Robert Hollingworth

The director of I Fagiolini on recording a long-lost Mass in 40 parts by Alessandro Striggio

Robert Hollingworth
Published: March 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Why is this recording of Striggio's Mass in 40 parts so significant?


While it’s not so rare for a Renaissance work to be recorded for the first time, it’s extremely rare to discover such a work of real historical importance that is quite unique – there are no other masses of this outlandish proportion from the time – that has been known about for years but been lost and then found and discovered to be of the highest quality: complete jackpot.

How come it was lost and then found?

The Mass originally existed as a series of 42 part books – one for each voice plus the accompaniment – and hundreds of years ago these were wrongly catalogued in a Paris library as a mass for just four voices. They were found just a few years ago by musicologist Davitt Moroney, who put it together and realised that this must be the 40-part Mass that is recorded in several 16th-century court accounts of the time.

It's thought Tallis was inspired by Striggio's 40-part motet Ecca beatam lucem to write his own 40-part work, Spem in alium. How do we know that he heard this piece?

There’s an anecdote written by an Elizabethan London law student called Thomas Wateridge, which refers to an Italian piece ‘in 30 parts’ being performed at what we think was the (Catholic) Duke of Norfolk’s house. Apparently, the Duke ‘bearinge a great love to Musicke asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe, & Tallice beinge very skillfull was felt to try whether he could undertake the Matter, which he did and made one of 40 parts which was songe in the longe gallery at Arundel house.’

Why is it such a good project for I Fagiolini?

It was an ideal project for us as it is basically a one-to-a-part performance which is at the heart of what we do. We are not a choir as such, but a solo-voice ensemble. The Mass features five eight-part choirs, three with contrasting instrumental groups. We were also able to invite colleagues, both singers and instrumentalists, to join in, which is unusual in the intimate world of Renaissance music: it was a party from start to finish!

How did you afford to make this lavish recording?

I spent a year telling anyone I could about it, especially keen amateur singers, a large number of whom dug in their pockets to make an impossible dream a reality.

Helen Wallace

I Fagiolini's recording of Striggio's Mass in 40 parts is available to buy now (Decca 478 2734) and is reviewed in the April issue of BBC Music Magazine


Audio clip: Striggio:Missa Ecce Si Beato Giorno: Credo
Image of Robert Hollingworth: Erich Richmond

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