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Martin Dalby Missa Fi-Fi 21'
S S T T B / Satb (with optional brass quintet)
Commissioned by: Hexham Abbey Festival
First performed by: Cantores in Ecclesia / Michael Howard
First performed at: Hexham Abbey
Missa Fi-Fi (1969) Martin Dalby
by Michael Howard
Missa Fi-Fi takes as its point of departure a favoured renaissance device Ñ that of pre-determining structural facets by resorting to a given formula. There are many ways in which this can be done, among them creating a structure geared to a cantus firmus, adhering to canons and their crabs and inversions, working from isorhythmic permutations and so on. In one of the masses by Josquin des PrŽs, a complete dice problem is set up and solved. In a certain song by Guillaume de Machaut, the end is the beginning and the beginning the end, a third part being derived from these two elements by using parts of the given material both forwards and backwards at appropriate points.
Probably the closest Renaissance analogy to Dalby's Mass is the Missa Mi-Mi by Ockeghem in which the movements are built out of a scaffold related to the third degree of the major and minor hexachords. Dalby's premise is the confliction set up between the two F's, sharp and natural, and the resulting necessity to work to their resolution, albeit in a frequently ambivolently resolved tonality. At the same time the Mass is simply a projection in his personal and contemporary language of the so far unbroken school of post-Tridentine liturgical writing, and is intended as a challenge to the iconoclastic drift of the post-Vatican ll Church* and its cavalier assumption that the present day artist has no place other than in the concert hall, the wireless programme, and the theatre.
Missa Fi-Fi is scored in such a way that it may be sung by unaccompanied voices (as at Hexham Abbey) or in a more sumptuous form accompanied by a band of two flugelhorns, two baritones and tuba. In this respect, it again acknowledges a dept to the great composers of the Flemish School and their incomparable master, Josquin des PrŽs.
© Copyright by Michael Howard
* See also Ad Flumina Babyloniae and The Parish Choirs' Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Book