Hic est discipulus ille

Using a Motet as a basis for a Mass is a long-established technique used by the majority of composers in the Renaissance, taking either a Motet of their own or of another composer as a model, the latter being a mark of respect, an indication of the high esteem in which the first composer held the second. This Sunday offers the first opportunity in the Cardoso450 series of hearing this technique in action. Cardoso’s Missa Hic est discipulus ille takes the five-part Motet of the same title by Palestrina as its model, using the same voicing and clefs. That the Masses in Cardoso’s Liber primus are based either on Plainchant or on Motets by Palestrina is a clear indication to us of Cardoso’s admiration of Palestrina and is yet more evidence to cement Palestrina’s position of preeminence among Renaissance composers.

While it is fascinating to see little melodic snippets appear in the midst of more freely-composed sections, Cardoso primarily uses the opening melody as the basis for his Mass. Its wave-like contour is preserved throughout, even when the rhythm is altered to suit the text. Yet, the first and most striking feature of the Mass in relation to the Motet is the application of accidentals:

 Top: Palestrina  Cantus ; Below: Cardoso  Superius II

Top: Palestrina Cantus; Below: Cardoso Superius II

The re-defined contour of the melody is indicative of Cardoso’s more chromatic style, but is perhaps as much influenced by time as well as composer - 56 years separate the two publications: Palestrina in 1569 (when Cardoso was 3 years old), Cardoso in 1625 (Palestrina died in 1594). As modes gradually gave way to keys in the Baroque Period, the function of Leading Note to Tonic becomes critically important. The alterations made above are an excellent example of tonality in transition; the opening semitone instantly establishes a tonal centre for the listener, albeit one that remains built upon a modal framework. 

We don’t know whether the accidentals were added by Cardoso or were already altered in a transmitted source. However, Cardoso enjoyed a close association with the Duke of Braganza (later to be King John IV) who assisted financially with several of Cardoso’s publications. The Duke’s famed music library and pro-Palestrina stance would likely have allowed Cardoso to consult the original printing. That being the case, it would seem that Cardoso had no scruples about ‘updating’ the work of Palestrina to suit more contemporary taste and expressive needs.

The text of the Motet: “This is the disciple who bears witness concerning these things, and we know that his testimony is true” mirrors the closing words of the Gospel of the day (Easter II, Year C) which relate to the witness of John: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw...These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20: 30-31; the text of the Motet itself is John 21: 24). The Gospel relates the story of doubting Thomas and so the Mass and Motet are joined by the short Motet by de Brito Quia vidisti me Thoma: “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” So the music, while giving an interesting insight into Cardoso’s parody techniques and a contrast between his and de Brito’s styles, remains very much at the service of the liturgy.

A Missa Hic est discipulus ille by Cardoso for 8 voices appears in the library catalogue of John IV, but, along with the rest of the library, was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake and fire of 1755. One cannot help but consider the fragility of such printed publications and marvel at the very fact that we have such a wealth of music available to us today.