“ Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ piece Ave Formosissima harkens back to the dance-mad, melismatic and slightly raucous music of the Middle Ages. But the score, with its zig-zagging lines and pungent dissonances, is genuinely contemporary.”—New York Times
“ A Consuming Fire, a short, zesty trio by Hayes Biggs, led off the evening. The piece is framed by some engagingly angular rhythmic writing, with a lyrical nougat at the center.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“ [The] most convincing and coherent performance [was] Hayes Biggs’ homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, E.M. am Flügel, a short piece with romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky.”—Aufbau
“ The Mass for All Saints would be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.”—Choral Journal
“ Hayes Biggs’s wedding motet Tota Pulchra Es, here being sung for the first time, impressed by its quiet solemnity and neat working of its expressive opening motif: not empty fanfares but a reminder of the seriousness and privacy of love.”—New York Times
“ Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. [It] is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.”—La Liberté
“ The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece... the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily... a potential recital hit in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.”—The Village Voice
“ All the works tried a return to tonality typical of the decade; the most successful made the return oblique and ambiguous. Hayes Biggs’ O Sacrum Convivium took off from the motet of Tallis, yet it handsomely reconfigured early modes in a modernistic scheme of free tonality.”—New York Times
“ Hayes Biggs’ To Becalme His Fever... is a vivid evocation of anxiety, fits and repose. The language embraces pointillistic colors, romantic lines and prickly episodes when the demons hover. Biggs claims a forceful and subtle dramatic hand, along with a keen command of instrumental resources.”—The Plain Dealer
Mass for All Saints, begun in 1987, is an outgrowth of my association since 1985 with the Choir of All Saints Church in the City of New York and with Dr. David Hurd, its Director of Music from 1985 to 1997. The privilege (all too rare in most churches these days) of performing, week after week, the great chants of the church as well as the polyphony of such masters as Byrd, Josquin, Palestrina, Lassus, Monteverdi, Tallis and Victoria with a fine ensemble of dedicated musicians has profoundly affected the way that I approach writing music, be it vocal or instrumental, sacred or secular. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Hurd and to his successor at All Saints, Dr. Gail Archer, as well as to my colleagues in the Choir of All Saints Church and the clergy and members of the parish not only for the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by this magnificent body of musical literature, but for their encouragement of me as a composer over the years; it has been an honor and a pleasure to have had this work and several of my other compositions used in the context of the liturgy at All Saints, and to have been commissioned by the church.
The mass was awarded a second prize in the 5th International Competition in Composition of Sacred Music (1993) of the Fribourg Festival of Sacred Music in Fribourg, Switzerland. The first performance of the complete work, by the Choir of the North German Radio (Hamburg) under the direction of Horst Neumann, took place on July 3, 1994 as part of the Fribourg Festival in the Church of the College of Saint-Michel in Fribourg.
Two incipits are given for the Gloria in excelsis Deo; either one may be used, as both serve as sources of thematic material for this movement.
Shadow and light: more harmonic in texture and festive in spirit, theKyrie of the Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. The Sanctus is lyrical and passionate, with a very beautifulBenedictus, and the monody of the Agnus Dei creates a climate of peace. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. The Mass for All Saints is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.
Phenomenal: the chorus of the North German Radio (Hamburg) showed on Sunday evening, with a purely a cappella program, what brilliant accomplishments the human voice is capable of. No wonder that it was selected to perform the two works of the [5th International Competition in Composition of Sacred Music in Fribourg] which received prizes—Paolo Rimaldi: Missa Jesu Redemptor (Italy) and Hayes Biggs:Mass for All Saints (U.S.A). Both works are written for mixed chorus a cappella… The second, which is more vital and accessible, received the prize mainly because of the solid knowledge of the human voice on which it is built and its melodic expressiveness.
The Mass for All Saints was written for and dedicated to David Hurd and his choir at All Saints Church, NYC, where Mr. Biggs has been a chorister since 1985. Requiring only eleven minutes, its scope is ideal for liturgical use, and I would compare its complexities to the Poulenc mass. Mr. Biggs has wisely avoided questions of Rite I/II by maintaining the Greek and Latin texts; beyond that, his text setting is so deft, that I cannot imagine this mass in English. It is easily my favorite of the four works [of his] considered, and of those four, I suspect that Biggs’ experience as a choral singer is more readily manifested here in the expressiveness of the individual lines. I am particularly moved by the supple vitality of the Sanctus and the smoky beauty of the Agnus, but (like Garrison Keillor, explaining why audiences in Lake Wobegon clap at unexpected places), I like all the movements.
This sophisticated Latin mass does not have a Credo movement. The mass was a prize winner in an international composition contest held in Switzerland; its composer points out that his weekly performance of great choral chants at a New York church has greatly influenced his approach to composing. The melismatic contrapuntal lines which weave their way through the movements have a chant character even though they are very chromatic and create dissonant modern harmonies. The music is very sensitive, rhythmically active, and uses full voice ranges with divisi. This will require an advanced choir.
In 1993, Hayes Biggs was awarded a second prize in the Fifth International Competition in Composition of Sacred Music at the Fribourg Festival of Sacred Music in Fribourg, Switzerland, for his Mass for All Saints. The work is structured as a missa brevis, with a performance time of approximately ten minutes. The Kyrie begins with a one-measure transparent soprano solo immediately followed by tuttiwomen in unison. The men enter and begin to broaden the texture. Two incipits are given for the Gloria; both serve as sources of thematic material, so either may be used. Mixed meter pervades the movement, providing an intense forward motion with interesting rhythmic stress. The Gloria could be performed apart from the rest of the mass. TheAgnus Dei closes the work with a haunting unison, recalling the opening statement of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb. The texture becomes more open, with a relaxed melodic and rhythmic flow. A tranquil Dona nobis pacem closes on a diminished fifth. The Mass for All Saints could be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.