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Missa Profana

for choir, orchestra and soloists

Year:  2010   ·  Duration:  1h 10m
Instrumentation:  SATB choir, SATB soloists, 3*3*3*2; 4331; timp., 2perc.; pno., hp.; strings

Year:  2010
Duration:  1h 10m
Instrumentation  SATB choir, SATB soloists, ...

Kit Powell

Composer:   Kit Powell

Films, Audio & Samples

Sample Score

Sample: Pages 1-8

See details ➔
Sample Score

Sample: Pages 1-8

See details ➔


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The idea was to write a Secular Mass, or a Mass of Life. THe use of the secular, in the traditional sense of pro-fana, 'in front of the temple', in the service of the spiritual. A gigantic dance of various parts or figures. It connects to the century long tradition of setting of the mass, and acknowledged this cultural heritage by use of the mediaeval song L'homme armé, which was so often used as a bonding and unifying element in Renaissance masses; our version here is realised with the central image of "with this clock of peace/we shall arm ourselves" ... And we shall 'dance', "dancing on one foot/the other is not forgotten".

Our textual version is one that celebrates the light of creation which, out of the dark of sorrow, emerges as a mass of life - where 'the light and the dark lie down together'. Following this idea, there is the symbolic (that is to say, real) play of death and life in the figures of dark and light, light and dark, musically and textually, just as there is the One in the manny, many in the One. The light out of the dark, the dark out of the light plays as a redemptive theme, express variously in the spiritual force of the natural (and human) world; a Missa Natura/Missa Profana.

In our view, themes which are missing or only sparingly referred to in the liturgical text are here introduced: as in the Gloria, for example, the 'creation of language' [the resonance of 'in the beginning was the Word' so central to any creation story]; Korimako [the Bellbird] Sings; the 'creation' of laughter as a celebrant affirmation and expression of life, in Billet Doux, for example (a Song Letter); and in the _Kyrie the readiness and capacity 'to risk delight': "despite/every dark thing is in the world,'there will always be music/... what is the name of this song?" (Canticle).

Just as Benjamin Britten's War Requiem so cleverly combines religious and secular texts, so is this an attempt to do something similar, but within a broader reach and intention. Thus, while extolling the extraordinary diversity of life (the many in the one, the one in the many)it also acknowledges death ('there are many ways to leave the world, and return') as an essential part of the life process. If we cannot know death how can we know light? The Ite missa est then is expanded into a Dance of Death, Dance of Life, which is the finale of the whole work.

As mentioned above, the six movements are linked together by the mediaeval folk song L'homme armé. This theme is used musically as a 'Leitmotif' and as such appears in most movements, sometimes openly but just as often hiding or nesting in the musical texture. Its original old French text is by way of a pre-text to declare the opposite of its rather millitant/bellicose sentiments.

Text note

Liturgical, Michael Harlow