Hyperion Records

Missa brevis
2009; commissioned by the Cathedral Organists' Association and first performed at their May 2009 conference in Wells by Wells Cathedral Choir under Matthew Owens
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

'Dove: Choral Music' (CDA67768)
Dove: Choral Music
Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 4: Agnus Dei

Missa brevis
The Missa brevis was commissioned by the Cathedral Organists’ Association for their conference in Wells Cathedral in May 2009 and first performed by the cathedral choir under Matthew Owens’s direction. There were various stipulations which Dove was required to address: the music should be challenging, but not be out of the reach of a good church choir; it should be interesting but accessible; it should be economical in its proportions; and it should be in Latin accompanied by organ. At the first performance it was immediately recognized that Dove had judged the work perfectly. (As stipulated by the commission, the composer had not published a liturgical Mass before.) Twenty-five cathedral organists signed up at the conference to perform the new work and many joined their number soon afterwards.

The Kyrie is rather different from Dove’s normal practice. There is more linear development, more polyphony and a greater development to a moment of climax close to the end. The organ part is minimal and uses the sustained-chord device to bind the short vocal phrases together. The effective cluster chords and their formation are reminiscent of Kenneth Leighton’s organ writing. The Gloria is something of a moto perpetuo with the organ setting up a rhythmically dancing figure in the opening bars. The choir sings short phrases in a variety of dynamics which don’t let up on the rhythmic excitement until the words ‘Agnus Dei, Filius Patris. Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis’ allow the tension to relax even though the organ keeps up the constant motion underneath. A spectacular climax is reached at ‘Jesu Christe’ (at the words ‘Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe’), where Dove brilliantly throws the music into D flat major, from an A major tonality, after which the movement dances to a brilliant ending. The Sanctus & Benedictus carries on the dance in a 5/8 ‘spirited’ setting. There are some similarities with Britten’s Missa brevis in the way the organ chords build up before the choral entry. However, where Britten leads straight into bell-like writing, Dove begins with a chordal outburst for the word ‘Sanctus’ and reserves his bell-like choral writing for the words ‘Dominus Deus Sabaoth’. The Hosanna at the end brings back the opening chords of the movement. The Agnus Dei is formed over an organ pedal point with a held low E and A which moves only twice during the movement, cleverly ratcheting up the tension with minimal fuss but maximum effect. After six bars of organ introduction (a short figure played by the right hand prepares us for the choral entry) the choir sings short chordal phrases. The introductory organ material is reduced to four bars for the next choral entry and the first pedal point move. After this the organ’s material is reduced further to two bars and the climactic pedal point shift to C and G with the choir singing the final ‘Agnus Dei’ strongly before subsiding into a mantra-like repetition of the words ‘dona nobis pacem’. It is a most beautiful and effective movement.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 2010

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67768 track 5
Agnus Dei
Recording date
25 June 2009
Recording venue
Wells Cathedral, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Dove: Choral Music (CDA67768)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: September 2010
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