Missa Brevis  (2008) - 18'
-023 3000 vcl + cb
-Commissioned by University of Michigan Symphonic Winds, Detroit Chamber Winds, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music
-Premiered April 2009 at the University of Michigan

Program Notes

I have always been fascinated by the sacred mass as a musical form.  Each movement was developed into own personality through the centuries, dictated by both the content of its words and contemporary convention.  The individual identity of these movements eventually surpassed in priority the text of the mass, and that is what I am interested to explore in theMissa Brevis.  The “Brevis” in the title refers to the briefness of the piece (and all other Missa Brevis), and the reduction of the movements into five short concentrated parts each with its own character.

The “Kyrie” introduces the work with a loud declamatory chord that soon dissolves into floating snapshots of music by Guillaume Machaut, a composer from 14th Century France (and the author of the first full mass.)  The “Gloria” opens with an extended brass fanfare that is followed by a conversation between the oboe and English Horn.  The third movement is the “Credo,” which is the large middle part of the traditional mass; as it has by far the most text, many composers have opted to set music that rapidly cycles through the words with a rhythmic chanting quality, and this Credo does exactly that.  The “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” are coupled together, as the Sanctus begins with the bright chords of the opening answered by a hushed response in the last movement.  The Missa Brevis ends with the words “Ite Missa Est,” letting the listener know the work has come to a close.

The idea of quoting other works has been around since people first started writing down music.  I couldn’t help but think of Machaut as I was sketching this piece, and decided to include his music as if from a distant place, speaking from history, to center the piece around the very first mass tradition.  And besides, I love the music.  The cool sounds of wind instruments allow the feeling of objectivity and individuality for me—I am reminded of what Stravinsky noted in his own Mass that his exclusive use of winds made for no distance between the listener and his message of spirituality.

I was commissioned to write the Missa Brevis by conductor Michael Haithcock and his University of Michigan Symphonic Band in consortium with the Detroit Chamber Winds and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.