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Mass for prisoners of conscience Burge, John David Bryson

Abstract

Mass for Prisoners of Conscience is a sixty-minute composition scored for Baritone, Mezzo Soprano and Child soloists, Choir and Chamber Orchestra. In the work the soloists sing settings of first-hand accounts of political prisoners and their families in English. Although the original accounts are unrelated and drawn from events that occurred in different countries, in the work they are presented in a narrative fashion with the soloists personifying the roles o f a father, mother and child. These accounts or testimonials were provided by Amnesty International, to whom the work is dedicated. Surrounding the solo settings, the choir sings, in Latin, portions taken from the liturgical Mass. Like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, the choir comments on both the emotions and situations that are expressed in the solo movements. As this is accomplished musically, the work relies heavily on the motivic and structural connections that are repeatedly made between different sections of the Mass. In some instances, the musical setting becomes symbolically representative of the situation that is found in the text. For example, in the sixth movement, the baritone describes in first-person a prisoner's confinement, which the string section of the orchestra mirrors by surrounding the vocal line with eleven possible transpositions of the baritone's melodic line. In addition to the string section, the chamber orchestra consists of four solo winds, four French horns, piano and percussion. The four French horns not only add a darker colour to the instrumental sound, but, when the text requires it, their fanfare-like music can help project a militaristic feeling. With a battery of twelve instruments, the percussionist also adds colour to the music, and, by projecting some of the important rhythmic activity, helps to better articulate the different sections of the Mass. The work was commissioned by Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral Choir, through funding provided by The Canada Council, marking the occasion of the Church's 150th anniversary. It will receive its premiere performance in the spring of 1990.

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