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Modal Counterpoint

Imagine yourself as an Italian wandering Rome in the 1560s. Your land is in turmoil; your leaders continually falter in their efforts to purify and strengthen their rule; your very creed seems crumbling, as the church no longer looks one, holy, catholic, or apostolic. So you come in the morning to St. John Lateran, the cathedral church in Rome where Palestrina directed music from 1555-1560. Perhaps you cynically contrast the church’s flawless ornamentation to its actual condition. But then, it comes, as tangible as a beam of light piercing the windows: Kyrie eleison, Christi eleison, Kyrie eleison—Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy—the opening words of the mass, shared by faithful and cynic alike.