Tag Archives: Kyrie

Kyrie and Gloria Patri


Kyrie and Gloria Patri. For congregation and organ, with cantor or choir (opt. SATB). The choir may sing in parts or unison. In the Kyrie the choir or a solo voice may be cantor. Separate congregation part available for bulletin. Commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Daniel Spratlan, music director, and Cynthia A. Jarvis, minister.

I have composed a Kyrie, a “Lord, have mercy,” before, in the Mass for Philadelphia, but never a separate Gloria Patri (the words traditionally end Magnificat settings, and I do have several of those). Dan Spratlan has begun to commission settings for his Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and asked me for one, to be used beginning in the fall of 2017.

It is bliss to write challenging music for professionals, but is in some ways even more delightful to write successful music for amateurs. The largest group of amateurs who sing new music every week is the church congregation. I’ve composed hymn and liturgical settings for congregations most of my career.

While the difference in musical abilities between amateurs and professionals may be great, the composer’s challenge—and honor—is always the same: to serve them, to help them sound their best, and to reveal truths.

The musical opportunities in small forms like this Kyrie and Gloria Patri are as profound as one wishes to make them. To create dramas through the text while not obscuring the line is a useful craft no matter what the music is, but the task is heightened in music for a congregation, since the moment a congregation is unsure of itself, it stops singing. The music must always support and encourage the congregation, and thankfully, every facet of music is available to assist in that task.

I’ve done something slightly new in this. It is not unheard of in choral music, but it doesn’t happen often, where voices will depart here and there from a “doubling” accompaniment. You’ll see an example in the alto line in measure 5 above, at “have”; the altos sing a D while the organ plays a C. It is not only to avoid the direct 5th (and avoiding those as we were taught is, yes, generally a good idea—although I kept it in the organ part). There were other ways to fix that fifth. No, it rather comes out of thinking of the choir and organ as part of an ensemble—an orchestra, if you will—where lines follow their own lights and are not simply copies of each other. I first noticed this only a few years ago in a Wagner chorus I was singing. The choral bass part did something other than what the orchestral basses were playing (and what I’d expected), and it charmed me.

If an SATB choir is available, it will sing what it sings and won’t get in the way of the congregation. And that’s the other challenge the composer is constantly trying to solve—to get out of the way.

(The Gloria Patri is in G major and the Kyrie is actually in a mode, G dorian, even though it ends more on B-flat. A certain fuzziness in cadencing can be appropriate, I feel, if that conflict in mood helps to drive home the feeling of the text. A Kyrie should offer comfort only with the knowledge that one who is unworthy of comfort falls completely on mercy. That is why I do not hear the last chord as an add 6 (Bb+6) or a Gm7/Bb, even though it is both of those. I’m not sure, in this context, what the chord is.)


Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Offertory, Nunc Dimittis added to Mass for Philadelphia

NuncExcerpt1Mass for Philadelphia was commissioned for the 2012 National Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians. That conference was held in Philadelphia, but since its first hearing at the conference’s Closing Eucharist, a number of Episcopal churches have been using it. Tomorrow, the first Sunday after Easter, the first Lutheran church will also begin to sing it.

I had been thinking of looking at—and attending to—the differences between Episcopal and Lutheran Mass usages. But with the impending premiere, and the two busiest weeks of the church year on their way out, the music director/organist suggested to me that an Offertory and Nunc Dimittis might be added.

Since the church is my church, and the music director is my wife, I thought it was time, perhaps, to stop thinking and to start attending to. So, this week, on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, a new Offertory and Nunc Dimittis were composed for the Mass. The deadline, of course, was not Sunday, but Wednesday, when the church secretary needed to insert the congregation’s music into the bulletin. Advice to composers: Sometimes you may disappoint the music director, but never mess with the church secretary.

Here’s a MIDI realization of the Nunc Dimittis. The beginning of the score you can click on above. The organ sound in my notation program is ugly and seemingly (to me) unalterable, so a piano accompanies in this audio file. 

A traditional Offertory text for Lutherans is from Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” This would be sung after the choir’s Offertory Anthem, when gifts and communion elements are presented.

Sung at the breaking of the bread by Episcopalians is Christ Our Passover. Lutherans don’t normally sing there, but they will sing, for the post-Communion canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, or Simeon’s “Now Lord, let your servant depart in peace.” Episcopalians are very familiar with the Nunc at Evensong, of course, but not so much at the Eucharist.

Lutherans will sing the Kyrie a bit more than Episcopalians, but the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are standard for both denominations.

Thus for liturgical diversity! So now, the Mass for Philadelphia has these sections:

Christ Our Passover
Agnus Dei
Nunc Dimittis