• Nico Muhly
  • Spiral Mass (2014)

  • St. Rose Music Publishing (World)

Commisioned by Holland Festival and BBC Radio 3. First performance on 2nd June 2014 in the Holland Festival by the Nederlands Kamerkoor.

  • organ
  • SATB
  • 15 min

Programme Note

Spiral Mass (2014) is an attempt to set the text of the Latin Mass using a completely different harmonic structure from my Bright Mass with Canons (2005), and is, in a sense, a love-letter to Stravinsky’s own Mass (1948). Both the rhythms and the notes obey circular, rather than linear, rules. This is immediately clear from the organ’s first entry, and amplified, slowly, by the choir’s first phrases in the Kyrie. The Gloria obsesses over multiple tempi: little mathematical formulae from the organ that antagonise the lyricism from the voices. Here, Stravinsky’s influence is most evident in the little symmetries in the texts ‘Domine Deus, Rex cœlestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite...’. After a brief pause on the text ‘miserere nobis’, the anxious spiral-shaped patterns begin again, and usher in a fast, Stravinskian conclusion and Amen. The Sanctus is ecstatic, nervous, and tries to saturate pitches and rhythms fully: the heavens are choked with radiance and bright harmonies. The Benedictus is calm, and the voices give way to the organ for most of the complicated rhythmic work. The Agnus Dei uses a semichorus of three voices, singing after the fashion of early music, against the main body of the choir. The organ offers a drone, and pastorally random interjections.

Nico Muhly