New Mass Setting: Sanctus XII

I’ve been listening to many new ordinary settings being rolled out by many publishers in anticipation of the new translation of the Mass forthcoming (at some point). They vary in quality, and one’s judgment on them largely depends on one’s tastes. But there are common characteristics. The composer is restricted to writing songs that are catchy and metrical, and when they are not accompanied, something essential seems to be lacking. They all have a tendency to remind one of some music one has heard somewhere, though it isn’t always clear where. I do think this is deliberate: the ethos in the Catholic publishing world fears offering music that seems unfamiliar or drawn from a cultural context outside the daily world in which we live. The idea seems to be that the composer should take the stuff we have in our head and use it to invite us to participate in a religious experience. It seems like a good idea but the problem is that this hope isn’t quite visionary and radical enough. It is insufficiently challenging. It dares nothing.

In contrast, consider Sanctus from Mass XII. Now this is the type of music that gives us something completely new, something that sweeps us off our feet, something that invites us to think and pray in a completely new way. I really can’t explain how the Gregorian tradition does it, but somehow it manages to be ever fresh and ever destabilizing in the best possible sense. It shakes us and moves us. I do not envy composers today, who have this kind of material to compete against:

5 Replies to “New Mass Setting: Sanctus XII”

  1. I don't think most "modern" composers see themselves as being in competition with this music. They see themselves as either being in competition with the "Christian Hits" radio station, or else with each other. Any composer who would be writing music that could possibly be "in competition" with Mass XII would understand fully that it isn't a competition to begin with…

  2. As a Catholic and a composer I (personally) will not even consider composing a Mass setting any more. To me, Chant SHOULD and MUST be the preferred music of the sung Mass. I spent two years composing a Requiem for choir and Orchestra thinking that perhaps there was room for yet one more such piece. However as much as I like the work myself, it will never be performed. And that is OK. I do think Catholic composers do have a role though and it could be in the realm of program music symphonic poems, choral works, Organ preludes, etc. One could take a theme such as a piece I composed on the brevity of life and orchestrate it. My piece was entitled," O how short this life doth seem.' I would think the Church could promote evening concerts perhaps along with Evening prayer, benediction, etc for the faithful. Rather than going to the movies or playing video games all the time it would be a good chance to instruct the faithful on a particular topic and have a new work performed my the choir and hired orchestra, just the choir or whatever the new work demanded. Oh, and maybe free donuts to boot!

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