The difficult Messe en sol majeur
completed in August 1937 is one of the most important a cappella works to be written this century. It is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father; the dedication, twenty years after his death, is a testament the depth of feeling hidden inside Poulenc and released through his new encounter with Roman Catholicism. The work is a missa brevis—that is to say that the Credo is omitted. The central section of the Kyrie (at the words ‘Christe eleison’) is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Poulenc’s choral music. This composer is capable of great tenderness in his musical compositions, and this is perhaps demonstrated most clearly in the haunting solo treble line of the Agnus Dei.
It is interesting that some of the musical gestures learned in his youth and through Les Six gain a seriousness in his choral works which is most refreshing: the bass line at ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ in the Gloria of the Messe; the frequent use of detaché chords and the whimsical nature of the Sanctus.
from notes by William McVicker © 1994