED: Sackbut by Sackbut: A rediscovered Mass for 40 voices: I HAVE IT!

UPDATE 30 March 1909GMT:


Sheer glory.

There is included a DVD (Region 0) which has more audio in surround sound and a documentary on the recording.

“But Father! But Father!”, you are surely saying.  “You mentioned sackbuts.  Where are the sackbuts?  Are there really sackbuts?”

I’ll give yah sackbuts!

There are also lots of shawms and viols.  And don’t forget the lirone!

And I love the fact that this was recorded in a church in Tooting (London) … yes Tooting… not far from where I usually stay when I am in those parts.


StriggioORIGINAL POST Mar 14, 2011 @ 14:51

USA order HERE.
UK order HERE.

For your “Just Too Cool” file this is in from Reuters:

“Lost” 450-year-old mass soars on British charts

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) – A sumptuous first recording of a long-lost 450-year-old Italian Renaissance mass written for 40 different vocal parts has soared onto British pop charts a week after its release. [I am reminded of the incredible concert I heard recently in NYC of music associated with the Sarum liturgy.  Overwhelming waves of holy sound.]

The recording by British vocal group I Fagiolini [The String Beans] of the little-known Alessandro Striggio‘s 1566 mass for 40 voices [OOH-RAH!] — most masses are written for four — made its debut at number 68 on the pop charts, above Bon Jovi, George Harrison and Eminem.

It was number two on the classical charts, just behind Dutch violinist waltz master Andre Rieu.

“We really worked hard so that there could be a properly magnificent and extravagant sound world for the piece to revel in,” I Fagiolini’s conductor and founder Richard Hollingworth, 44, who thinks the mass has a “mesmeric” quality, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Sunday. [“mesmeric”… that’s “hypnotic” for residents of Columbia Heights.  But I bet it doesn’t make you go blank!]

“This is not the grainy, black-and-white film, this is the full Hollywood Technicolor. I think that’s why it works so well…it’s like a kind of aural kaleidoscope.”

The mass was performed in several major European cities when it was written but had been mis-catalogued at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris where it was rediscovered a few years ago by musicologist Davitt Moroney, and given its first modern performance at the BBC Proms in London in 2007[BTW… a shameless request to friends in or around London.  I would very much like to go to the closing of the Proms sometime… perhaps this year?]

I Fagiolini and their label Decca Classics, a part of the Universal music group, spared no expense on the recording. It uses five choirs and a panoply of period instruments, from trombone-like sackbuts to the 11-stringed lirone, a cello precursor, as well as lutes, recorders and Renaissance strings. [If it has to be an instrumental Mass, it really ought to have lirones and sackbuts.]

The instruments play lines of music that would otherwise be sung, which Hollingworth said was accepted practice at the time.

The CD release includes a DVD which offers the Striggio mass, plus another 40-part Striggio motet, and English composer Thomas Tallis’s 40-part “Spem in Alium” — written after Striggio’s works, and possibly inspired by them — in surround sound, plus a documentary about the making of the recording.

Striggio, who lived from 1536/7 to 1592, was a court composer to the Medici family in Florence and would have written the mass in 40 parts because, as Hollingworth put it, the Medicis liked to “make a big stink and money wasn’t a problem.”

Musical events at the time included the use of “cloud machines” on which performers descended to the stage, costumes and oil lamps to create special visual effects — “and finally you would hear the music,” Hollingworth said.


Read the rest there.

This was the era of the Counter-Reformation, when great “theatrical” thrones and sets were constructed in great “theatrical” churches such as the Chiesa Nuova in Rome for Exposition for the rapidly developing Forty Hours Devotion.  Confraternities for adoration were springing up and music was written to accompany devotions and Mass.   It was an astounding explosion of Faith-outward inculturation which shaped an age’s art.

I’m putting this one on my wishlist! [UPDATE!  It had it on the wishlist and someone, I don’t know who, sent it to me.  THANK YOU!  It is amazing.]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. capchoirgirl says:

    The most I have ever sung is 14 parts. 40 blows my mind–in a good way. That’s what, each part split into 10?
    You’d need so many people! Wow!

  2. benedetta says:

    This post, along with your LentcaZt about today’s station church in Rome make for a whole day of Just Too Cool!

  3. APX says:

    The recording […] made its debut at number 68 on the pop charts, above Bon Jovi, George Harrison and Eminem.

    It never even occured to me that such music could be placed in the same category as Eminem. I don’t know which is cooler, the fact that it’s written for 40 different voices, or that it beat out Bon Jovi, George Harrison and, of all people, Eminem.

    This isn’t just too cool. It’s too cool x infinity + 1.

  4. Tina in Ashburn says:

    While we are talkin’ 40 parts, there is also “Spem in Allium”, a 40-part motet by Thomas Tallis.

    You can find it on the Tallis Scholars 2-CD set called “Renaissance Giants” which includes very very fine selections. When I listen to these pieces, I can barely do anything else they are so absorbingly beautiful.

    Thanks for the tip Father, I didn’t know of this 40-part Mass!

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    If you follow Father Z’s amazon link for this CD and scroll down to the so-called Editorial Reviews, you find there absolutely the longest, most detailed, most erudite “From the Artist” blurb I have ever seen, or expect ever to see, for any DVD of any sort. A sumptuous feast of verbiage. I guess it just takes a lot of big words to do proportional justice to a 40-part Mass. [Anything worth doing is worth over-doing.]

  6. Precentrix says:

    For those who don’t know, it was after hearing this piece that Tallis decided to go ‘one up’ and write Spem. If you compare the two, you will see that the sound-worlds are pretty different because Striggio uses the continental four-part scoring (ten choirs of ATTB or SATB) whereas Tallis uses the English five-part scoring (eight choirs of SSATB or ATTBB). Spem in Alium was first performed for kicks at a party, of course. I’ve never sung the Striggio, but I remember that the hardest thing doing Spem was trying to get ‘praeter in te’ exactly in time with the soprano who was diagonally opposite me in the gallery of a rather large church in Avignon… it really does have to be performed in the round, though.

  7. capchoirgirl says:

    Precentrix: Where can I sign up for a ATTBB choir? :) Yes please!

  8. Maltese says:

    “Sackbut by Sackbut” LOL! Here’s more on the Striggio mass:


    Fantastic stuff!!

  9. Martial Artist says:

    I have heard the Tallis Scholars in recording and a subset of them live last summer at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, the subset augmented by members of The Tudor Choir. The Tallis Scholars offer a one-week workshop in Seattle (at Seattle Univ.) most every summer and are hosted while here by the Tudor Choir. This past summer’s opening concert and workshop focus was Flemish composers of sacred Renaissance polyphony. Hearing the music performed live in a cathedral with wonderful acoustics by such an accomplished group was an amazing experience. I have been a (very) humble chorister on and off for 30 years, but even though I couldn’t sing it and it was sung outside of the context of the Mass, it was a transporting experience.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  10. Genna says:

    Great to see I Fagiolini are storming the charts in one of the most secular countries in the western world. It’s such an innovative group in a genre that’s almost over-represented – btw it’s Robert, not Richard, Hollingworth. A crackly telephone line, I expect.

  11. JaneC says:

    I am so glad there is now a commercial recording of this piece! I heard Prof. Moroney’s paper describing the work’s inception and rediscovery, and a rather poor midi reconstruction of the Agnus Dei (the Agnus splits into 60 parts, by the way). It will be good to hear it done properly.

  12. AnnAsher says:

    I’ve pre-ordered.

  13. MJ says:

    Found this about the Mass — very interesting, and gives a little sneak listen to the music! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDUDWvB31lU&playnext=1&list=PL201DA47A1FB4E532

    Most I’ve ever sung is 8 parts…can’t imagine 40! Too cool!!

  14. John UK says:

    Amazon uk have the video clip & introduction – I do not know if this is the same on as on Youtube above –
    The DVD is already available in the U.K. HERE.
    John U.K.

  15. Lirioroja says:

    Wow, just reading this my mind has already been blown – without hearing a note! 40 parts, and sackbuts too! I’ll have to budget a musical splurge in the near future. :-)

  16. JoeGarcia says:

    And yet…nobody is saying this is too complicated to Mr. & Mrs. Pew Sitter. Strange, that.

  17. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    I had a Music History professor, Prof Poe, in Music School… who when she introduced this instrument said, “Francis Poe… Sackbut.” Subsequently, she repeated it in other lectures, just when everyone was nodding off… And she said it with a straight face…. (!)

  18. Kaneohe says:

    Doesn’t anyone else think it a bit sacrilegious the cover art for this Mass is Jupiter rapes Ganymede?

    Apparently someone had to get a dig into the church’s sexual abuse problem and thought it quite amusing that many of the faithful would be buying such a glorious piece of music without even noticing or understanding the cover art.

  19. “Spem in Alium” is on Disk 2 of this album. I guess they figured that, as long as they had a 40-part choir already…. ;)

    I think the eagle is some kind of reference to some kind of musical society called Accademia degli Invaghiti, which Striggio and Monteverdi and a bunch of other guys were in. Also, eagles got used a lot in the theatrical masques and spectacles that the musicians put together in their secular work for lords, since they were very convenient as conveyances for Greek god characters. Probably their art director just picked out something from the period and country that had an eagle in, and didn’t know enough to realize that the kid was Ganymede, instead of Cupid being rescued or whatever.

  20. Gail F says:

    You had me scared there… I thought it was a mass for 40 sackbuts! That’s way too many sackbuts… [Impossible! There is no such thing as “too many sackbuts”!]

  21. Torkay says:

    First the Suspicious Cheese Lords, and now the String Beans….what a riot. And 40 parts! Take that, last movement of the Jupiter Symphony…. [And you would love what I just wrote about for an article today, about the origin and meaning of Et cum spiritu tuo. I referred to Booz and the reapers. Great name for a group. Cf. Ruth 4.]

  22. asperges says:

    “… but had been mis-catalogued at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.. “

    Lady Bracknell. [Grimly.] I have known strange errors in that publication. (Imp Being Ernest)

  23. RichardT says:

    Fr. said “I would very much like to go to the closing of the Proms sometime… “.

    No harm in asking, but that’s not an easy one; it’s massively over-subscribed. The only way to get a seat for the Last Night is to attend 6(?) other Proms concerts, and then be entered into the draw for the chance to be able to buy a ticket for the Last Night.

    Or if you can cope with standing for the whole thing (either in the pit at the bottom, which is of course the proper way to do it, or the top gallery), you can buy a season ticket for the whole Proms series, which will include the Last Night. Cost last time I looked about 200 pounds, but that’s the only way to guarantee getting in. Alternatively you can queue up on the day for a standing ticket; apparently if you get there early enough, you stand a good chance of getting in.

    But this new record sounds good; thank you.

  24. Jordanes says:

    Kaneohe said: Doesn’t anyone else think it a bit sacrilegious the cover art for this Mass is Jupiter rapes Ganymede? Apparently someone had to get a dig into the church’s sexual abuse problem and thought it quite amusing that many of the faithful would be buying such a glorious piece of music without even noticing or understanding the cover art.

    It may not have been selected for that reason, but perhaps having in mind the old Renaissance Christian reinterpretation of the Ganymede myth as an allegory of the soul mystically caught up into spiritual union with God (as 40-part polyphony is meant in part to represent musically).

    “Beginning with the moralized versions of the Metamorphoses [of Ovid] in the fourteenth century, the ravishment came to be interpreted as the union of the soul with God.”


  25. Precentrix says:

    @capchoirgirl –

    Unfortunately, the chances are they wouldn’t want you as a female singer. I too sing alto – and have an almost straight ‘counter-tenor’ sound, too – and it’s always been a problem that church choirs, even when they include female sopranos, opt for male altos. Boo hiss.

  26. irishgirl says:

    Re ‘The Proms’-on a couple of my trips to England, I was in London when the ‘Last Night’ rolled around. I watched it on the telly in my hotel room-what a great time everyone seemed to have! I joined in the singing of pieces like ‘Rule, Britannia’, ‘Jerusalem’, and even ‘God Save The Queen’!
    I’ve also seen some YouTube videos of recent ‘Last Nights’; and among the flags being waved down in the pit area was a Vatican flag…I’m not kidding, Father Z! And it was waved by a young priest wearing his Roman collar! Right there in the front! I loved it!
    I hope you get to go to ‘The Proms’ next time you’re in England, Father Z-maybe you can get Father Tim Finigan, His Hermeuticalness himself, to come with you! [I don’t doubt he would go. But… I need the tickets first!]

  27. AnAmericanMother says:

    @ Precentrix & capchoirgirl ,
    Another alto here with a very straight tone (one of the few benefits of having been an Episcopalian) — fortunately not too many countertenors in this neck of the woods, so I am singing away in the alto section.
    We could use some more altos in our choir, in fact. If you ever move to Atlanta, buzz me. Great parish, NO but straight up orthodox, and a fabulous choir that specializes in chant and Renaissance polyphony (especially English). Tallis motets are regularly featured, but we don’t have enough members to tackle the Spem in Allium :-(

  28. Mike says:

    I have listened to Spem in Alium a few times on youtube and it’s heavenly. Also had a comment exchange there with an professed atheist—how could such beauty spring from mud? For some reason, he thought it was more “exciting” to think that such beauty could arise from unreason. I maintained that things intrinsically impossible aren’t exciting. Hence….

  29. inara says:

    mine came in the mail yesterday! now my husband wants to know where he can trade in his trombone for a sackbut…

  30. wolskerj says:

    Sackbuts are nice but . . . are there any crumhorns?

  31. Sackbut or no, it wouldn’t be complete without Tallis’ “Spem in alium.” I’ve heard it live at the Kennedy Center. Indeed, it is awesome.


  32. stpetric says:

    Yes, my copy arrived today, too. I’m lovin’ it!

  33. VivaIlPapa says:

    I thought I heard about this a few years back. I think NLM had posted a link to a lecture given by the very person who re-discovered the manuscript, Davitt Moroney! Fascinating!

    Here’s the link:

  34. THREEHEARTS says:

    Father your translations into English are abysmal. It is hurrah not oohrah. This is rather a low class spelling

  35. AnAmericanMother says:


    “Oohrah” is generic to the United States Marine Corps. There are three ways to do things – the right way, the wrong way, and the USMC way.

    Re: sackbuts

    The very best presentation of sackbuts I have seen in a long time:

    March from Purcell’s Funeral Sentences

    Canzona, ditto

  36. ejcmartin says:

    Downloaded from iTunes. Listening this morning along with a mug of Mystic Monk. Sublime indeed, that is at least until my boys woke up.

  37. irishgirl says:

    Sackbuts sound ‘so English’! Love it! Thanks, AnAmericanMother!
    They look so small-they’re not as heavy-looking as present-day trombones!

  38. AnAmericanMother says:

    I love the way the tenor sackbutist (??) (the tallest fellow, with glasses) is using just his index finger and thumb to handle the slide . . . rather analogous to extending the pinky while drinking tea . . . . if it were as heavy as a modern trombone he could never do that. One of the others has taken the modern approach of welding a grip to the slide and putting a red plastic sleeve on it . . . I would think black would be more dignified, or purple to match the robes . . . .

    If you like Purcell (and who doesn’t?) be sure to look up the rest of the Funeral Sentences. The Clare College choir is phenomenal — their countertenor and their (female) soprano are particularly excellent. Lovely “English” sound – pure clear ringing tone with zero vibrato in the treble and alto parts and deep warmth in the tenor and bass.

    We’re singing Purcell this Sunday – and (with corresponding chant) for Vespers in the evening with the Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

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