The Missa Se la façe ay pale was composed by Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474), probably in 1452, during his stay at the Court of Louis, Duke of Savoy, where he was working as chapel master and Court counselor.

 

With this work for four voices, Du Fay adopted for the first time the cantus firmus mass composition technique. In this case, he took the tenor of a ballade that he had composed at the Savoy's Court in the 1430s, at the time of Amadeus VIII. In all the five movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) the tenor maintains the melody and rhythm of the tenor of the ballade, but it undergoes proportional modifications throughout, except for the metric relations among individual notes. The different parts of the mass impose "mensuration canons" to the tenor , indicating the proportions of the melody; in this way, the original melody, that is recognizable throughout the work, is expanded or shortened according to the general framework of each movement.

 

It has long been assumed that this mass had been composed on the occasion of the wedding of Yolande of France and Amadeus IX Duke of Savoy, the son of Louis, on 27th October 1452. A more recent assumption, based on a Christological interpretation of the text of the ballade, suggests that the "face pale" represents the pale face of the Dead Christ. The composition of the mass is therefore associated with the giving of Christ's holy shroud [the Sindone] by Marguerite de Charny to Duke Louis on 22 March 1453.

 

This work can be found in its entirety in two sources: the manuscript Trento 88 (Trento, Buonconsiglio Castle, Monumenti e Collezioni Provinciale, MS 1375, fols. 97v-105v) copied between 1456 and 1460 by Johannes Wiser, and Cappella Sistina MS 14 (Vatican, Vatican Apostolic Library, Sistine Chapel MS 14 (CS 14), fols. 27v-38) written between 1470 and 1489 for the papal chapel.

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