Monday, 8 October 2012

Solesmes Singing the Mass - Update

By way of update to my posts on Singing the Mass (compiled by the author of this blog and published by Solesmes), below is an adapted version of the preface to the book.

First, here are some sample pages of the book.  Click in the centre to enlarge.  

Preface (abridged and adapted)

"In the newly implemented English edition of the Roman Missal (promulgated in 2010, published and implemented in 2011) we not only have a book that more closely mirrors the normative Latin edition of the Missal of Pope Paul VI, but one that also beautifully captures the ancient and venerable melodies to which the text of the Roman Rite Mass is sung.  

In the most basic respect, the Missal contains the dialogues and acclamations in which the faithful are called to participate, as they have been through the ages. Credible church documents have consistently exhorted the celebrant and faithful to engage in sung exchanges, and this is the primary way in which the voices of the faithful may ring out at the Holy Mass, praising God and giving their assent to the liturgical and sacrificial acts undertaken in His name. 

Then there are the other unchanging parts of the Mass, the Ordinary chants: the Kýrie, Glória, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.  These, too, are conducive to participation by the faithful for the regularity with which they are sung. The latest English edition of the Roman Missal includes a simple vernacular chant version of all of these parts of the Mass, to establish a common repertoire of music for the Mass throughout the English-speaking world. Importantly, the Greek/Latin equivalents of the Kýrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, and incidentally also the Pater Noster, as they appear in the normative Latin edition of the Missal have been included as alternatives. Further chant settings of the Ordinary in Greek and Latin, many dating back to the 10th century, are printed in a separate authoritative volume: the Graduale Romanum, the Church’s only official ‘song book’, which was revised and republished after and in furtherance of the Second Vatican Council’s resolutions. 

For the gathered congregation, their participation is at its most apparent when singing these parts of the very celebration of Mass itself.  Yet participating in this same manner in respect of the other parts of the Mass that ought to be sung is not “of the essence” for the congregation, either because those parts are the preserve of the ordained (the Collect, the Eucharistic Prayer, etc) or because they are more suited to the schola (the Propers, i.e. the Introit, Offertorio, etc – all of which are to be found in the aforementioned Graduale in that style of music that the Second Vatican Council confirmed as the supreme model of sung prayer – Gregorian chant).  The participation of the faithful, however, should be no less diminished in these circumstances, instead manifested by listening, receiving, seeing and praying (for the Mass as a whole is indeed the highest form of prayer). 

In order purposefully to foster the singing of the Roman Rite, and particularly the participation of the faithful, Singing the Mass includes, on opposite pages, the current English Order of Mass from the 2010 Roman Missal) and the corresponding Latin Ordo Missæ from the 2002 Missale Romanum (as amended in 2008). Also included are several of the more well-known chant settings each of the Glória, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin, so that these prayers may be sung by the people in Latin, where so desired (in accordance with the the Second Vatican Council’s exhortation to this effect).  The book, therefore, provides the necessary people’s parts to facilitate a sung or said Vatican II Mass celebrated entirely in English, entirely in Latin, or in English interspersed with Latin, much like the 2010 English Missal with its various Latin alternatives, as described above. 

Thus, priests in parishes throughout the English-speaking world have the utmost flexibility when choosing how to celebrate the Mass. They can be assured that the people will be able to participate fully in the parts that pertain to them. Many, probably most, will choose to sing the Mass entirely in English, and the people will accordingly avail themselves of the pages on the left hand side. Some will choose to sing just a few parts in Latin, for example the Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei. In such cases, the people need only cast their eyes to the opposite side of the page for the relevant parts in Latin. Or, if desired, the Order of Mass may be sung entirely in Latin according to the Ordinary Form, with the readings, the homily, the Prayer of the Faithful, etc being in English. This book, therefore, accommodates the particular pastoral circumstances of any given parish, both at present and into the future. 

On eve of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, it is apt to recall one of the opening paragraphs of the document on the liturgy that the Council eventually settled upon, Sacrosanctum Concilium: 

"In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, para 8). 

Our earthly liturgies should always hearken to the great heavenly liturgy. Each celebration should be noble, worthy, sincere, faithful and beautiful and at all times directed towards heaven, to God the almighty Father. Chanting at least some of the texts of the Mass, through which Truth itself in all its mystery is revealed to us, is surely a pre-requisite to satisfying these criteria. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his letter on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (26 May 2011): 

"… in light of the conciliar constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, [Popes Paul VI and John Paul II] reiterated the purpose of sacred music, that is to say, ‘the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’ and the fundamental criteria of the corresponding tradition ... a sense of prayer, dignity, and beauty; full adherence to liturgical texts and expressions; the assembly’s participation and, therefore, the legitimate adaptation to local culture, at the same time maintaining the universality of language; the primacy of Gregorian chant as the supreme model of sacred music and the careful assessment of other expressive forms that make up the historical-liturgical patrimony of the Church, especially but not just polyphony; and the importance of the ‘schola cantorum’, particularly in cathedral churches."

The celebration of the Catholic Mass is a solemn act of sacrifice and devotion. When the words of the Mass are set to music, particularly in the chant style, the celebration takes on an even greater sense of gravity and beauty. The hope is that Singing the Mass may assist those who use it to participate fully, consciously and actively in the singing of the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries, and that it contributes to the continuation of the great musical tradition of the universal Church, which, in the words of Vatican II, is "a treasure of inestimable value.""

Reviews of the book

Thank you to all those who have made comments about the book by way of review.  I'm so glad to hear it is having a positive impact in parishes and seminaries across different lands.  

"This book contains the Order of Mass with chants in both Latin and English. It includes the most frequently used settings of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, as well as other chants for the parish Mass.  This latest Gregorian Chant book from Solesmes will be a much needed asset and resource as the Church begins work with the new Mass translations." (Paraclete Press)

"This volume is a watershed in the history of Gregorian chant: Solesmes has published chanted music in the vernacular. And a glorious thing it is. At last, the highest ranks of liturgical expression have seen what a gift English really is to the faithful. This book makes possible beautiful singing in every parish and religious community. It immediately becomes an indispensable item in the real and eternal worlds of sung prayer." (Jeffrey Tucker, Church Music Association of America)

"This pew-book, 279 pages in hard cover, is a most welcome addition to the bumper crop of liturgical aids being printed as a result of the new English translation of the Mass. With the Latin and English texts/chants on facing pages, it is possible to use this book for Masses entirely in Latin, entirely in English, or partially in each language. The lay-out is very attractive and easy to follow. This work will be a great boon to promoting the kind of liturgical celebration envisioned by the Fathers of Vatican II but rarely realized. Highly recommended." (Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.)

"Recently published book, Singing the Mass:- AN EXTREMELY USEFUL AND PRACTICAL book of collected Mass chants in both Latin and English (new translation) with this title has been published by Solesmes, at the instigation of Christopher Barlow, who deserves much credit for his achievement. It will be fully reviewed in the next edition of Latin Liturgy, but we can already recommend it warmly. The price is approximately 25 euros, with a 50% discount for 50 copies or more." (Latin Liturgy Vol 141, Association for Latin Liturgy, UK)

"This volume is a very exciting sign of progress in our present chant revival. Nothing like it has come before from Solesmes." (Adam Bartlett, CMAA) "[This] fine effort that will surely be of great use to parishes and musicians throughout the English-speaking world." (Ibid)

"Celebrate the liturgy with the reverence of Gregorian chant.  Featuring the new English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, this beautifully bound book—published by the monks of the Abbaye Saint-Perre de Solesmes in France—presents English and Latin on facing pages for all of the chants of the Order of Mass. … Offering both solemn and simple tones in the Gregorian chant style, Singing the Mass also contains a shorter Kyriale with nine complete settings in Greek/Latin, chants in English and Latin for the Sprinkling Rite, as well as alternative settings of the Lord's Prayer—including well-known settings in the U.S. (Snow), U.K. (Rimsky-Korsakov) and Australia." (Oregon Catholic Press)

"Two fine books for the Novus Ordo:- 
The concern of Pope Benedict to promote a renewed sense of the sacred in the celebration of Mass has had its effect in the publication of many books and resources - see New Liturgical Movement and the Musica Sacra if you are a Church musician and don't already know of the high quality, copyright-free resources that are there to help your choir aim for the best.
Two books that have kindly been sent to me by the publishers illustrate this trend. Les Editions de Solesmes have produced "Singing the Mass" which was put together by Christopher Barlow of Sydney, and approved by Cardinal Pell. It contains the sung Order of Mass in Latin and English, and a selection of Masses from the Graduale which would constitute an ambitious repertoire for a parish choir - much along the lines that my own has managed over the past few years. Musical notation is "square notes" throughout, which I think is sensible - choirs need to learn how to read the traditional notation and with practice, it becomes easier. The book looks and feels like something made for serious worship, printed beautifully on light, off-white paper. You can order copies from the Solesmes website at 25 Euros each. There is a 50% discount for orders of more than 50 copies. 
[Then follows a review about the CTS Daily Missal] 
These resources are a reminder of the value that we place on the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and of all materials associated with it. They tell us in their own way, that we only give the best to Almighty God."  
(Fr Tim Finigan, The Hermeneutic of Continuity blog)

"I don't have the [new] Gregorian Missal. I do have Solesmes' "Singing the Mass" (which I heartily recommend). I can confirm it is ictus-less." (Commenter on the Musica Sacra blog)

"The Second Vatican Council encouraged the Mass to be sung according to the simple, beautiful, and timeless melodies of the Roman Rite. They are contained in the Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI.  In the new Roman Missal in English (2010), we see the excellent adaption of these chants from the original Latin into the vernacular. To coincide with the new English translation of the Missal, Solesmes has published a new book—Singing the Mass—containing all the chants of the Order of Mass in English and Latin on facing pages. Singing the Mass is for use by the people, and serves to encourage sung celebrations of the Vatican II Mass." (Gregorian Institute of America)

"The text for Vidi Aquam (inside Easter time) and Asperges (for the rest of the year) are clearly in the Missal. The music for Vidi is even in the Missal for those who want English, and Solesmes has provided a beautiful Asperges in English. These are chants. They are in the Missal. These are real chants, with real histories. They are familiar and very beautiful." (Jeffrey Tucker, CMAA)

"Yesterday there arrived to my door all the way from Solesmes in France the copy of "Singing the Mass" I ordered. It has the Order of Mass in English (new translation) and Latin with all the chants in proper plainsong notation. Fuller details are available at the link above but one or two things are worth a mention.

The English and Latin texts and music are printed on facing pages which enable one to switch from one to another with ease and to make comparisons regarding the setting of the English texts with the Latin originals.

The work appears to have originated in Australia and carries the imprimatur of Cardinal Pell. Two interesting British inclusions appear to be an alternative setting of the Lord's Prayer courtesy of Westminster Cathedral and an Alleluia by Dom Gregory Murray O.S.B. This last piece I have used for many years having first heard it sung in Clifton Cathedral about thirty years ago. It also features on a disc of chant I got last year but this is the first time I have seen its source acknowledged. I have particularly favoured it as a means of giving the well-known Easter triple alleluia a break." 
(Porta Caeli blog)

Purchasing the book

Singing the Mass may be purchased from individual sellers such as (US) Paraclete Press, GIA, OCP, Aquinas and MoreCatholic Church Supply (UK) Royal School of Church Music, Foyles.

Alternatively, purchase the book directly from Solesmes, with the following discounts applying:

20% (5-19 books)
30% (20-49 books)
50% (50 or more books) (email

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Consummate performance of the Bach B minor Mass

This is extraordinary in many respects.  On 30 August 2012, in the Jacobikerk, Utrecht, the Dutch Capella Amsterdam, accompanied by the Belgian period instrument ensemble Il Gardellino, performed Bach's chef d'oeuvre, the Messe in h-moll. The director was Daniel Reuss. This performance confirms that in Reuss we have a new Bach master conductor. 

Of the many excellent performances that I have listened to, either on disc or live, I would say this is the best, and I do not use the superlative lightly.  Now, opining on performances of the Mass in B minor is a bit like expressing an opinion of Handel's Messiah. It is such an oft-performed and recorded work, with a wide scope for interpretive decision:  Period instruments or modern?  Large choir or small, or even one or two voices per part?  Counter-tenors or mezzos, boy trebles or female sopranos?  No one person will agree with the next over which is the 'proper' interpretation of the score, or which is the best performance technique, let alone which is the best performance. Endless comparisons invariably ensue.  

The above comments notwithstanding, here is why I love this performance, and consider it to be "one for the ages".   

There is a liveliness in this performance that is neither contrived nor overwhelming.  The conductor gives primacy to the score, the occasional ornamentation being natural and, importantly, subtle, complementing rather than competing with the work's innate spirituality, energy and beauty. The tempi are very well chosen.

As for the recording quality, the Dutch radio station Radio 4 and the Algemene Vereniging Radio Omroep have utterly excelled themselves, capturing the sound of the choir, soloists and ensemble with a clarity to rival (and in many respects better) studio recordings, but there is also a warmth and spontaneity that one would expect in a live recording. A lot of this is also down to the expert balance that the conductor achieves between choir and orchestra.  (A good word must also be said about the audience - very few coughs!!)

Indeed, this performance quite easily competes with (and arguably betters) the so-called 'reference recordings' of the B minor Mass: 
  • Collegium Vocale Gent (Ghent), Herreweghe (period instruments) (the 1998 Harmonia Mundi version)
  • Taverner Consort, Parrott (period instruments, two voices per part) (Virgin Classics)
  • Gächinger Kantorei & Bach Collegium Stuttgart, Rilling (modern instruments) (the 1999 version) (Hänssler)
  • Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner (period instruments) (Archiv Produktion)
  • Netherlands Chamber Choir & Orchestra of the 18th Century, Brüggen (period instruments, recording of live performance) (Philips, aptly) (the one from the early 1990s with the wonderful Michael Chance, although apparently Brüggen has recorded the work again, also with Orchestra of the 18th Century, and the Cappella Amsterdam as in the instant case, in a live performance from in Poland in 2009 - must investigate)
  • King's Consort, King (period instruments) (Hyperion Records)

If there is anything which I might have wished were done differently, it would be that for some of the alto parts they had used a counter tenor - for example, the Qui sedes solo, and the Et in unum duet with soprano.  A very minor point, hardly worth mentioning given the standard of the mezzos.  

Some highlights:
  • the natural horn and the bassoon in the Quoniam tu solus (the reason why only period instruments will do)
  • the passus et sepultus est of the Crucifixus is one of the most tenderly sung I've ever heard, and the Et resurrexit that follows is positively explosive
  • the oboes in the Et in Spiritum
  • the tenors singing the pleni sunt caeli of the Sanctus (which as a whole is surely one of the great choral fugues)
Even where there might be other recordings in which an individual movement might be regarded as 'superior', there is no doubt in my mind that the supreme quality of every singly movement of this performance makes its whole far far greater than the mere sum of its parts.

The penultimate word must go to the maestro.  I first came across Reuss when he conducted the RIAS Kammerchor and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in a recording of Handel's Solomon, which I believe to be the first definitive recording of that work (and which I purchased, incidentally, at the wonderful Heffers in Cambridge - support classical music shops please, lest they disappear for good!).  Apart from obvious technical competence, he seems perfectly attuned to the spirit of the works he conducts, and he brings to bear a certain astuteness when interpreting a score that sets him apart as a master director.   

And finally, that all this has been provided in high definition by Dutch public broadcasting - free on Youtube - is perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all.  Thank you for letting this marvellous music, and extraordinarily good performance, be shared around the world.  I, for one, am very grateful indeed.