Marcus Haddow - The Whispering Mass (2016)
As part of our concert for November 2018 we are pleased to be performing Marcus Haddow's composition The Whispering Mass. Marcus is a long-standing choir member and also a talented composer.
The Kyrie and Agnus Dei from The Whispering Mass were first performed by Hailsham Choral Society in July 2017 and we are delighted to now bring you the whole work.
Marcus Haddow was born into a home where classical and sacred music were promoted above all other musical forms. His mother taught him rudimentary keyboard skills on the old harmonium that sat in the corner of the living room, and weekly attendance at the village chapel led to the absorption of the four-part style of harmony traditionally used in non-conformist hymns. After nearly abandoning the organ, he discovered his mother’s secret stash of ‘proper’ music - Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, Mendelssohn - which encouraged him to develop his keyboard skills, and eventually led to persuading his father to allow a piano in the house. During this time he sequestered his sister’s guitar and tutor book after she had left home, leading to a deeper understanding of chord structure and sequences, together with the mathematical relationships found in music.
A desire for song-writing developed from time spent with the guitar, most of which manifested itself during Sunday sermons and then quickly transformed into simple keyboard compositions, choral works and eventually chamber music and fully-orchestrated works for school orchestra.
Haddow was educated to ‘O’ Level in Music, by Mr. Geoffrey Spinks at Steyning Grammar School, where he achieved a grade ‘A’. He is an ungraded pianist, guitar player (folk and country style), tenor chorister and occasional soloist, writer of folk songs (mostly pertaining to the Hailsham area), keyboard player in two rock bands, singer in an acoustic duo, and a terrible violinist. He will also entertain on the accordion, harmonica and the Appalachian dulcimer at the drop of a hat. His next musical projects include learning the one-string fiddle, and Mongolian throat singing.
The Whispering Mass
The Whispering Mass, according to Haddow, started to write itself while driving one day, after many years away from the genre, possibly as a result of recent years of exposure to choral music at HCS. “The music just cut through the babble of the BBC2 breakfast show with such ferocity that I had to scribble down the ideas in my diary at the next available carpark”. After much arm-twisting, he put pen to paper and started to write the Kyrie. Then came the Sanctus which morphed into the Benedictus. Other movements took longer as inspiration became transitory, but eventually the Mass was completed, mostly in hotel rooms, and sometimes drawing on his back catalogue of song melodies and older compositions.
Hidden within the work are three sequences reflecting famous rock songs. See if you recognise them! This inclusion reflects a technique sometimes used in the 15th-16th centuries, whereby pre-composed secular material, even a popular song, could form the musical basis for a mass.
The supplicant approaches The Omnipotent with a terrified whisper that gives the Mass its name. As confidence grows and is interspersed with reverence, there is jubilance tinged with presumption and finally insistence that borders on the petulant.
The movement is in three sections, with the fast, rhythmically complex outer Kyries contrasting with the slower, gentler Christe. The music of the slow section started life as a chamber piece written in 1984, and has been expanded and developed for use here. The theme returns later to close the Mass with the words 'Dona nobis pacem'.
This is a movement of contrasts. It begins with a short plainsong-like section, as if sung by ancient monks, providing a link between the past and the surprisingly similar scales employed by modern blues-rock musicians. (The tune is actually a famous guitar riff with the rhythm changed.) There follows a lively section based on a popular chord-sequence known as the 12-bar blues. The music changes gear once more for a powerful slow section in which the words beginning 'et in terra pax', float over a catalogue of war zones around the world. Here, the harmonies twist and strain against the melody as if in conflict themselves. The very repetition of such unnatural progressions produces a strange normality as they conform to Goebel's statement - 'if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth'. The pace changes for the last time at the words, 'Laudamus te' and the movement is brought to a triumphant close.
To a backdrop of chiming monastery bells we once again hear the monks, this time accompanied by angels. They sing the Credo to each other, bridging the divide between earth and heaven. Once again, ancient practice meets later custom as the plainsong morphs into a hymn, building in intensity before relaxing into an extended 'Amen'.
Sanctus - Benedictus
These two movements are presented as one. They share the same basic melodic material, with the soprano soloist's Sanctus echoed by the choir in the Benedictus. Much of the work is in some way an homage to Mozart, who made such a deep impression on Marcus in his early years. The concluding Hosanna reprises thematic and stylistic elements of both the Kyrie and Gloria.
This movement depicts the laborious path to sacrifice taken by the Lamb of God. Some of the melody derives from an earlier composition, Rock Bottom, where a person sits helpless in the corner of a room, staring at a blank wall whilst contemplating the 'hell' of his current existence. The music resolves to the theme of the earlier 'Christe eleison', as 'Dona nobis' is sung quietly to conclude the Mass.