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Westminster Mass for Boys' Voices
Music by Jeremy de Satgé  
received its Liturgical Première
at Westminster Cathedral
on Tuesday, 14th January 2014 at 5.30pm
sung by Westminster Cathedral Choristers
Directed by Martin Baker, accompanied by Peter Stevens

Here are some of the comments received by the composer so far from those who attended: -

  • "...It was so wonderful to hear how you had captured the acoustic and that quality of those particular voices.." NG

  • "...I thought the Mass was both immediately appealing and interesting and certainly more 'listenable to' than most contemporary settings..." CS

  • "...The Mass was a courageous and interesting composition and was clearly thought to be a great success..." EB

  • "...It was truly beautiful..." PK

  • "...Your Mass was brilliant. I was entranced listening to the boys singing. Really beautiful..." PS

  • "... Those boys are astounding in their singing, but I think your Mass in itself is very beautiful, and has that dimension of the contemplative which the liturgy so much needs today..." CF

 

The composer writes

  "I have for some time now wanted to write a Mass for the boy choristers of Westminster Cathedral.  On Tuesday evenings the choristers sing on their own – the lay clerks’ day off – and it is with this in mind that I have written this piece - hence there being no Gloria.  Wanting it to contain the sound of Westminster, the Mass is structured around the familiar Westminster chime.  When writing this I had both the sound of the choristers and the acoustic of the cathedral in mind, particularly when it comes to the vocal line.  The piece is meant to be quite intense with a passionate cry for mercy in the Kyrie; but also intimate with sections for solo voices or semi-chorus, drawing the listener in to the music and helping the faithful in their prayer.

I recall singing Britten’s Missa Brevis as a boy chorister myself in the 1960s and the excitement of singing something that was then quite new.  Westminster Cathedral Choir has a fine tradition of performing new works and I sincerely hope that this will prove a useful addition to the sacred choral repertoire of Mass settings for upper voices."

Jeremy de Satgé

 

Review

The following review appeared in Latin Liturgy (the Journal of the Association for Latin Liturgy)            

This Missa Brevis, consisting of Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, is dedicated by its composer to the Choristers of Westminster Cathedral and their Choirmaster Martin Baker, thus following a handful of distinguished predecessors, including the Masses by Benjamin Britten and Lennox Berkeley. It opens quietly in the organ, with a unison figure piquantly derived from the Westminster Quarters, that is to pervade the whole work, alternating with gently exploratory figures in inversion over a pedal, leading to the first entry of the choir, at first unaccompanied, then worked together with the organ’s three-part texture. The vocal lines are bold and striking, with a high and flamboyant flourish for solo voice in the Christe. After the second Kyrie, the organ takes the movement very quietly to its end, using the opening figure once more.

The Sanctus opens with the idea from the Kyrie in the organ, but now the voices also take it up, adding triplets; the pleni sunt, with its urgent repeated notes, is a little reminiscent of the same moment in the Britten Mass. An impassioned Hosanna moves without a break into the Benedictus, where the solo voice has an adaptation of its Christe ‘fanfare’, before the reprise, fortissimo, of the Hosanna.

Low writing for the organ, with clusters of secondary seventh chords, ushers in the voices for the Agnus Dei, with use of inversion and appropriately jagged vocal lines, the organ persisting with its sombre harmonies beneath. But at the second invocation the soloist brings back his earlier flourish, first heard in the Christe, and the colours begin to lighten as the organ returns with the Westminster Chimes motif, over which the trebles follow the organ, in canon an octave higher, into a long drawn-out dona nobis pacem, diminishing to a final whisper in bare octaves with the organ on the last pacem.

This most attractive work is highly recommended. Though written for one of the very finest cathedral choirs in the world, it is not beyond the grasp of any enterprising boys’ or girls’ choir, and, being brief and compact, is ideally suited to liturgical celebrations in school and college chapels as well as in churches and cathedrals.

Christopher Francis