Bell Mass


for double SATB choir and organ
Mixed Voices
double SATB and organ

Commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, as part of the 450th anniversary of the Abbey’s Collegiate Charter (granted by Elizabeth I in 1560)

First Performance
29.6.2010, Westminster Abbey, London, UK: The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O'Donnell

Score 0-571-53696-4 on sale 

Programme Notes
My Bell Mass was requested by the Director of Music at Westminster Abbey, James O’Donnell to mark the 450th anniversary of the Abbey’s Collegiate Charter. It is a missa brevis, omitting the Credo. The five movements are Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei. The moods of each movement were closely prompted by the sounds, meanings and implications of the texts. The Kyrie features clear lines and polyphony on the voices, separated by organ interludes. The Gloria explores the exuberance and celebration of the Latin text, culminating in a free-for-all on the concluding Amen. The Sanctus is ceremonial and massive, with another free-for-all outburst on the Osanna in excelsis, followed by a becalmed ending. The Benedictus is very still, as if enacting a very old sacred rite, with bare solo chants accompanied by drones and chords from the rest of the choir. The Agnus Dei starts in a mood of quiet introspection and prayer, developing into a dance-like middle section and finally working round to a point of rest. Throughout the composition of this work, bells – their sonorities, overtones and the tradition of change-ringing – were very much in my mind. Many phrases (such as the opening) start with a clear, bell-style accent, and much of the harmony in the work was derived from listening closely to bells, including those of Westminster Abbey. The Bell Mass is dedicated both to James O’Donnell, and to the memory of my former school chaplain, Rev. Willie Booth. Julian Anderson

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