Mixed Chorus Unaccompanied
Text: Liturgical (Greek and Latin)
Duration: ca. 10 minutes
Publisher: C. F. Peters Corporation, Edition Peters 67612
Second Prize, 5e Concours International de Musique Sacrée, Festival de Musique Sacree de Fribourg (Switzerland), 1993
Shadow and light: more harmonic in texture and festive in spirit, the Kyrie 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 beautiful Benedictus, 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 tutti women 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. The Agnus 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.