Premiered June 9, 2012, at the Kostel Nanebevzetí Panny Marie (Church of the Assumption of the Lady Mary) in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic, at the Czech Choir Festival ‘Napsáno pro Sborové slavnosti’. The soprano soloist was Kamila Zborilová, and the Chamber Ensemble was formed by the Gentlemen Singers, who also sponsored the Festival. Ze specjalnymi podziekowaniami dla
(with special thanks to) Chór Kameralny Dysonans
from Poland, who were at the heart of the sound.
The Chamber Ensemble, which needs at least eight singers, can be TTBB or SSAA. At the premiere the Chamber Ensemble sang the Kyrie from the back of the church; moved to the front at the start of the Sanctus and then performed from there; sang along with the choir in the Gloria; then returned to the back of the church at the start of the Agnus Dei, from where they finished the movement.
I was asked to write a Missa Brevis
with multicultural influences, which led to its deep roots in the dance, an art form long connected with the sacred. The Kyrie opens with a phrase that recalls a distinctly Bulgarian rhythm and melodic contour. If taken at twice its speed, the Sanctus could invite Turkish finger cymbals. The Gloria is inspired by the mandolin figures of bluegrass waltzes. Traditionally the most introspective part of the mass, the Agnus Dei recalls lands seen earlier on the voyage, with further travels that bring the Peking Opera together with plainsong and the blues: two modal brothers separated at birth. In this Missa
the Gloria and the Sanctus have traded places, and it is now the Gloria that becomes the most light-hearted expression of joy.
The subtitle of my mass links the music to the eternal feminine, the great mother Mary, through whose intercession even fallen nature could appear in its unfallen radiance. Mary’s name comes from the word for “bitter”, and spring is a notoriously vulnerable, bittersweet time of year: “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” (Shakespeare). There is a similar emotional vulnerability in this Missa, which is named for springtime but is full of dark skies. Even the cheerful Gloria, the only movement stable enough to earn a key signature, has moments of shadow. Shadow is a very beautiful thing. The Spanish for “man” (hombre)
contains the French for “shadow” (ombre)
. As if mankind were a shadow that started with a tiny puff of air.