Hyperion Records

Missa brevis
The Missa brevis is the composer’s first setting of the Mass text. Composed for the same church music festival as For as the rain it employs the same scoring with a main choir of six voices (with subdivisions) placed at the West end of the church alongside the organ together with the addition of a female-voice descant choir in two to three parts situated in a gallery halfway down the church. A fragmented approach is evident right at the start where phrases are cut down into syllabic repetitions that gradually increase in length. The upward-rising ‘Kyrie’ adds a yearning sense to this plaint as does the constant repetition of the ‘Christe eleison’, with the harmonies ever contracting. Alongside, the organ plays an equal role, either developing the choral material (as in the opening) or providing contrasting melodic material (as in the central section of the movement).

The Gloria gives the impression of being more strongly rooted in early liturgical form with many lines of the text chanted in a manner akin to plainsong. A more fluid harmonic approach is taken for ‘Benedicimus te’, which is mirrored later in the section for ‘Qui sedes ad dexteram’. At the centre of the movement the magnitude of God is unveiled with powerful towering chords for ‘Domine Deus, Rex caelestis’, which then subside, leaving the descant choir ascending for the phrase ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’. The conclusion of this movement, with its dancing triple-time rhythms and toccata-style organ writing, conjures up all the liturgical drama of the end of Mass. Hansson’s characteristic chords built on perfect fourths here resonate like a peal of bells.

The Sanctus begins as a reverential chant building up through all the voices until it is transformed into a great song of praise in C major, the 6/8 rhythm adding vigour. Against this compound-time backdrop, Hansson introduces a contrasting 3/4 lyrical melody for ‘Pleni sunt caeli’. The ‘Hosanna’ section, like the beginning, builds up from bass to soprano, each voice chanting in different layers. The Benedictus rises seamlessly from the end of this outburst using again the 3/4 melody heard earlier. Here it becomes a five-part canon between all the female voices leading to a more subdued chant of ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ to conclude.

The Agnus Dei takes a more atonal approach, weaving a tapestry combining colourful harmonies with more angular melodic writing. Hansson returns to C minor and material from the Kyrie for the end of the Mass, the ‘miserere’ being broken up and slowly recited by all voices until settling onto a final ‘nobis’ almost like a final gasp. For the final ‘Dona nobis pacem’ section a sense of calm is established with more ethereal writing for the upper voices.

from notes by Rupert Gough © 2012

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Details for HYP201203 track 5
Recording date
8 January 2011
Recording venue
Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Adrian Peacock
Recording engineer
David Hinitt
Hyperion usage
  1. Hansson: Endless border & other choral works (CDA67881)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: March 2012
  2. Hyperion monthly sampler – March 2012 (HYP201203)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: March 2012
    Download-only monthly sampler
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