MISSA PRO OMNIS ERGO QUI AUDIT
"Message for Anyone Who Will Listen"

For Choir with Solists and Dual Singing Concelebrants

by Christopher Fulkerson
CF's Composition Desk

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The title of this work refers to the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says:

Omnis ergo qui audit verba mea
adsimilabitur viro sapienti qui aedificavit domum suam supra petram
et descendit pluvia
et venerunt flumina
et flaverunt venti
et inruerunt in domum illam et non cecidit fundata enim erat super petram
- Biblia Sacra Vulgata, Mattheum 7:24-25

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon the house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." The Holy Bible, King James Version, Matthew 7:24-25

Perhaps never before in its history has the Church fallen deeper into the morass of "Pop-ish ditties;" that is, insipid popular music. I wish with this work to contribute music that can be part of that kind of Mass that I do not know of being offered anywhere: in the traditional liturgy, with the prayers of the Proper in an idiom at least recognizably modern and consistent with the full heritage of Western music. In other words, this is a work for the type of Mass celebration that would be sung (Mass did not used to be "said," it used to be sung) had there never been the recent schism in the Church, and had not true contemporary music, and with it most of the heritage of sacred music been hammered away or diluted into pablum by the steely populist rain of Stalin; the floods of the supposed market; the winds of the media; and the elitist pounding of Hitler.

Certainly never in all the history of Western music have there been fewer members of the concert-going public who will listen willingly to the music of their own time. For example, at the time I am writing this in 2009, there have not for four years been more than two works annually by living American composers (not counting music by its Music Director) in any given season of the San Francisco Symphony. And that's the programming of an orchestra that supposedly is committed to contemporary music. There are orchestras and opera and ballet companies all over the country that don't even pretend an interest in the modern world.

There are of course even fewer churchgoers who will listen to real contemporary music. Such listeners have founded neither their cultural nor their spiritual houses upon a rock. Their house is already blown away: generally speaking, for some decades now, it is primarily the works of alien composers that are heard in this country. On those same seasons at the San Francisco Symphony, there was an average of 66% of the program dedicated to the music of (mostly dead) German or Russian speaking composers. Concert programs are too stultified, audience tastes too oriented to the immediately pleasing. Indeed these are the conditions preferred by the inheritors of the Nazi-Soviet legacy, which prevails throughout the world to this day. That's right, I say that culturally we live in a Nazi-Soviet world. We might have won the war, but we lost the peace. Boards of Directors who do not choose alien conductors seldom require, or even allow, their native conductors to present the music of their own land. T.S. Eliot was absolutely right, America is a waste land. Most of its cultural artifacts are fecal waste.

However far this work may be beyond the "choirs" accustomed only to what I call "Pop-ish ditties," anyone who knows contemporary music will quickly recognize that the idiom of this music is by no means extremely modern. Further, the generally syllabic treatment of the text is a deliberate effort to make the prayers easily comprehensible to those familiar with the words, so that the worshippers can pray along silently during Mass. Such participatory involvement is very helpful to the development of competent listening. To sing this music, one or two good readers in each section and a competent director are all that are required of an enthusiastic, dedicated choir willing to work.

On the evening of my birthday in 1997, at the very moment I completed the fair copy of this MISSA PRO OMNIS ERGO QUI AUDIT that I had completed not long before, I received a telephone call from my then still quite young niece Faith Bowman, who sang me a happy Birthday. Returning to the score I found that I had by habit made the common error of writing my birth year with my birth date. My niece sang me a Happy Birthday "on the very day of my birth." I felt I myself would hardly have been attending properly to a MESSAGE FOR ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN if I did not dedicate it to Faith.

The Latin word "Missa" means a "sending" or "message." Of any writers or thinkers I know, the ramifications and possibilities of the meaning of a Sending are best suggested and worked out by the Science Fiction writer Robert Silverberg, whose Majipoor cycle employs a type of magic called a "sending" that more or less exactly corresponds to the type of thing the Mass actually is. For not less than that one insight and literary development, Silverberg must I think be accounted a very imortant writer.

This work is a Sending, a dream and a world, a life and a method, a discipline, and for some a reward, to anyone who will listen to it. Twelve years after it was written, such persons have still yet to be found. It contains the movements required canonically to constitute a Mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Angus Dei, and an Ite, Missa est. The last three movements were deliberately written with the type of recurrence that is typical of settings of those prayers; this makes the last few movements a bit heavy on the "recapitualtion" side; the final movement, being completely priestly, makes no effort at any grand musical summary for the entire work. For these reasons the whole Mass is probably more interesting musically if it is sung as part of an actual Mass, with time and events between these recapitulations. I could not possibly have taken greater risk than to rely on the possibility of such a thing. I would not be surprised if this piece is never done as it is intended to be given.

When I was directing the music at St. Raymond's in San Ramone, California, I was interested to see that Father Ron Lagasse used to occasionally say Mass with a colleague; together they would intone all the prayers, standing side by side. I decided that I liked this very much indeed, it was good, solemn theater, and so I gave the priestly singing duties in this Mass to a pair of concelebrants. As would therefore be approprate, only the priests sing the final "Go, it is a Sending," which means, "Go, we have together completed, and sent, this message." Taken together, the six movements are eleven movements long.

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Updated 9/29/2010.

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