Music scholar rediscovers lost 16th century Catholic Mass

Rome, Dec 1: A music scholar has rediscovered a 16 th century choral work of Italian composer Alessandro Striggio in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the national library of France.

The man who found this music piece is Davitt Moroney, a music professor from Berkley.

Known as the "Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno", this gigantic choral setting of music for the Catholic mass was composed in Florence for the Medici family, whom Striggio served as a highly paid court musician. It was sent as a gift to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1567 as one element in a campaign by the Medici to obtain a much-sought-after archducal title.

"It's one of the first great pieces to use architecture and space, with musical phrases physically moving around the ring from choir to choir," said Moroney.

The 30-minute mass, composed for a massive ensemble of five eight-part double choirs, is one of the most extraordinary artworks of the Italian Renaissance. But while references to it exist in period correspondence, the score itself had been lost since 1726.

The score of "Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno" was never, in fact, missing so much as hidden in plain sight. Its failure to be studied in depth by the musicologists of the past several centuries has more to do with the vagaries of bibliographic notation than with popular notions of treasures being forgotten in abandoned storerooms by forgetful descendants.

More or less, the reason for the lost music work was the intervention of human error. A series of misspellings of the name Striggio by a series of copyists and archivists rendered the composer's name, variously, as "Strigeo," "Struseo," and "Strusco," while the number of choral parts was, early in the last century, reduced to a mere four (from 40) by a proofreader who thought the number more reasonable.

For these simple but ultimately confounding reasons, Striggio's grand 40-part mass essentially came to be regarded as lost, even as it remained accessible to scholars in France's greatest library under a different name.

"The forty-part Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno by Alessandro Striggio languished throughout the twentieth century disguised as a nameless four-part Mass by Strusco," said Moroney. "Since such a work would appear to be entirely banal, and since no such composer ever existed, scholars have not been in a rush to study this music," he added.

But, after tracing the peregrinations of at least four copies of the score over the decades, Moroney concluded that one complete set of partbooks came to rest in the "extraordinary library" of Italian and French scores of the composer Sébastien de Brossard, which ultimately was donated to the French King Louis XV in 1726 in return for the promise of a small pension.

It thus entered the holdings of the Bibliothèque royale, which after considerable political turmoil later in that century were transferred to the Bibliothèque nationale.

Moroney's scholarly pursuit of the mass lasted 20 years, until, in January 2005, he recognized information published by a French scholar as the crucial final piece of the puzzle that enabled him to locate the missing manuscript.

After the discovery, Moroney also transcribed the mass into a modern musical notation and prepared the first modern performance in London's Royal Albert Hall in July this year.

"The concert was a huge event," said Moroney. "We got Striggio back on the map," he added. (ANI)