Brief Mass

Dan Locklair

Like the basic bread and wine elements of Mass, the basic musical materials of BRIEF MASS are simple. Yet, like the profound and eternal meanings of Mass, the use and development of the musical materials of BRIEF MASS strive for deeper musical dimensions. The pitch material of each movement of BRIEF MASS is basic and very limited, and each movement does not stray from its basic foundation pitches. Each individual movement serves as a vital link to the whole of BRIEF MASS. Throughout its duration BRIEF MASS invokes symbolism (including numerical symbolism), and the Holy Number 3 is the inspiration for each movement’s three-part structure. While the ultimate aim of this work is the successful musical illumination of one of the most significant texts in the world, technical dimensions of each movement are now briefly described.

I. Kyrie
Joined by a common unity note, C, each of the soprano and alto voice parts (as well as the tenor and bass parts) share common exchanges of line. Metrical shifts occur through development of 4 3 5 3 meters. The sole pitch material used is a six-note synthetic mode : C, E, F-sharp, G, A-flat, A.

II. Gloria
This movement divides the choir into two separate SATB choirs. While not necessary for performance, it is suggested that the choirs be separated to enhance the antiphonal effect. (N.B. This separation, while possible in concert performance, may not be possible or practical within the context of worship. Such a separation of the two choirs is totally up to the conductor’s discretion. A suggestion for singer placement that will work in any setting for the entire BRIEF MASS is noted below.) In this joyous and highly rhythmical Gloria, a recitative-like quality permeates the entire movement. The sole pitch material used forms the Phrygian Mode : F-sharp, G, A, B, C-sharp, D, E, F-sharp.

III. Credo
As in movements I and V, meter development is employed here. Unlike I and V (which use the half-note as the unit of beat), here the eighth and quarter notes are the units of beat as the meters alternate between triple, duple and triple. Often using common, unison pitches to symbolize the united spirit of the Credo, this movement is centered on the new pitches B-flat and E-flat (thus, added with the pitches of movement’s I and II, the total 12 pitches of the chromatic scale are now represented). The sole pitch material used in III represents a transposition of movement I’s pitch material : E-flat, G, A, B-flat, B, C.

IV. Sanctus
Like II, two separate SATB choirs are employed and, also as in II, the performing space and/or occasion will dictate whether or not the two choirs are separated antiphonally. This movement seeks to express a simple, hymn-like Sanctus, often of restrained joy. Like II, no metrical development is employed but, also like II, a seven-note mode is employed, this one being a synthetic mode made up of a combination of the Lydian and Phrygian Church Modes. The sole pitch material for IV is : A, B, C-sharp, D-sharp, E, F, G, A.

V. Agnus Dei
Like I and III, metrical development is an important part of this movement. The entire metrical structure of V is an exact retrograde of the meters of I with, again, the half-note representing the pulse. Musically, also like I, the Agnus Dei seeks to express pleas in a manner that is both restrained and ethereal. Like I and III, its primary pitch material consists of a transposition of the same six intervalic patterns : F, A, B, C, D-flat, D. In addition, the 16th century Genevan Psalter 12th Psalm (a Psalm of plea) tune, DONNE SECOURS, is freely quoted in the men’s voices. While based on the same pitches as the entire Agnus Dei, the Psalm tune also incorporates two additional pitches, E and G, which serve to further musically unite the Agnus Dei with movements I and II.

Performance notes

BRIEF MASS requires a minimum of eight singers for performance : SSAATTBB. Though, as suggested above, the singers may remain in one formation throughout the entire performance, the Gloria and Sanctus do divide the singers into two separate SATB antiphonal choirs. It is left up to the conductor’s discretion (depending upon the performance space and occasion of performance) whether or not the two choirs of this movement are physically separated or not. Whatever the decision for physical separation, the composer would suggest the following choral set-up since it will serve all possibilities with ease:
Tenor/Bass Bass/Tenor
Soprano/Alto Alto/Soprano
I. II.
Duration of BRIEF MASS:
I. Kyrie ca. 3′
II. Gloria ca. 2′ 30″
III. Credo ca. 3′ 30″
IV. Sanctus ca. 3′
V. Agnus Dei ca. 3′
Total duration: ca. 15′

Soli Deo Gloria!
Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, North Carolina/USA
June 1993