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Pithy commentary on the music for Holy Cross Day

September 13, 2010

The music for the Mass of the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross draws on a number of traditions and eras.

It’s no secret that I believe strongly in performing music that is being written today.  Several of the pieces on this Ordo could be classified as “modern,” with two being written by someone who is still alive.  Kevin Allen has written the prelude, Vexilla Regis, which is included in a collection of organ pieces he wrote based upon Gregorian chant melodies.  Kevin lives in Chicago, where he has become a well-known composer of sacred music; he also directs a schola here and there as well.  I’m privileged to number him among my friends.  Visit his website.  I’ve also included my versets for Vexilla Regis, which I wrote a few years ago at the request of David Hughes—who I’m also privileged to count as a friend—for his schola at Sleepy Hollow, NY, a beautiful town along the Hudson River near the Tappan Zee Bridge.  David is now organist and choirmaster at St. Mary’s in Norwalk, CT, which boasts a fine music program.  Rounding out the modern repertoire is Alec Wyton’s Fanfare, which serves as the postlude.  Wyton wrote this piece in the 1950’s for the organ of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine when he was music director there.  In its full manifestation, it features some sort of horizontal solo trumpet; in fact Wyton dedicated this piece to G. Donald Harrison, the organ builder who installed the famous State Trumpet at the cathedral.  There is of course no comparable trumpet at St. Paul’s but alternative registrations can be found, and so there is no reason this gem of 20th century music should not be heard.  Grittily triumphant, the tone of this piece fits the feast quite well.

The Mass Ordinary will feature Thomas Tallis’ Mass for Four Voices.  This is one of my favorite Renaissance Mass settings.  The combination of heroic and rhythmic qualities gives this piece the potential for rather vivacious performances.  Like many English Mass settings, this one includes no Kyrie, since in the Sarum Rite the Kyries were troped and therefore not sung polyphonically.  We will sing the Kyrie Splendor aeterne, which can be found in the ab libitum section of the Liber Usualis.  This portion of the useful book includes those chants which were not included in the Ordinary sets which are known as Masses I-XVIII—a codification system which, it should be mentioned, is barely a century old.

The Offertory motet, Crux Fidelis, has been incorrectly attributed to King John IV of Portugal.  It is almost definite that this piece comes from the 19th century, when the Romantic tradition cultivated nostalgia and historicism.  The attribution is most likely meant as some kind of tribute to times gone by.  On the surface, this motet gives the impression of a Renaissance piece, but harmonically it is clearly from a much later date.   This kind of information, though, is really meant for the librarians; for our purposes, we can simply enjoy its beauty.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Philip Crnkovich permalink
    September 14, 2010 4:22 pm

    Because I fit into that librarian category I’ll acknowledge your “pithy’ comments, and duly regret I can’t make this evenings Mass. PC

  2. September 20, 2010 8:06 am

    It was a remarkable and liturgically rich experience of music this past Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I was delighted to be a part of the Sacred Liturgy.

    In Domino,
    Fra. David

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