Dance Time

Every now and then I hear the Old Latin Mass described as a somber affair. Many think only dirges are sung and that everything is quite subdued. Granted a low Mass can be rather quiet as the Priest whispers much of the Mass. But a sung Mass in the Old Rite (Extraordinary Form) can be quite elaborate, especially if the Choir sings in polyphony (harmony). Some of the greatest music in history was composed during the Renaissance in a form known as Renaissance Polyphony. It is a kind of harmonic singing that features four or more independent melodies sung simultaneously in rich harmony. Much of this Church music was written in Dance Time such that you can almost dance to it!

Enjoy this brief video of the Angus Dei (try not to tap your toe) and perhaps you’ll see what I mean. The song was recorded at the Oratory of St. Francis De Sales in St. Louis – one of the most beautiful Churches in the Country. (See photo above). The text is Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…grant us peace). Enjoy a beautiful sample of Renaissance Polyphony.

6 Replies to “Dance Time”

  1. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    Thanks for your interest in our choir here at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis. This Agnus Dei comes from the Missa Secunda of Hans Leo Hassler (late 1500’s). We performed the entire Mass (excluding the Credo) on July 26 for our newly-ordained Canon Apple’s first High Mass. It is a very sprightly Mass, and our director, Mr. Nick Botkins, is very insistent that we singers “do NOT externalize the beat!” (in other words, no toe-tapping!). We’ve also worked on Masses by Palestrina and Monteverdi, as well as a contemporary setting by Kevin Allen. It is such a privilege to participate in the reintroduction of this sacred music as a part of the Extraordinary Form.

    Best Regards,


    1. Thnbaks for the info and your great work at the oratory. I am privileged to Say the EF Mass here in DC at Old St. Mary’s and we have both a fine schola and a number of fine polyphonic choirs. The acoustics are perfect for chant and acapella polyphony. Yes I admit to having to suppress toe-tapping at some of the settings but I do recognize the dance time when I feel it!

  2. Quite nice (Agnus Dei, Missa Secunda, H. L. Hassler), however you should reconsider tempo and make it sound a little more serene (it’s quite fast). That way also individual polyphonic lines will be heard and the music will feel as one flow instead of individual notes (“miserere nobis”, for example). And the repetition that was not written by H.L.Hassler, but added later for ceremonial reasons by different editors.

    Otherwise you sound OK. Perhaps you should try he original pitch (minor third higher – it sounds much much more colorful, and it is not so high you think on the first glance, I believe you would be able to do it.

    Best regards.

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