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Giles Swayne

Publisher: Novello & Co

Missa brevissima (1997), 76 a
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus a cappella / Chorus plus 1 instrument
Year Composed
5 Minutes
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Programme Note
Giles Swayne Missa brevissima (1997), 76 a
1: Kyrie
2: Sanctus
3: Benedictus
4: Agnus Dei

My Missa brevissima (op. 76a) leads a double life: it sits at the heart of a longer piece called Petite Messe solitaire (op. 76) which was written in 1997 for a French choir and congregation – the latter singing unaccompanied unison chants expressing man’s sense of abandonment and loneliness in a world which (unsurprisingly) finds conventional religions increasingly unsatisfactory and divisive. These chants are interspersed between the four movements, then combined in counterpoint with them in jigsaw-puzzle fashion. Missa brevissima is therefore exactly one third of the length of its parent. Apart from being more performable by British choirs, being entirely in Latin rather than partly in French, it satisfied my long-standing wish to write a setting of the Mass short enough to be sung in a liturgical context – none of its movements lasts longer than 55 seconds. It is a truly pocket-sized mass; hence the title. In style and approach it is not dissimilar to my Missa Tiburtina (though written thirteen years later). The Kyrie is intense and anguished; the Sanctus far from saccharine (the glory of God being viewed as as a distinctly mixed blessing); the Benedictus is bouncy and has a tenor solo in the middle and a rather nice soprano solo at the end; the Agnus Dei starts on a mumbled monotone (as befits a trussed-up sacrificial lamb), but at “miserere nobis” and “dona nobis pacem” (which run into one another) we revisit the music of the Kyrie – an anguished call for assistance from a deity who is probably out to lunch.

© Giles Swayne

  • Ensemble
    BBC Singers
    David Goode / Philippa Davies
    Stephen Cleobury
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