I will not be discussing the Mozart-Süssmayr Requiem today, so the “Sanctus” is certainly not the Sanctus in the requiem. The Sanctus I will be discussing today is actually my own Sanctus, which I wrote, with my first orchestration attempt, sometime last November. I started a mass last November and then forgot about it, and recently I’ve decided to come back to it. 

Don’t ask me why I decided to start the mass last year with the Sanctus…I don’t know why. The Osanna fugue in this section was my first-ever attempt at writing fugues as well, and for the most part I was quite pleased with it. However, now that I re-analyze it, I’ve noticed that after the entrance of the four voices – bass, tenor, alto, and soprano, in this order – I run for the exit. I didn’t attempt to modulate or develop the theme further. Worst of all, as I will show you soon, I ended up with parallel fifths and octaves…in the fugue!

Alright, let’s start at the beginning…

Page 1 of the Sanctus

First of all, the viola part was written with treble clef because at the time I could barely read alto clef. I sing soprano, so I’m used to reading soprano clef, and I play the violin and piano, so I know treble and bass clef extensively well. However, alto and tenor clefs are a completely different story.

Although I wrote “tonic chord overuse” in the lower right-hand corner, I meant for the first four bars in the choir parts to be based entirely off of the tonic chord of C major, the key of this section.

It was the orchestration that I noticed first. There were obvious parallel octaves between the first and second violin at the last three notes of measures 1 and 2. Not to mention that there was a clash between the D in the first bar of the second violin part and the E in the cello part! The first and second violin part and the cello part in measure 4 were obviously parallel octaves, and I was horrified to find all these mistakes.

Speaking of which, I once wrote a short dialogue between an angry music professor and a terrified composition student. It went something like this:

Angry professor: Can’t you see that there are these blatantly wrong parallel fifths between the first violin and the bass line?! What were you thinking?!

Terrified student: Um… I didn’t know that wasn’t allowed in orchestration… Wait, this isn’t a harmony class, is it?

Needless to say, while looking over these obvious technical errors in my own orchestration, I felt like I was playing the roles of the angry music professor and the terrified composition student at the same time (although I’ve never actually had a composition lesson in my life).

Page 2

Wait… What is with the third measure on the second page?! The first and second violins are in parallel fifths, and it is painfully obvious! The first bar on this page is strange too… The first violins, for some reason, are playing along with the altos, while the second violins are with the sopranos. Suddenly this switches in the second bar; there, the first violins are with the sopranos, and the second violins are with the altos, the way it’s supposed to be structured.

I don’t remember what I was thinking; it might have been a brain freeze, but I have a feeling that I intended for something special to happen. Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t work out! Something really random, however, was the clash between the F and G in the cello and bass parts. I don’t really know why I decided to write different parts for the cello and bass parts; since they usually play the same thing, I might as well just write one part for both…

Page 3

Okay, this is starting to get a little ridiculous… I won’t even say anything about the orchestration, considering how obvious the errors would be to any trained musician (at least I get to have a good laugh here at myself…).

Page 4

The first thing that you probably noticed was the parallel octaves between the tenor and bass voices. And also, in the fourth bar on this page, every single note is a C!!!

Alright, now on to the “fugue”…

Page 5

Yes, you saw that correctly. Perhaps doubling the bass voice with the violins (for some reason, I decided to have the first and second violins play the exact same thing here, and I was too lazy to rewrite the notes a second time) an octave higher wasn’t exactly the brightest idea.

Page 6

Alright, I totally messed up on this page. The G and the E in the alto part on this page totally clashed with the F and D in the bass part. Now seriously…how did I not notice??? Considering that I used to make extensive use of octaves and fifths – the perfect consonances – to avoid clashes…

Page 7

This is the page with the parallel fifth I referred to earlier. In the last bar of page 7, the tenors are singing G-F-G-A while the basses are singing C-B-C-D.

Page 8

The parallel octaves in the second to last bar… I won’t say anything else about this page in particular. I don’t understand why I even dared

I think the problem with the fugue especially, is how short it is. When the tenors and sopranos came in on G, it was followed by an F-natural, of all things, whereas the altos and basses sing C and then B, which is a half-step. On the other hand, G to F is a whole step, so in order for the transposition to be correct, the second note should be an F-sharp. However, this isn’t a transposing error; I purposely wrote F-natural to avoid any attempt at entering in G major, the dominant of C.  It was too risky, and I knew it. And now, looking at these technical errors from just seven months ago, I’m guessing the “fugue” would not have turned out very well if I had tried to modulate!

After noticing all these technical errors, I have not decided what I’m going to do with the Sanctus. While I could use the Sanctus (after fixing all these errors, of course) as a piece by itself, whether or not I’ll use it in the actual mass is an entirely different story. I think I’m going to just rewrite the entire Osanna fugue with a better subject and countersubject. Well, we’ll see what happens when I get there! 

Update on May 11, 2017: I never did use this Sanctus for my mass. Seriously – so uninspired! Besides, I stopped writing the C major mass anyway. I’ve written a Missa Brevis in G and am working on a Mass in D. Neither of the Sanctus settings contains voice-leading problems! : )


10 thoughts on “Sanctus Fail

    1. Remember the part about the angry music professor and the terrified composition student? I “graded” this myself ha ha! I meant that I used to many of the note C. Overuse of the tonic!


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