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It was apparently during the writing of the Credo that Stravinsky first had the idea of setting the whole of the Mass. This did not in fact come to fruition until 1948, though in the meantime he completed the Symphony of Psalms and Babel. When he did begin the Mass, he claimed that it was provoked at least in part by the purchase of some second-hand scores of Mozart Masses; ‘rococo-operatic sweets of sin’, as he described them. He also recorded that it was because he wanted to write a genuinely liturgical piece but using instruments that he set the Catholic Mass; in the Orthodox Church the use of instruments is expressly forbidden. One must also remember, of course, Stravinsky’s predilection for the Latin language itself.

The instrumentation consists of wind instruments only—two oboes, cor anglais, two bassoons, two trumpets, and three trombones—and the extraordinary sonority this ensemble produces in combination with the choir of men’s and boys’ voices is one of the most noteworthy features of the Mass. The music itself is austere and humble, but possessed of the kind of inner radiance proper to true liturgical music. The strange oscillating solos of the Gloria and Sanctus, for example, sound like refractions of Byzantine chant; the incantatory declamation of the Credo is simply a Russian Creed transplanted (as, indeed, was his earlier setting of the text); and all the movements have memories of the Catholic polyphonic repertoire all the way from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. Stravinsky’s musical omnivorousness and the way in which he was able to filter this to create works of astonishing originality are well known. This applies to his sacred as well as to his secular music.

from notes by Ivan Moody © 1991

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Details for CDA66437 track 10
Recording date
20 June 1990
Recording venue
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Tryggvi Tryggvason
Hyperion usage
  1. Stravinsky: Mass & Symphony of Psalms (CDA66437)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: June 1991
    Deletion date: April 2014
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