Mass Of The Apocalypse

SATB, soprano and mezzo solo, two percussion players, piano (1984)

[I. Vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel. II. 4 gongs, large tam-tam, small bongo, 2 suspended cymbals]

The Mass of the Apocalypse was commissioned by St James’s Piccadilly for the 300th anniversary of the church in 1984 and is dedicated to the Reverend Donald Reeves who was Rector at the time and is the speaker on the Naxos recording. The subject of apocalypse, as described in the final book of the New Testament, the Revelation of St John the Divine, seems continuously relevant with violence and persecution of Christians around the world. As Donald Reeves wrote, in For God’s Sake: ‘Much of this bizarre and neglected book (Revelation) is the story of God’s judgement and punishment of a world and a Roman Empire corrupted by man’s arrogance and pride. But all through the book there are intimations of another dimension – of God’s ultimate goodness and mercy…now at last the cries of the martyrs are answered’.

The scoring is unusual. The SATB choir, with brief soprano and mezzo solos, is accompanied by and array of percussion instruments and piano. The Mass was designed to be part of a ritual and the instrumentalists are also providing meditative music before the service based on what will be heard in the Mass.

The Mass has five sections and in each one the speaker delivers passages from Revelation (King James Version), to a musical background, and these alternate with the Communion Service Rite A from the choir, thus mixing ancient and modern. The Kyrie announces the Revelation; the Sanctus and Benedictus celebrate ‘a new heaven and earth’; the Agnus Dei – a descant blues to the hymn ‘The Strife is o’er’ – is a prayer for peace and harmony; the Gloria is a sparkling hymn of praise; and the wordless Ite Missa Est at the end recalls the mood of concern with which the Kyrie opened. The regular beat provided by the percussionists – slow with gongs or more driven with drums - is a feature of every section.

The first performance was at St James’s, Piccadilly with Shirley Dixon (speaker), James Holland and David Johnston (percussion), John Alley (piano), the St James Singers under Ivor Bolton on 15 July 1984. It was performed again on 31 July 1988 when the recording was made. The Mass was given in the Aldeburgh Festival with Clive Merrison (speaker), members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Jonathan Rutherford (organ) and Aldeburgh Voices under Alexander Chaplin on 14 June 2015.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson