Sunday 24 July 2011

MacMillan Mass Review

here on The Chant Cafe.

You sang it in a field in the Midlands - unless you are Scottish, in which case you rightfully got in first.

They mention the publisher thing. Well he is James MacMillan and he is published by B&H. Stravinsky et al are not free. 6 weeks though. The CMAA Journal travels much faster.

During the course of the review, Randolph Nichols mentions my least favourite melodo-harmonic car crash (not that I'm a fan of car crashes, you understand,)of any piece ever, the C# at the beginning of On Eagle's Wings.

He describes it thus

"Kyrie" is the simplest movement and uses the same harmonic and melodic material as the "Agnus Dei". Being the most immediately accessible of the Mass movements, it would seem wise to introduce these two movements first. The opening harmony (a sustained A minor chord underlying a melody line beginning on f-sharp) is reminiscent of the first chord of "On Eagles’ Wings" with it’s non-chord c-sharp resolving to the subdominant chord tone b. In this case, however, the f-sharp resolves a half-step upward and the singer has the advantage of hearing it introduced by the organ. Thus there should be none of the painful intonation offenses that so frequently plague that OEW c-sharp. At the final “Lord have mercy” there is an engaging harmonic turn that momentarily establishes the subdominant “a” as the tonic ending; the organ steps in, however, to reaffirm "e" as the true tonal center.

An F# over an A min chord does not bring OEW to mind to me because that C# has to be plucked from nowhere and forms a tritone with the root of the chord. It is deeply offensive. A pungent dissonance. The guy who taught me fugue-writing would torture anyone writing non-invertible counterpoint by playing the offending bar over and over for everyone to tut over. What would he make of such a crime?

It's a shame also that the terms of reference have to be crummy hymns we avoid playing, though it is funny to read it set down on The Chant Cafe. I would be totally disparaging if my A Level pupils started comparing their set works with crummy contemporary pop stuff, so why do that with James MacMillan? Incidentally, he is an A Level set work composer for OCR... along with Vivaldi and Berlioz, but I'm teaching different ones, alas.

The Colours of Day tetrachord.

The OEW C#.

Naming and shaming.


Anonymous said...

I have to say and I said it at the time, its not easy to sing and its not very inspiring either.
They said it would be singable and easy for the congregation to join in, it wasnt.
and as a former chorister who can join in with most things after one hearing , I know what im talking about.

leutgeb said...

I admit that I'm not typical, but I stood about 150 yards away from the conductor and sight-sang it fine. OK, there were two occasions when I sang a wrong accidental con belto, but that was entirely my fault for not reading the key sig change....put it down to lack of sleep. People were singing around me.

It could have been made easier for us by releasing recordings for us all to practise with - like that one that came with the Pilgrim Pack. Could have made a fun pilgrim night.

Which Mass setting would you have used?

I would have just gone for a plainsong one myself, but it was an obvious moment to get a new one in English with the new translation and I'm glad they did and I'm glad it was by James MacMillan.