The liturgy of the Dead – including the Requiem Mass, the Burial Service and the Office of the dead, properly speaking – was granted considerable importance by the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities and by the local church composers from very early times. Throughout the Middle Ages, according to the extant documentary descriptions, the death of a great Lord, such as the Count of Barcelona or the sovereign of any of the Spanish kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon or Navarre, was usually mourned with impressive ceremonies in which the solemnity of the liturgy was often enhanced by the addition of the planctus, a kind of lengthy optional lament that was sung monophonically and of which several examples have survived.
Morales's five-part setting of the Requiem is one of the masterpieces of the 16th century and was actually published twice during his lifetime. The 'Missa pro defunctis' follows the customary pattern of the time. Each section begins with a unison Gregorian intonation, which then continues as a cantus firmus in the upper part as the other voices spin a polyphonic texture underneath. The work avoids obvious madrigalisms, but maintains an austere, meditative texture, which is both spiritual and moving.
Yet another Christmas release features the Christmas vocal polyphony of Cristobal de Morales, who is regarded as the first significant Spanish composer of the Renaissance. Like most compositions for this Christian feast, his Christmas motets circulated and were performed throughout Europe, traveling far beyond Spain's borders. His archaic, mystical and expressive musical language, that one almost might term place-less and timeless, must have played a role in this dissemination. Moreover, Morales was active not only in Spanish cathedrals but also spent many years of his creative career as a papal singer in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.