Paul Patterson: Mass of the Sea

  • for vocal quartet, mixed choir and orchestra
  • 2 2 2 2 - 4 3 3 1 - timp, perc(2), str
  • Duration: 43’
  • Instrumentation details:
    2(2. also picc.) 2 2(2. also bass cl.) 2(2. also cbsn.) - 4 3 2 basstbn. 1 - timp., perc.(2) - str.
  • Choir: SATB
  • Composer: Paul Patterson
  • Librettist: Tim Rose Price
  • Dedication: To Krzysztof Penderecki for his fiftieth birthday
  • Commission: Commissioned by the 1983 Gloucester Three Choirs Festival with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain

Work introduction

Paul Patterson’s Mass of the Sea was commissioned for the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1983. Additional words provided by Tim Rose Price expand the traditional Mass to express the composer's love of the sea. The text follows the Bible through its sea images from Genesis to Revelations. The additions are inserted at relevant points in the text of the Mass so that each enhances and complements the other.

The music traces this duality. Although the idiom is contemporary, one of the main musical threads is based on the plainsong chant “Ave Maris Stella” (“Hail to the star of the sea”) used by Monteverdi in his Vespers. The first three notes of the chant provide an important melodic and harmonic motif which is transformed in many ways during the five-movement work.

The atmosphere in the first movement is still and empty: then a short recitative leads to the rhythmic “Gloria” in two sections, the first in 7/4 time, the second in 11/8. The central core of the work is the Flood, where the wrath of God is unleashed in dramatic statements from the bass soloist and brass with violent interjections from the chorus. A large tutti section builds to vigorous storm music. The calm that follows leads directly to a simple and thinly scored “Sanctus”. The last movement is in two sections: the first features the soloists accompanied by angular orchestral writing. A bold grandiose statement of the “Agnus Dei” acts as a transition to the calm ending, which contains elements of the previous movements, particularly the opening of the work.

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