Modern Classics: John Rutter’s Mass of the Children

Modern Classics: John Rutter’s Mass of the Children

English composer John Rutter has been a mainstay of the choral music world for nearly four decades, and in that time he has explored the genre thoroughly. Rutter’s work continually challenges choral conventions while remaining joyous and accessible, and his Mass of the Children is no exception. Like many of his compositions, it evokes traditional forms and modern harmonies at once, creating a piece that is rich and compelling.

A Choral Work for All Ages

As a young boy, Rutter always had participated in school choruses. While he was still in school he was given the opportunity to sing Britten’s War Requiem, which uses both adult and child vocalists. Many years later, when he set out to write Mass of the Children, he wanted to accomplish for himself what Britten had done, by bringing singers of all ages together. Although combining children and adult choirs is nothing new, Mass of the Children treats both groups equally, and makes the children integral to its performance, a choice which sets the work apart from much of the choral canon.

A mixed choir, of children and adults, sings in concert

As the title suggests, Mass of the Children is a missa brevis, but, like Rutter’s Requiem, it represents a departure from the typical mass setting. The first point of difference is in the movements themselves; the first four keep with tradition (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, and Agnus Dei), but the fifth and final movement is simply called “Finale,” which uses parts of the Agnus Dei unused in the previous section as well as Anglican prayer adaptations and a poem for its text. This may be the most visible distinction between Rutter’s mass and the traditional setting, but it isn’t the only one; both the Kyrie and Agnus Dei incorporate English poetry (including parts of William Blake’s The Lamb) as a way of reflecting Rutter’s English heritage and history with the Anglican church. The inclusion of both English and liturgical text, as well as the combination of adult and child singers make this work a unique contribution to the world of choral music and deserving of its status as a modern classic.

Mass of the Children in Carnegie Hall

Mass of the Children was originally commissioned by MidAmerica Productions, and was premiered in Carnegie Hall on February 13, 2003. It is written for a combined SATB (adult) and SSA (children’s) choir, baritone and soprano soloists, and either a full orchestra or a chamber orchestra and organ. On June 18, 2017, conductor Carmen Flórez-Mansi will lead a combined choir and orchestra in a performance of Rutter’s Mass of the Children in celebration of the 30 year anniversary of John Rutter conducting with MidAmerica Productions. To purchase tickets to this event, visit our website or view our full season schedule.

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Over the past 34 years, MidAmerica Productions has produced over 1300 concerts in Carnegie Hall and at historic halls all over the world. To have your ensemble perform in Carnegie Hall or internationally, call us at 212-239-0205 or visit us at www.midamerica-music.com.

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