The Bright Mass With Canons

Nico Muhly

The Bright Mass With Canons

For Men and Boys Choir and organ

After researching the catalog of works by the composer Nico Muhly, I found the choral work titled, The Bright Mass With Canons. I was interested in this work because the inclusion of canons within the Roman Catholic rite, which is also used by the Anglican Church. This work follows clearly, and precisely, the traditional structures of sacred music, destined for the liturgy of the Roman Rite. I will focus on the Sanctus, which, within the movements of the work, is considered the most important in the liturgy of the Mass.

When I first listened to the Sanctus of the Mass, I found that there was an mistake within the form and shape of the piece and the text. This mistake happened, because the composer do not set correctly the text with the form of the piece. When someone compose a mass for a service, they need to follow preestablished forms of the text and the music . The correct musical form of the Sanctus is in binary form (A-B), which can also be subdivided into a compound form (A-B-C-B). In this case, it is obvious the presence of the compound form in this work.

The text of the Sanctus has an already established form too (mentioned before). The following text has the structure that the composer should follow:

    Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,             

    Dominus Deus, Sabaoth.

    Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloriae tua.  

    Hosanna in Excelsis.

    Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini  

    Hosanna in Excelsis.

In this case, it is possible to hear the same text, clearly, with some variants in the part of the Hosanna that is allowed in the norms of the church. Many times it is more important to be exact with the form of the text than with the musical form because it is the one that transmits the message to the audience that are present durign the service. In resume, this piece may be not correct for the service, but it fits well for a concert program.

According to the composer, the canons of the Sanctus are abstract and spatial creating a sound that manages to fill the space of the religious sanctuary. In addition, the composition presents a homophonic texture, even if there is a canonical counterpoint present there. Because the counterpoint is abstract and designed for the acoustics of a temple. The composer adds these canons in the piece to act as an accompaniment to the melody, which is not common to hear in a canon.

The Sanctus textures remind a lot of the works of Eric Whitaker, specially to his Lux Aurumque. I feel that this work is strongly connected to the traditions of Western music — because is using compositions tecniques of the baroque era in combination with 21st century musical ideas . The texture of this piece is created exclusive for use in sanctuaries, and also having the presence of a tonal center are characteristics that connect it with Western tradition too. And last, the timbres that are present in the piece also reminds me the masses of classical composers like Bethoveen and Mozart, a good example can Mozart´s Coronation Mass in C Major.

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana.

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