Composers throughout history have recognized that the
The set of prayers that make up the Ordinary of the Mass have been known throughout the Western world for centuries. Composing within this form represents a kind of medieval notion of what artists do. An artist, in this sense, adds something to an ongoing body of work, often anonymously, in an effort to fit in with a long tradition, as if all art were one continuing historical endeavor. This idea of what an artist does is completely unlike the nineteenth and twentieth century romantic concept of an artist as a distinctly unique voice. Compare Beethoven the innovator, at least in his later works, with Bach, the past master.
Because the text of the Latin Mass is so well-known — or was until Vatican II in the mid-twentieth century — it lends itself well to the overlapping and thus text-obscuring style of contrapuntal music. Most of the great settings of the mass from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance and Baroque periods were contrapuntal. The culmination of this style is, for me, Bach's towering Mass in B minor.
My composition is most certainly an homage to J. S. Bach. The breakdown of individual sections within the long prayers of the Gloria and Credo are similar to Bach's plan. Moreover, I adhere for the most part to the conventions of eighteenth century counterpoint. Though I sometimes alter traditional forms, it is not my intention to break new ground, or add modern twists, but rather to lean on these venerable stylistic models as both a means of avoiding excess and as structural tools in organizing such a large work. The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are divided into 31 separate pieces. Each short piece is self contained, meant to sustain the single sense and emotion of the fragment of text it supports.
The Mass in C minor is by and large through-composed, that is, new music is composed for each stanza of text. There is some repetition of thematic material. The melody of the Christe chorale, for example, is repeated in the contrapuntal context of the fugue that follows it, and the Dona nobis pacem I is the same music as the Gratias agimus tibi. Structurally, the music is held together by harmonic, motivic, and cadential elements, and by the periodic use of chorales or chorale-like pieces. The interval of a minor ninth is prominent throughout the piece. The overlapping of the major seventh with the tonic is a cadential pattern occurring often. The key relationships are C minor, E-flat major, and A-flat major. The Gloria, meant to close the first half of a complete performance of the piece, ends in C major. The Credo, opening the second half of the piece, continues in C major, then moves back to E-flat major, C minor, and finally ends in E-flat major.
The Mass in C minor, though it could be part of a liturgical service, is intended as a concert piece. I hope my music finds an audience among listeners of all different faiths and beliefs, as well as those who have no religious affiliation. As a composer, it has been a great challenge to write in a form that has embodied some of the richest, most profound music in the Western canon. Musically, emotionally, and spiritually, I have found composing this work to be an immensely rewarding project.
Any performing group interested in presenting a live world premiere of the Mass in C minor may contact Tom McFaul by e-mail to discuss it.
Copyright © 2002–2011, Thomas G. McFaul