Missa Minima

for Soloists, Chorus, and Organ
on a randomly-generated tone row


1. Kyrie
2. Gloria - Credo
3. Sanctus
4. Quid autem
5. Agnus Dei

Date Duration Listen
18 October 2011 4'01" Realization (.MP3) Score (.PDF)
5.53 MB 108 KB

Of all my many works which will likely never be performed by live ensembles, this is by far the one least likely to be so favored. And not just because a rookie mistake made me accept a randomly-generated tone row with far more harmonic potential, than melodic: rendering extended solo passages in the melismatic style one generally expects from Western sacred music pretty much impossible. Passing the texts from voice to voice and never asking any one register to sing more than a few notes at a time* seems to have successfully ameliorated the vocal hazards of frequent tritones and other multiple leaps in the source row, but the real problem here is actually probably with the texts themselves.

Considering that Bach's universally-celebrated Mass in B-Minor, for example, comes in at just under two hours in length, one might be justified in wondering exactly how a piece taking only four minutes to perform could possibly be considered a mass. Well, first, by getting down to business and eliminating the interminable decorative repetitions that from time immemorial have extended such performances to infinity, if not ridiculousness. And, second and most importantly, by eliminating obvious paraphrases and logical absurdities from the texts themselves. You shoot through the Kyrie in ten seconds in this mass; the Gloria and Credo are conflated and overlapped; and all the boasting, repetitive, neurotically Paulesque references to Jesus - all the grandiose personal assertions that he, himself, never once made in the Gospels - are excized as so much intellectual chaff. This leaves the 183 maundering and useless words of the Nicene Creed reduced to exactly five: Credo in .... vitam venturi saeculi. Believing in more than this - "the future life of the world" - is frankly insupportable. Is God Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent? Of course: by very definition. Why, then, do people insist upon believing He has no power to manifest Himself, except through a tortuous game of Telephone started by an illiterate goatherd 3500 years ago? Sit down for fifteen seconds and seriously think about what Omnipresence means. It means any priest who tells you to do anything more than open your heart to the Living Presence is a charlatan and a fraud.

Now, finally, the ultimate slap in the face to traditional masses comes in the fourth section here: the Quid autem. This text has not, to my knowledge, ever been included in a mass setting before - probably for obvious reasons. It is the Vulgate translation of Luke 6:46, where Jesus excoriates his listeners during the Sermon on the Plain with the pointed question: "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" Placing this directly after the Sanctus, with its holy, holy, holies and hosannas in excelsis may be something of a cold-water bath for worshippers, but no one ever said the truth would be comfortable.

All in all, lovers of traditional masses should be well relieved to hear this one breeze by in under 250 seconds.

* - Powerful as Sibelius 6.0's realization capacity may be, the vocal parts in the accompanying .mp3 are, of course, only singing ahs throughout - not the actual Latin texts. Refer to the score to discover the true proper enunciation of any given phrase here.

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