by Brson Mortensen
One of the things that I love most about reading the Choral Journal is the opportunity to see different perspectives on the works of a particular composer. I am energized as I watch a scholar dig deep into a work and show me what they found interesting. I always wished that I had a video or recording of the work to listen to while I was reading the article, though, and this blog series is designed to solve that problem. It will highlight past articles in the Choral Journal and pair them with YouTube videos of those works so that you can read and listen at the same time. Hopefully you will get to know some well-loved works better, and be able to discover some new ones!
Igor Stravinsky’s Mass has always fascinated me. Something about his ability to write something so austere and beautiful at the same time makes it absolutely intriguing. The only work he wrote without a commission, Stravinsky wrote his Mass to be a liturgically appropriate setting that uses music as a means of textual delivery rather than textual expression. Even with such a focus on “cold”, Neo-classic delivery, the work is full of interesting motives and musical techniques that we can study. Below are three articles that highlight three different aspects of Stravinsky’s compositional style in his Mass: Timbre, Pitch, and Text.
Banks, Timothy. “The Use of Timbre in Igor Stravinsky’s Mass.” April 1980, 29 – 36. Written in 1980, Timothy Banks writes several interesting observations about Stravinsky’s instrumentation choices (a double wind quintet) as well as voicing (Stravinsky suggested that the upper voices be sung by children’s voices). Not only does he talk about possible reasoning for this particular instrumentation, it also discusses the interaction between three wind sections (double reeds, brass, and voices).
Lundergan, Edward. “Modal Symmetry and Textural Symbolism in the Credo of the Stravinsky Mass.” March 2005, 8 – 15. discusses aspects of symmetry in the Stravinsky’s Mass. First he highlights the overall symmetry of the work, identifying the Credo as the axis of the work. He then outlines the symmetry of the pitch collection Stravinsky chose for the movement. Such a study also allows him to show Stravinsky’s method of symbolizing significant moments in the Credo text. He concludes with “The abstract beauty of Stravinsky’s symmetrical pitch organization may leave the impression that he conceived of it primarily as an esoteric mathematical game . . . Nonetheless the intersection between the pitch structure and the Credo text also serves an expressive end.”
Zaresky, Kevin. “Textual Presentation and Representation in Stravinsky’s Choral Works.” October 2009, 8 – 18. Kevin Zaresky focuses his study on the text itself, suggesting that Stravinsky used the syllable as the basic unit for composition and focused on its phonetic character. Zaresky analyzes several of his works, including Les Noces, Oedipus Rex, and his Symphony of Psalms. He concludes by observing his method of setting the text during the Credo of the Mass, identifying the particular way Stravinsky gives equal emphasis to an entire string of words and giving agogic emphasis to the final syllable of the phrase.
Below are links to two great live recordings of the Mass. I personally prefer the live recordings you can find on YouTube, so I hope you enjoy them!
Ensemble Vocal Choeurisma, Serge Medawar conducting.
Chamber Choir and Symphonic Orchestra of Córdoba, Hadrian Avila Arzuza conducting.