- Instrumentation: -
unaccompanied cathedral choir
- Duration: -
Approximately 20 minutes.
- Recordings & Soundclips: -
There is a good quality recording of this work (enquire via Daniel X Music).
- Score: -
Available from composer - please enquire.
- Origins/Commission/Dedications: -
Originally commissioned as part of 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral. Commission originally received by Arvo Pärt for his own composition ‘I Am The True Vine’ - subsequently split at Pärt's request to enable Keith Burstein to also contribute 'Missa Brevis'.- Premieres/Performances: -
‘Missa Brevis’ was premiered by the Choir of Norwich Cathedral at the 900th anniversary celebrations of Norwich Cathedral, Norwich, UK, 1997.
- Composer’s comments: -
In 1995, Miranda Jackson (then of music publishers Universal Edition) introduced me to the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. This was the first of several encounters, all of which remain vividly in my memory. We first met at rehearsals in the Barbican, after which Arvo took me across the road to a pub where we sat chatting. On the way over, he asked me what I was writing and I replied “music in memory of John Smith.”
“Sing it,” he demanded. Luckily, the piece in question (‘A Live Flame’) has a very sing-able opening melody for trumpet. I sang it, and was rewarded with a compliment - ”That is very beautiful.” We were in the middle of crossing the road as we discussed this, and were so engrossed in conversation that we were almost run over by traffic.
In the pub, Arvo - quoting Beethoven and holding his pencil to his breast - told me ”You must write from the heart to the heart.” Then we went to the music shop. I remember seeing Arvo pick up a piece of blank manuscript, caress the sheet lovingly, and say “See how beautiful it is.”
My meeting with Arvo was followed by an extraordinary message from Miranda. Arvo had been given a commission for the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral (for which he had written his choral work ‘I Am The True Vine’) but, having heard my work, he wanted to share the commission and the fee with me, thus enabling me to write the ‘Missa Brevis’. This remains one of the most generous and inspiring forms of help that I have ever received: something one could never expect - or forget.
‘I Am The True Vine’ and ‘Missa Brevis’ were duly performed in the Cathedral, and my next encounter with Arvo was in Norwich for the performance. I remember that I sat watching football beforehand, with him and his children (the European Cup, I think, was in progress).
In 1998, another performance of the ‘Missa Brevis’ took place in Keble College, Oxford. ‘I Am The True Vine’ was also performed there and so I had the chance to record both pieces for posterity and pass the recordings on to Arvo.
In 1999, I had a call from Arvo out of the blue. He wanted to meet me in order to thank me for the recording I had made, and invited me to come to the Temple Church for a performance of his music. Despite looking a little like a monk of the Orthodox Russian Church, Arvo is a very warm - even playful – man. I remember him grabbing hold of me after the concert and us literally dancing in the aisles, to the amazed glances of an assorted crew of composers, publishers, music business people and Pärt fans.
We next met when he wrote a work to be performed at the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2002. This Hall has a continuous hum on the note of G, and so his work was written around that pitch. The music was grandiose, even romantic in style. The rehearsals were interesting, as the work had been written to accompany Anish Kapoor’s ‘Marsyas’, the gigantic sculpture which was in residence in the Turbine Hall at the time. For a day or two I enjoyed the company of Arvo, Kapoor (very quietly intelligent and sympathetic) and the theatre director Peter Sellars (who greeted me effusively with “Hello, I’m Peter”, followed by a big hug).
My contact with Arvo Pärt has been one of the privileges of my composing career – he is an extraordinary man who overcame oppression under the Soviet Union and, quite late in life, broke through with music of sublime serenity. He is an inspiration and a truly great spirit, and someone whom I consider to be a beacon and a definer of what I call the Super Tonal era of music.
- Keith Burstein, 16th November 2009