Composer — Ruth Watson Henderson Voicing + performing forces — SATB a cappella Call Number — 4205 Level — Difficult
The Missa Brevis by Toronto composer Ruth Watson Henderson surely belongs to an exalted list of the most influential choral music for unaccompanied choir in the Canadian choral repertoire. Written in 1976 for the Festival Singers of Canada, under the direction of founder Elmer Iseler, one of Canada's initial professional choirs, for whom Henderson was the accompanist, this setting of the 'shortened' mass text (no Credo) presents a truly varied and at times stunning sound palette which, although sometimes demanding in terms of singers' ability to absorb dissonance in the collective sound, is very carefully crafted so that no vocal part encounters extremes in range. It runs to about 12 minutes in duration. Most impressive in my view is Henderson's sensitive response to the intent in the text of each section, from the quiet expressiveness in the Kyrie and Benedictus movements to the truly jubilant exclamations one finds in sections of the Gloria as well as in the Hosanna section of the Sanctus movement. One of the most 'goose-bump' moments in this beautiful setting occurs at the end of the quietly intense Agnus Dei section at the end of the Mass, where Henderson transitions from some dissonant writing to an ethereal setting of the Dona nobis pacem in the (amazing!) key of C# major! Much of the work is scored for SATB, with the Gloria movement requiring SSATBB divisi, and the Hosanna needing divided Tenor parts. As mentioned above, one needs to consider this work as one of the "top 10" a cappella choral works in Canadian choral music, very doable for a good university or youth choir as well as adult chamber choir.