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Missa canonica

1965, revised in 2004
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

The two Mass movements by Robin Holloway have their origins in the 1960s: “I wrote the original version of this Mass in 1964 and 1965 for my friend Christopher Herrick and his then choir of St Mary’s Primrose Hill. He’d provided the book of Sarum usage from which I took this lovely material as basis for a study in modality, white-note tonality, and rudimentary canons. The result was far too tricky for the intended purpose. Only the Credo was ever used: the rest remained unheard and the sole copy went missing until it turned up early 2004 in a Herrick household reshuffle. Thus I got it back nearly forty years on.” This rediscovery proved timely for the plans I was then making for this recording, and a liturgical performance of three of the movements in Caius Chapel allowed Professor Holloway to hear these parts of the Mass for the first time. “I found the music intriguing, and willingly made some changes enabling two of the three…to dispense with their organ-part [for inclusion on this recording]”. The Sanctus (with Benedictus) is set for two choirs, and opens with long phrases in which varied rhythmic patterns conflict with one another to undermine any sense of regular pulse. The white-note chords amplify the latent modality of the chant and create some highly unusual sounds, such as the final chord of the Sanctus (“…most High”) which contains every white note except C, but with a preponderance of D, the note of the chant. Whilst the Sanctus is texturally diverse, the Agnus Dei maintains for the most part a three-part texture, echoing much fourteenth and early-fifteenth century repertoire. Here the compositional technique turns more to canonic writing: the movement opens with the chant sung at one speed by the altos and at half-speed by the sopranos and tenors in octaves.

from notes by Geoffrey Webber © 2006


All the ends of the earth
SIGCD070Download only


Movement 1: Sanctus
Track 11 on SIGCD070 [3'10] Download only
Movement 2: Agnus Dei
Track 12 on SIGCD070 [2'39] Download only

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