Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Alleluia
Movement 4: Sursum corda and Preface
Movement 5: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 6: Eucharistic Prayer II and Acclamations
Movement 7: Agnus Dei
The Mass was commissioned for the ‘Glory of God in the Millennium Year of Jubilee’, and was first performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral. It is a profound work and one which is strictly faithful to the composer’s own religious convictions. It is significant that he chose to set the vernacular text rather than the Latin Mass and that he includes several parts for the congregation. The Mass builds on a tradition of modern vernacular choral settings espoused by Britten with his Missa Brevis, also written for Westminster Cathedral.
The music, here recorded in sequence, would originally be separated by sections of liturgy which are spoken or chanted much more simply, thus bringing richness to key moments of the event, without overwhelming it. Even so, the through-composed sweep which brings control and balance to the whole Eucharistic section of the Mass is central to MacMillan’s thinking, as he reveals in his note written for the first performance:
The Mass is a setting of the usual sections of the Ordinary (minus the Credo), the Gospel Alleluia and much of the priest / choir / people dialogue during the liturgy of the Eucharist. In fact, the Sursum Corda, Preface, Sanctus and Benedictus, Eucharistic Prayer, Memorial Acclamations and Great Amen are all linked in a through-composed flow.
The movements of the Mass are crafted like a musical journey which mirrors the progression of mood, emphasis and poetic tension in the liturgy. From the Penitential Rite to the joyous hymn of the Gloria, to the mysteries of the Consecration through to the reflective ambiguities of the Agnus Dei, the music moves from clarity to a sense of uneasy resolution.
Even though this is a work which explores the eternal mysteries and truths of the Catholic faith, it is written through the experience of the tragedies and uncertainties of our own age. It is inevitable that a contemporary celebration of Divine Love would be shrouded in the doubts and fears which characterise our time.
from notes by James Whitbourn © 2001