In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mass

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Catalogues
  • Databases and Online Editions
  • Anthologies and Series
  • Context and Culture
  • Liturgical Studies
  • Other Liturgies
  • Treatises and Commentaries
  • Ars Antiqua
  • Ars Nova and Trecento
  • Machaut’s Mass
  • The Mass in the Renaissance
  • The Mass in the 20th Century
  • Requiem Masses
  • Performance Practice in the Mass

Music Mass
Anne Schnoebelen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0244


The term “Mass” commonly indicates the Eucharistic service rooted in early Christian and medieval liturgies, and its expansion within Catholicism up to modern times. This article provides bibliographical entries for Latin-texted Masses from plainchant and early polyphony to large-scale modern works. (Masses composed for other liturgies, e.g., Lutheran and other Protestant, are not included here.) The Mass consists of two liturgical parts: the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei), which remains textually fixed, and the Proper (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia/Tract/Sequence, Offertory, Communion), which changes with each day’s liturgy according to the temporal or sanctoral cycle. Originally, chant Ordinaries were probably sung to simple formulas or tones, but gradually took on new, more elaborate melodies. Mass Propers were a main source for the early development of polyphony as early as c. 900. The 11th-century Winchester Troper contains the earliest extensive repertory of two-voice polyphony for both Proper and Ordinary. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Leoninus and Perotinus at Notre Dame Cathedral composed organa for two to four voices in the solo-voice sections of the Gradual and Alleluia. However, it was only in the 14th century that the so-called cyclic Mass began to appear, at first in pairings of Gloria-Credo movements based on a single chant. In the early 15th century, composers began to unify the Mass Ordinary with a single plainchant cantus firmus tenor in all five movements, sometimes embellishing it in a paraphrase technique. By mid-century the polyphonic Ordinary was the single most important musical form, attracting the talents of the best composers. Later works included secular songs in tenors and other voices. Gradually, wholesale borrowing from a preexisting polyphonic source resulted in the 16th-century “parody Mass” or the now-preferred term “imitation Mass.” In the early 17th century with its emphasis on dramatic works, the Mass gradually gave way to the motet, considered a vehicle more suited to dramatic contrast and varied text expression. However, the incorporation of instruments and virtuosic solo voices in the messa concertata (concerted Mass) revitalized the genre in the 1630s, leading eventually to large-scale orchestral Masses. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century composers incorporated symphonic and operatic elements, and enlarged the Mass form even more. The liturgical core of the Mass was often overshadowed by purely musical considerations as it moved from church to concert hall. Twentieth-century Masses reveal the growing conflict between tonal and atonal music, and include some non-Western elements and modern compositional techniques such as serial music.

General Overviews

No complete history of the Mass exists in any language. However, surveys of Catholic Church music in general often include discussions of the Mass. The author of Ursprung 1931 discusses Mass development in his chronological survey of Catholic liturgy and musical forms, including the Solesmes rhythmic theory of chant performance. Fellerer 1972 is an excellent survey in German of Catholic Church music including the Mass. Finscher 1989 traces the Mass as a musical artwork from the cyclic Mass through the works of Palestrina. Atlas 2006 is an excellent summary of the Mass from the early 16th century extending well into the 17th century. Leuchtmann and Mauser 1998 covers Masses and motets over several periods. Lipphardt 1950 focuses on a historical survey of polyphonic settings of the Proper. Strohm 1993 treats music in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, including Masses.

  • Atlas, Allan. “Music for the Mass.” In European Music 1520–1640. Edited by James Haar, 101–129. New York: Boydell, 2006.

    Excellent summary article and bibliography of Mass music in the Renaissance and early Baroque. The entire book includes twenty-six essays by leading scholars of each period, country, and genre. Divided into periods and types of Masses in each period, with musical examples and relevant quotes from theorists. Important composers are briefly discussed, and aspects of performance practice are surveyed. Useful bibliography and selective suggested reading list.

  • Fellerer, Gustav, ed. Geschichte der katholischen Kirchenmusik unter Mitarbeit zahlreicher Forscher des In- und Auslandes. 2 vols. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1972.

    One of the most important surveys of Catholic Church music, with contributions by the best scholars in the field. Volume 1 (Von den Anfangen bis zum Tridentinum) contains articles on Eastern liturgies, the early Roman church, plainchant and its theory, early polyphony, Ars Nova, Franco-Flemish and Netherlands composers, and organ music. Volume 2 (Vom Tridentinum bis zur Gegenwart) covers the Council of Trent to the 20th century, and music from outside Europe. Extensive musical examples and indices; lists of relevant literature. (See also Other Liturgies.)

  • Finscher, Ludwig. “Die Messe als musikalisches Kunstwerk.” In Neues Handbuch der Musikwissenschaft, 3/1: Die Musik des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts. By Carl Dalhaus, 193–275. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 1989.

    Substantial chapter tracing the development of the Mass as a musical artwork. Traces the path from paired movements through cyclic cantus firmus Masses to parody/imitation Masses, both in Palestrina’s works and those outside Italy. Many illustrations of manuscript sources and musical examples; extensive bibliography.

  • Leuchtmann, Horst, and Siegfried Mauser, eds. Messe und Motette. Handbuch der musikalischen Gattungen 9. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 1998.

    Very useful volume in this series of musical genres. Chapters by individual authors, with separate chapters for Mass and motet in the early periods; later the genres are combined in chronological chapters. Extensive bibliography after each chapter, with strong German emphasis. Especially valuable for discussion of the Requiem in the 19th and 20th centuries. Musical examples throughout.

  • Lipphardt, Walter. Die Geschichte des mehrstimmigen Proprium Missae. Heidelberg, Germany: F. H. Kerle, 1950.

    A useful unique survey of the polyphonic Proper of the Mass. After a brief overview of plainchant Propers, the author surveys the Winchester Troper, the Magnus Liber Organi, the Trent Codices and Jena manuscripts, Isaac’s Choralis Constantinus, the Lyon “Contrapunctus,” the Proper collections of Georg Rhaw, and other works up to the 19th century. Indices of composers and individual movements.

  • Strohm, Reinhard. The Rise of European Music, 1380–1500. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    A detailed comprehensive survey of music in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Parts 1, 2, and 4 treat the development of polyphony from Machaut to Josquin and his contemporaries. Part 3 discusses music in sacred and secular institutions, and private music-making both vocal and instrumental. Some substantial discussions of important Masses. Extensive bibliography, musical examples, list of manuscripts organized by country.

  • Ursprung, Otto. Die katholische Kirchenmusik. Handbuch der Musikwissenschaft 9. New York: Musurgia, 1931.

    Chronological survey of Catholic liturgy and musical forms from early Christian era to the 19th-century Caecilian movement and the Solesmes rhythmic theory of chant performance. Illustrations and musical examples throughout. Discusses the development of both the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass in each period, including notation, theoretical treatises, important composers and their works.

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