Anglican Mass for Megan, Op. 2

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An Anglican Mass for Megan in C, Op. 2 (1987)

(revised 1994)

for a capella SATB choir (divisi) and treble solo

Download the Sheet Music in PDF:

Mass for Megan – Kyrie

Mass for Megan – Gloria

Mass for Megan – Sanctus

Mass for Megan – Benedictus

Mass for Megan – Agnus Dei

The summer of 1987, when Megan was just a few months old, was a time of grace for me, and in that state of grace I wrote the mass. I tried to be brief, in consideration of the clergy’s concern with brevity in the liturgy…. The falling 3rd from the major scale degree 5 to 3 has always been associated in my mind with a kind of sweet, joyful, hopeful longing. I keep finding more examples in various guises and contexts that all radiate this feeling. For instance, the mother calling to her son in Menotti’s Amal and the Night Visitors, or Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, 3rd movement first theme (sunrise!), or Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata, first movement 2nd theme: after all that fearful agitation of someone who would flee death but cannot escape its inevitable approach, the sun breaks out and we hear an ecstatic call, an evocation of all that is good and strong and vibrant and joyful in life, a remembrance of all the protagonist’s experience: “And he saw that it was good”.

The opening Kyrie’s, softly pleading, culminate with a childlike solo voice calling with that falling 3rd to God to have mercy, invoking His sweetness and light. These should be as pure and as beautiful in sound as the feeling of a child’s innocent heart (Each time the soloist returns she or he should maintain that quality of a tender, almost naïve elan towards God). The Christe’s should be more insistent, the pleading motive swinging back and forth between choir, tenors and soloist (mm. 11 – 15) until the melody falls from the high, femininely desperate  B flat, resolving the tension. The recapitulated Kyrie’s, in likeness to our evermore convoluted search for God, wander further afield before finally finding their way home to blissful, shimmering C major, which however in its final cadence enters a wholly new, unexpected tonal domain: perhaps God’s grace when it does manifest, tends to arrive from somewhere else than where we were looking (if we were looking at all).

The Gloria is a joyful hymn to God’s existence, the varying time signatures designed to fit the word rhythms most naturally. The middle section, gentler, praying to Jesus for mercy, begins in the distant key of B flat minor but surges ever closer to the exultant home G major as sopranos, tenors, altos and basses in turn offer their prayers. Watch for accompanying figures in parallel 6ths (S, T, mm. 26 – 29), in unison (S1, T1, mm. 32 – 35; A, B, m. 49), or melodies in unison at the 8ve (S, T1, mm. 44 – 46, 47 – 51).

The Sanctus seeks to invoke the mystery and otherworldliness of His Holiness and at the same time to express our love and veneration, our awe of that mystery. Hence quiet Hosanna’s, not to disturb that mystical state. The final tonic is unstable, 2nd inversion, keeping us suspended in space rather than binding us to earthly, material existence. The Benedictus is more personal, human, more emotional. The dancing Hosanna’s express a childlike, playful joy in our relationship to Jesus, but again the cadence, now to the subdominant leaves us unbound; reflecting something of the intangible, questioning quality of the spiritual life. These movements also employ melodic parallelism, for instance in the Sanctus between S and B, mm. 11 – 12 and between S and T, mm. 13 – 15, and in the Benedictus between A, S2 and Baritones, mm. 5 – 6, while accompanying figures in 6ths and 3rds are taken up first by S1 and A, mm. 5 – 6, then by A and T, mm. 6 – 7.

The Agnus Dei in blending the moods of the Kyrie and Sanctus attempts once and for all to penetrate the Mystery at that most central point in the Mass. All has been preparation for this. Again, attention paid to parallelisms such as between S1 and T2 (mm. 11 – 12) or S1 and T1 (mm. 13 – 14, 23 – 24), and other momentary incidences hidden hither and thither, may facilitate learning in rehearsal.

The mass appears to be difficult, but each vocal line on its own is quite naturally written and easily sung. If each section and subsection is sure of their part, then they will easily weather the unexpected harmonic crunches which occur between them. Have the choir practice scales in parallel seconds…. Thanks to Debi Lee for her part in creating the space in which the mass could be written, and to Otilia Beck and especially Gianmario Scotti for their invaluable help in preparing the score.

The Mass for Megan is offered here free of charge. We ask that the composer be notified of any performances.