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Osanna Mass

for choir

Composer:   Clare Maclean

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The title of the Osanna Mass is taken from part of the text of the Sanctus, Osanna in excels is. The word osanna comes from the Hebrew hoshiana, which means "Save us now!" but also taken on a connotation of praise - "hosanna in the highest!" - and the two threads of prayer and praise run through the text of the Mass.

The Mass movements are based on the set of plainchants for the Ordinary of the Mass, Kyriale IX (Cum iubilo), making it a little like a Renaissance paraphrase mass. Each movement also incorporates the chants of other movements, as well as Jewish liturgical melodies. The 'Kyrie' uses a traditional setting of the text for Kol Nidrei, a prayer of renunciation of vows made and not kept, which in its acknowledgement of human fallibility resonates with the text of the Kyrie and its Hebrew origins in the word hoshiana. The "Gloria" uses a setting of the Aleinu from the Jewish morning prayers, an affirmation of God's pre-eminent glory and transcendence, the 'King who reigns over kings.' The "Credo" includes a traditional melody used for Israel's declaration of faith from Deuteronomy, _ Sh'ma Yiscrael_: 'Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'

The melody of the "Sanctus" from Kyriale IX is very similar to the Aleinu melody and, according to Eric Werner, in fact uses part of the Aleinu melody, heard sung by Jews burnt at the stake in Blois in the twelfth century. The "Sanctus" plainchant appears in canon at the interval of a minor second, and, as it sets the text in the less familiar Hebrew, is an expression of the darkness that is the excess of light of God's holiness.

The music of the Osanna Mass acts like the illustrations of medieval manuscripts. The text of the Mass is 'illuminated' by the associations of the borrowed melodies and their texts, along with associations of the divine in accompanying material derived from church bells ("Gloria" and "Sanctus") and birdsong ("Benedictus"). Some visual aspects of medieval illustration are translated into music: at times the texture consists of decorative patterns, and the use of darker and lighter modal colors express the themes of prayer and praise in the text. These themes are also expressed symbolically through the use of flatter or sharper modes, and through the recurrence of significant pitches associated with these modes. The recurring pitches further contain a more general symbolism, of the presence of the unchanging Transcendent, hidden in the world. This use of musical 'emblems' is a little like the way symbolic meanings were attached to visual emblems such as plants and animals in medieval illuminated manuscripts.

The Osanna Mass was written for the Sydney Chamber choir, directed by the Paul Stanhope.

Performance history

Performed by the Sydney Chamber Choir with director Paul Stanhope at St Scholastica's covent, in Sydney