COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 50

Missa L’homme armé (1971)

for SATB Chorus

Text from the Mass ordinary [Latin]

Duration: 26 min.

Premiere: 1978; New York Motet Choir; S. Sturk (#5 only)

Performance materials available from the publisher.

Between 1967 and 1974, I wrote three traditional settings of the Roman Catholic mass for unaccompanied choir. In my youth I was at first attracted to traditional repertoire, but as soon as I heard the music of the Renaissance and early Baroque I was entirely taken with it. This material surpassed for me (and indeed continues to do so) the more tonally predictable music of the late Baroque and classical periods. So I wrote several instrumentally pieces imbued with devotional feelings and a modal harmonic style, culminating in Symphony No. 5, something of a mass without voices.

The three a cappella choral masses may hearken somewhat to the styles of 400 or so years back—as if Josquin and Lassus were just a generation past—ignoring vast musical universes in between. I argued that neo-modal masses had been written by Vaughan Williams in 1922, Stravinsky in 1948, and there were admittedly youthful, but creditable, attempts by Ginastera and Martin. But my masses were as far from timely as they could be during the post-atonal age in which they were composed. Then into the bargain was added the notion of “where did it come for a composer of unmixed Jewish descent to write Catholic masses?” When asked, I would simply respond “We are all God’s children, and music is my religion.” (Notes by Arnold Rosner)