Mass in G Minor - Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958)

The early 1920's marked a pastoral interlude for Vaughan Williams. As well as the aforementioned opera, Sir John in Love, the period also saw the composition of The Lark Ascending, The Pastoral Symphony and The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. In 1921, the same year as the latter two pieces, Vaughan Williams also wrote his Mass in G minor. Its musical link with the pastoral works is unmissable, as the piece is full of the rich harmonies associated with the composer in his most 'English summertime' moments, but the origins of the piece are also, as with Howell's Requiem, in the revival of English polyphony and with Vaughan Williams' identification of his music with 'the imperishable glories of English prose'.
The piece is dedicated to Gustav Holst and the Whitsuntide Singers (Holst and Vaughan Williams were very close at this time), and it received its first performance on 6 December 1922 in Birmingham Town Hall. The first liturgical performance was at Westminster Cathedral under R R Terry, who took an instant liking to the work and, along with Holst, championed its liturgical use. The work is set for unaccompanied double choir and soloists. The success of the Mass in G minor as a liturgical work in post-war Britain, is best summed up in Terry's own words to Vaughan Williams: 'I'm quite sincere when I say that it is the work one has all along been waiting for. In your individual and modern idiom you have really captured the old liturgical spirit and atmosphere.'

 Barry Creasy


Collegium Musicum of London


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