By John Leavitt, Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Music, MidAmerica Nazarene University
Missa Festiva began in 1987 with the commission of a festival piece for the International Choral Symposium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Sanctus (“Festival Sanctus”) of this Mass was the result of that commission. Other individual parts of the Ordinary followed—the Kyrie and Agnus Dei. The Gloria was finished in the fall of 1990. The Credo, the centerpiece of the Mass, which weds the work together, was completed in the spring of 1991. At that time, the five separate movements were orchestrated and assembled into one large work, approximately 15 minutes in length.
Since that time, the piece has been performed around the world, both by sacred and secular choirs. More recently, on the 20th anniversary of “Festival Sanctus,” I began working on an expanded chamber orchestration that enhances the musical texture and color of the work, featuring parts for woodwinds, strings, and percussion. The result of that effort also yielded several new voicings of the various movements, and the full work is now available for SATB, SAB, SSA, TTB, and 2-part choirs.
The outer movements, Kyrie and Agnus Dei, are set in a lyric, neo-romantic style that features modal inflection. The inner movements, Gloria and Sanctus, are set in a rhythmic, ebullient style, featuring mixed meters and syncopation. The middle movement, Credo, uses ancient chants to distinguish the three persons of the Trinity. While this work does not purport to be a liturgical Mass, it uses texts from the Ordinary, both altered and unaltered, to conscribe to musical considerations. These Latin texts, time honored through many centuries, are embraced for their richness and provide a vehicle for excellent choral singing.
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