1st Edition

Gregorio Ballabene’s Forty-eight-part Mass for Twelve Choirs (1772)

By Florian Bassani Copyright 2022
    128 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    128 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Neither Spem in alium, the widely acclaimed ‘songe of fortie partes’ by Thomas Tallis, nor Alessandro Striggio’s forty-part Mass is the largest-scale counterpoint work in Western music. The actual winner is Gregorio Ballabene, a relatively unknown Roman maestro di cappella, a contemporary of Giovanni Paisiello, Joseph Haydn and Luigi Boccherini, who composed in forty-eight parts for twelve choirs. His Mass saw only a public rehearsal and was never performed liturgically despite all of Ballabene’s efforts to promote it. On closer inspection, however, the work deserves special consideration as a piece of outstanding combinatory creativity – the product of a talent able to conceive, structure and realise a project of colossal dimensions. It might even be claimed that if Charles Burney had gained knowledge of it, all derogatory comments by nineteenth-century music historians would not have succeeded in extinguishing the interest of later generations. Ballabene’s Mass has remained completely unstudied until today, even though the score survives in prominent collections. This study offers, for the first time, a historical and analytical perspective on this overlooked manifestation of a very individual musical intelligence.


    1. Twelve-choir performances

    2. The presence of a glorious past

    3. Burney’s ‘Mass’

    4. Ballabene and his Mass in Martini’s correspondence

    5. The ‘rehearsal’ and its outcome

    6. Consequences for Ballabene’s professional advancement

    7. Martini’s approbation

    8. Important compositional features

    9. Pitoni’s Mass

    10. Ballabene and the twilight of an era

    11. Fame and posthumous fame

    12. The history of the score

    13. Unfortunate anachronism or accomplishment of the Roman Baroque?

    Appendix I: Documents (in chronological order)

    Appendix II: Documented copies of Ballabene’s Mass



    Dr Florian Bassani is a lecturer at the Institute of Musicology, University of Bern, Switzerland.