(formally, "MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers
") is a musical
piece composed by Leonard Bernstein
. Specifically commissioned by First Lady of the United States Jacqueline Kennedy
, widow of President John F. Kennedy
, it made its premiere on September 8
, conducted by Maurice Peress
, as part of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
in Washington, D.C.
Originally, Bernstein had intended to compose a traditional Requiem Mass
, but instead decided on this more innovative style.
The work is based on the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, which was the order of liturgy in use at the time of its commissioning by Mrs. Kennedy. By the time the play debuted in 1971, however, the Catholic Church had adopted the Mass of Paul VI, following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Although the liturgical passages are sung in Latin, Mass also includes additional texts in English written by Bernstein, Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz, and Paul Simon (who wrote the first quatrain of the trope "Half of the People").
Cast of characters
The original cast consisted of a Celebrant, three choirs, and altar servers. A full classical orchestra performed in the pit, while onstage musicians -- including a rock band
and a marching band
-- performed and interacted onstage.
- The Celebrant – The central character of the work, a Catholic priest who conducts the celebration of the Mass.
- Formal Choir – A mixed choir (SSAATTBB) in upstage choir lofts who sing the Latin portions of the Mass.
- Boys Choir – A children's choir (SSAA) that precesses on and off stage various times, performing alone, in antiphon, or in concert with the Formal Choir and the Street Singers.
- Street Singers – Downstage and often performing around the Celebrant and the stage instrumentalists, a broad group of female and male singers representing the congregation (and occasionally the musicians), who variously participate in the prayers of the Mass, or alternately counter those prayers in a modern context.
- Acolytes – Assistants to the Celebrant, who perform dances and altar assistance throughout the Mass.
At the beginning of the score, all performers are in harmony and agreement. During the course of the Mass, however, the street choir begins expressing doubts and suspicions about the necessity of God in their lives and the role of the Mass itself. At the play's emotional climax, this doubt and confusion spreads to the Celebrant himself, who hurls the just-consecrated bread and wine to the ground in an act of sacrilege. The other cast members collapse to the ground as if dead while the Celebrant sings a song calling his lifetime of faith and beliefs into question. At the end of his song, he too, collapses.
The plot is resolved when the altar server, who was absent from the stage during the increasing tension of the various players, sings a hymn of praise to God and restores the faith of the Celebrant and the three choirs, who then join the altar server, one by one, in his hymn of praise.
As in the actual Mass, the last words of the piece are: "The Mass is ended; go in peace." In Bernstein's play these words are heard over pre-recorded tape.
- Antiphon: Kyrie Eleison
- Hymn and Psalm: "A Simple Song"
- Responsory: Alleluia
- Prefatory Prayers (Kyrie Rondo)
- Thrice-Triple Canon: Dominus vobiscum
- In nomine Patris
- Prayer for the Congregation (Chorale: "Almighty Father")
- Trope: "I Don't Know"
- Trope: "Easy"
- Meditation no. 1
- Gloria tibi
- Gloria in excelsis Deo
- Trope: "Half of the People"
- Trope: "Thank You"
- Meditation no. 2
- Epistle: "The Word of the Lord"
- Gospel-Sermon: "God Said"
- Trope: "Non Credo"
- Trope: "Hurry"
- Trope: "World Without End"
- Trope: "I Believe in God"
- Meditation no. 3: De profundis, part 1
- Offertory: De profundis, part 2
- The Lord's Prayer, Our Father
- Trope: "I Go On"
- Agnus Dei
- Fraction: "Things Get Broken"
- Pax: Communion ("Secret Songs")
- Vocal forces: Celebrant (high baritone), Boy soprano, SATB robed choir (ca. 60), 20 soloists from Street People, Boys Choir (ca. 20), Street People (singer-dancers, ca. 45)
- Stage orchestra (in costume, acting as cast members): 2 flutes (both doubling on piccolos), two oboes (second doubling on English horn), three clarinets (doubling on soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet), two bassoons (second doubling on contrabassoon), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, 2 percussionists (playing bongos, 2 drum sets, finger cymbals, temple blocks, 2 tambourines, and glockenspiel), street percussion (3 steel drums, claves, bottles, tambourine, gourds, and tin cans), 2 electric guitars, electric bass guitar, and 2 electric keyboards
- Pit orchestra: timpani, 3-4 percussionists (playing snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, bongos, 4 tuned drums, cymbals, suspended cymbal, triangle, 2 cowbells, chimes, tam-tam, anvil, temple blocks, woodblock, tambourine, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, and vibraphone), harp, celesta, 2 Allen organs, pre-recorded tape, and strings