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17 March 2023
Jacob Obrecht’s Missa Maria zart is an extraordinary work, both literally, as probably the longest extant Mass of the Renaissance, taking an hour to perform, and in the more general meaning of the word. It is recognised as one of the most ambitious artistic creations of its time; some have claimed that it defies description. The director of Cappella Pratensis, Stratton Bull mentioned his interest in the complexities of Renaissance mensural notation and the difficulties that modern-day ensembles sometimes experience in interpreting it. Although several recordings of this Mass already existed, few if any had succeeded in doing justice to its subtle system of mensuration signs and use of notation generally. A symposium was held in 2018 and the resulting performance duly took place, but plans for a recording were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This had the welcome if unintended consequence of permitting several other live performances before the recording sessions in September 2022: the interpretation that Cappella Pratensis commits to disc is well ‘lived in’.
Jacob Obrecht was born in Ghent between 1457 and 1459. His career included a string of posts as choirmaster in Northern France and the Low Countries (Cambrai, Bruges, Bergen op Zoom, Antwerp). He died in Ferrara (of plague) in May or June 1505.
It is not known when the Missa Maria zart was composed but there are good reasons for thinking it one of Obrecht’s very last Mass cycles.
Even by Obrecht’s standards Maria zart is unusually complex and inventive.
Given the general agreement that Maria zart was probably commissioned for the Imperial court at Innsbruck, Cappella Pratensis uses the Germanic pronunciation that would have been in use there.