A few years ago I wrote a big piece for The Crossing that set the Latin Ordinary of the Mass, interwoven with settings of poems by Denise Levertov that reflect on the Mass texts. The piece takes its title from the sequence of Levertov poems: Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. The Crossing later gave a second performance of the work, but no other group has taken up the piece until now. Cantori New York, in collaboration with the French ensemble Musicatreize, will perform the Mass at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 552 West End Avenue in New York City this coming Saturday, November 5 at 8 pm, and Sunday, November 6, at 7 pm. In the work, the Levertov poems are assigned to a main choir while the Mass texts are given to a schola, in this case four soloists drawn from Musicatreize. The latter group will also perform the work themselves on November 2 at the Salle Musicatreize in Marseille.
Here is my program note on the piece:
This work is part of a long tradition of Mass settings that juxtapose additional poems with the standard Latin texts; Requiems of Benjamin Britten and Christopher Rouse are recent examples, though the practice of poetic insertions originated many centuries ago. I have assigned the Latin texts (excerpts in the case of the Credo) to a group of four solo singers while the main choir sings excerpts from a cycle of poems by Denise Levertov inspired by the Mass texts. The Latin settings are in the manner of various forms of liturgical music, and include quotations of a Bach chorale and Gregorian Chant.
The title of my piece is that of the Levertov cycle. St. Thomas Didymus is the apostle Thomas, with the designation “Didymus” meaning “the twin”. Thomas is informally known as “doubting Thomas” because of his insistence on seeing and touching Jesus before he would believe in the Resurrection. Upon subsequently seeing Christ, he acknowledged him as “My Lord and my God”. A Mass honoring St. Thomas is a Mass that honors the juxtaposition of doubt and belief that is the basis of life in pursuit of the divine. The simple pair of twin statements in Levertov’s reflection on the Credo is the pivot of the work:
I believe and
interrupt my belief with
doubt. I doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief.