Stravinsky’s Mass

Posted on: February 21, 2012 in: Uncategorised

The second concert in our innovative, informal series, CLoSer, will focus on the human voice with a performance by CLS and the Holst Singers of Stravinsky’s Mass.

Stravinsky began work on his Mass in 1944, completing the Kyrie and Gloria towards the end of that year. Pausing to work on other projects, he returned to the Mass in 1947, finally completing all the movements in 1948. He rarely wrote non-commissioned music, so is believed by his friend Robert Craft (the American conductor and writer) to have written his Mass out of ‘spiritual necessity.’



Although he was devoted to the religious content, Stravinsky chose to write a Roman Catholic mass, despite being a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.  His reasons for doing this were practical ones: he was committed to creating a Mass that would be performed in liturgical circumstances, and, given that he disliked the sound of unaccompanied singing, couldn’t write for the Russian Orthodox Church, which forbids any music but the human voice and bells. The Roman Catholic Church permits instrumentation on religious occasions so provided the right vehicle for Stravinsky’s small wind ensemble and four-part choir.

Despite Stravinsky’s desire that the Mass be used liturgically, it has almost always been performed in concert since its first performance at La Scala in Milan in 1948. It remains, however, deeply committed to the affirmation of faith. Although he denied that he was influenced by any particular composer or composition, Stravinsky uses a chanting style of singing that is reminiscent of monastic chant, a style that, despite his tendency to put musical stresses on unstressed words, preserves the text of the mass and connects his work to older Christian musics.

His commitment to the spiritual content is, appropriately, particularly apparent in the Credo, about which Stravinsky is quoted by Robert Craft as saying “One composes a march to facilitate marching men, so with my Credo I hope to provide an aid to the text. The Credo is the longest movement. There is much to believe.” 

 Listen to Stravinsky’s Mass on our Spotify playlist


CLoSer: Spirit of the Voice
Wednesday 29 Feb, 7.30pm
Village Underground