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Ordinary of the Mass; Luke 24: 30, 31

'Vaughan Williams & Bingham: Mass' (CDA67503)
Vaughan Williams & Bingham: Mass
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67503 
Movement 1: Preamble: The road to Emmaeus
Movement 2: Kyrie
Movement 3: Gloria
Movement 4: Offertory: Et aperti sunt oculi
Movement 5: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 6: Agnus Dei
Movement 7: Voluntary: Et cognoverunt eum

Judith Bingham was born in Nottingham, grew up in Sheffield and had been composing for many years when she entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1970 to study composition and singing. Her individual style soon attracted attention and led to many commissions from groups as diverse as The King’s Singers, The Songmakers’ Almanac, the BBC Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras and from Westminster Cathedral who, in 2003, requested a Mass for Ascension Day.

This Mass is as much a narrative journey as a celebration of the Eucharist and takes the story of Christ’s encounter with the Apostles on the road to Emmaeus as its starting point. The narrative thread (from St Luke’s Gospel) is provided by two substantial organ pieces – the ‘Preamble The road to Emmaeus’ and the ‘Voluntary Et cognoverunt eum’ – and an Offertory motet Et aperti sunt oculi (‘and their eyes were opened’). In spite of the atmospheric sunrise at the beginning of the Preamble, a mood of desolation soon becomes evident as the disciples trudge on their way, dispirited and empty without Christ in their midst. This movement, rather like an overture to an opera, encapsulates the whole story, including many of the musical themes (in embryo at least) that will recur later in the composition and so a feeling of hope develops. The once-lifeless footfalls of the disciples become more energized with the rising motif in the bass line, leading to a moment of ‘stunned recognition’ before the quiet contemplation of the final bars. After a restless Kyrie, the Gloria erupts with joy, introducing a fantasia-like accompaniment for the melody of ‘Laudamus te, benedicimus te, glorificamus te’. Throughout the movement the organ and voices are of equal importance and there is a general sense of uplift in both the melodies and harmonic progressions – an Ascension in music.

As perhaps befits a mass written in the twenty-first century there is no setting of the Credo but there is a motet at the Offertory depicting the moment when Christ breaks bread with the disciples and they realize his true identity. The Sanctus is dominated by a mantra-like repetition which owes something to an earlier musical style, the organ being used simply as a drone while the voices work in canon. This is continued in the Agnus Dei but softened by the use of supplicatory harmonies. The ‘Voluntary Et cognoverunt eum’ (‘and they knew’ – or ‘recognized’ – ‘him’) completes the narrative, using the final few words of the motet as its starting point and climaxing in a further vivid depiction of the Ascension.

Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor was a landmark composition in its day – a mixture of old and modern styles, perfect for the liturgy and with a new, distinctly English voice. In Judith Bingham’s Mass the liturgy is also of paramount importance. With its carefully structured and thought-provoking music, she, like Vaughan Williams before her, has provided a mass for our time which appeals to the highest artistic needs. Worshipping God solely with simplistic music that demands nothing of the listener and even less of the performer is inadequate and arrogant. This Mass has just been awarded a British Composer Award for Liturgical Music. It is now time for the clergy and musicians of the Church to give it an accolade of equal importance – regular liturgical performance.

from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2005

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