Missa Brevis, Op. 5

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Missa Brevis in A minor, Op. 5 (1995-9)

Congregational – Modern English Text
For mixed unison voices with organ accompaniment

Download Sheet Music in PDF

Missa Brevis – Kyrie

Missa Brevis – Gloria

Missa Brevis – Trisagion

Missa Brevis – Gospel Responses

Missa Brevis – Credo

Missa Brevis – Supplications

Missa Brevis – Sanctus & Benedictus

Missa Brevis – Lord’s Prayer

Missa Brevis – Agnus Dei

This Mass was composed while I was the guest of a wonderful people, the South Slavic People, during the throes of the destruction of their country, Yugoslavia. Their exceptional humanity and warmth is something overlooked by the Western media, and the tragedy of their conflagration is still not fully known. The music of the Mass is a truly ecumenical work in its very substance: it was born of a Western musical spirit living an Eastern Byzantine-Slavic culture. That culture’s essence suffuses this music’s essentially Gregorian-Anglican roots.

I once heard a priest remark, “There are singing churches and non-singing churches. In some churches the hymns amount to little more than the sound of the organ plus a few stalwart choir members, while there are other congregations which seem to be bent on drowning out the organ and choir altogether!” This mass challenges the notion that a singing congregation cannot learn a musically demanding liturgy. It brings some of the feel and melisma of Gregorian chant into a modern-day setting, and even throws in the occasional rhythmic syncopation. It will also hopefully stimulate some congregations that don’t sing, to start!

Commentary on the popular CD, Chant, indicates that monks who follow a regular regimen of Gregorian chant are able to fulfil a rigorous daily routine of hard labour and little sleep maintaining full vitality, whereas in monasteries which have given up the practice of regular chanting as old-fashioned, monks experience an energy depletion and have tremendous difficulty carrying on as before. In modern-day economic parlance, there is a significant decrease in productivity!

The purpose of the liturgy is to bring us into a direct experience of God. The singing of these liturgical melodies, once mastered by members of an attentive group, will hopefully deepen both their musical and spiritual experience, serving to bring them into that meditative, emotionally open state requisite to the awakening within of the same energizing, sacred vibration which empowers chanting monks.

This congregational, monodic work is also available for SATB in the original D minor tonality. Music directors who feel that this mass is too demanding for a congregation might consider having the choir introduce the mass to the congregation in the choral version. After a few hearings just about any group could pick up these melodies with little problem.

I am indebted to Barnaby Miles, organist at Church of the Ascension in New York City, for his warm enthusiasm which spurred me to finally finish this mass!

Alan Fraser, New York, June 1999

Notes on the Music

Kyrie: At the end of my first confession, with Father Lorand Kilbertus in Belgrade, spring 1995, I asked him could I give some money to the mission as penance. He kindly refused, and told me to dream up a penance more appropriate to my own personal gifts. Thank God he did, because that was the genesis of this mass. It was on the train back to Novi Sad that I found a piece of scrap paper and scribbled out the first little bits of the Kyrie. I finished it after seeing him again at Christmas that year.

Gloria: The melody up to m. 35 was composed sick in bed Saturday morning December 30 1995 (I should get the flu more often!), most of the rest on January 1 1996, after an icy, warm new year’s eve of Tequila, champagne and 3 hours’ sleep…. The problem was to do something different from my other beloved G major Gloria, so I picked a minor key (D as in “Om”). I figured if Merbecke could sound happy in the minor, why not me? Thus please do not add a tierce de Picardy at the final (except on feast days if you simply can’t resist).

Trisagion: The congregation may sing any combination of these three movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Trisagion) near the opening of the service, or as in old times, reserve the Gloria for a post-Communion hymn.

Credo: Composed sometime in 1996, completed in a fit of desperation over a thwarted love affair, demonstrating that good results can arise from questionable stimuli! The Credo starts out like a pretty standard remake of Merbecke, but when we get to the part where Christ is incarnate by the Holy Ghost we take a turn into a slightly different musical world. Those haunting parallel tenths evoking the mysticism and wonder of it, and then the further turn into the harmonic darkness of the underworld, the sadness and desolation of his crucifixion. The following organ solo interlude is a meditation in musical terms His journey through Hades and eventual emergence – for those of you for whom this is too wild, you are free to cut mm. 36 to m. 41. Following His resurrection the music, rising in jubilation, reflects the triumphant ecstasy of a faith truly lived; its developing rhythmic impetus expresses the tremendous strength of a living faith. Finally, the congregation settles on one insistent chanted tone as the organ strays evermore harmonically afield: like a rock, true knowledge will stand even the battering of the most dissonant clashing harmonies!

I had a problem in notating the rhythmic flow of the melody. All note values in the sections resembling chant can be treated approximately. I have used 8ths, triplet quarters and normal quarters to roughly correspond to natural speech rhythms, but if these are taken literally the results are ludicrous and disastrous. Please, these metric values serve only as a rough guide to natural speech flow. Flexibility is the key here… Note also that the tessitura, especially in the middle section, falls lower than we would normally expect. These passages should not be sung fully but rather almost spoken naturally while maintaining pitch. I tried to avoid the upper reaches of a congregational range, but many of the lowest passages will be appreciated by those who often find themselves singing an octave lower than everybody else. This is your chance to shine…

Sanctus and Benedictus: This strange Sanctus came to me I don’t know how. Its haunting, eerie, pleading, lonely melodic line with its litanic repetitions almost seems to suggest a post-nuclear holocaust prayer. I have mollified the originally even more stark harmonic underpinning in the hopes of making it more amenable to liturgical use.

Agnus Dei: After this melody suggested itself to me, I worried that it was too ‘pop’-ish. But I’ve let it stand as nothing else has come along to take its place…

Alan Fraser, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, August 1997