Creative Works

Missa Brevis

For a capella choir (SSAATTBB), five movements, (1998) 25:30
performance by Fredonia College Choir, directed by Robert Wells, with soprano Quinn Patrick and tenor Gary Seydell

Missa Brevis, a setting of the Latin Mass that excludes the Credo, is scored for an a cappella mixed voices choral ensemble with soloists.  Using the Latin text, this multi-movement work attempts to incorporate contemporaneous elements of meter, harmony, texture and form while referencing significant aspects of the accumulated long tradition of Latin Mass composition.

The tripartite Kyrie eleison is brief, and quickly establishes melodic gestures and harmonic ideas that will reoccur throughout the Mass. Modulations as well as motivically significant melodic gestures often involve the tri-tone, moving gradually from B major to F major, and the semi-tone, as in the motion from B major to B-flat major at the conclusion of the Gloria movement.

The second movement, Gloria in excelcis Deo, introduces textural and coloristic procedures that will continue throughout the entire Mass.  The unfolding drama of the text is accentuated by a variety of tempo changes and by contrasting the sound of the full choir with sections written for male voices or female voices alone.  The cum Sancto Spiritu text begins as a brief fughetta and the concluding Amen ushers in an extended coda material that reoccurs in a somewhat altered form later in the Mass at the close of the communion hymn.

The Sanctus setting is a protracted series of unaccompanied melodic gestures, or simple repeated single notes, immediately followed by passages of varying lengths for full chorus. The Benedictus section of this movement begins with a brief contrapuntal section in which the alto voices enter alone to be immediately followed by the soprano, tenor, and bass voices in turn, each elaborating a melodic gesture from the main body of the Sanctus.  The concluding Hosanna in excelcis returns to the textural procedure introduced in the opening measures of the movement.  This coda rises to an intense statement of the principal melodic motive followed by a brilliantly colored fortissimo chordal cadence and an immediately quiet conclusion.

O Sacrum Convivium is a communion hymn that interrupts the unfolding of the Mass text.  This movement is scored for women's chorus alone and introduces the two solo voices, tenor and soprano, for the first time in the Mass. This hymn setting recapitulates, in altered versions, music already heard in previous movements.  It begins quietly and reflectively and moves toward a more intense concluding Alleluia.

The final Agnus Dei is the most protracted movement of the composition and includes the greatest variety of choral textures.  The concluding Dona nobis pacem alternates vigorous musical statements with quieter, more introspective moments.  The music contains extended sections for solo soprano with male chorus and complimentary music for women's chorus supporting the solo tenor voice.  The solo voices having thus made their appearance, the tenor soloist sings a brief passage introducing an extended contrapuntal section for full chorus.  This is followed by the male voices of the choir supporting a cantilena written for the solo soprano voice.  In this gradual manner, solo voices and full choir return to complete the texture and move toward the conclusion of the Mass.  After a sudden culminative turn to a suggestion of A minor, the only occurrence of this tonality in the entire Mass, the music gradually returns to B major and ends quietly.

Copyright © 2008 Donald Bohlen.

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