Music for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 24, 2023

Missa Rex genitor – Kevin Allen (b. 1964)

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Agnus Dei
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The American Kevin Allen has been highly regarded as a composer of opera, chamber and orchestral music. He has also developed a unique reputation as a composer of church music for the Roman Rite. In his Missa Rex genitor, this Sunday’s setting of the Mass Ordinary in church, Allen uses Renaissance polyphony as a model, but from the inside out rather than from the outside in. This approach is reminiscent of what Arnold Schoenberg says in his book Style and Idea, in which he argues against obsession with the surface impressions of music. Start with a good idea, he says, and the style will take care of itself. Allen has begun with a good idea and developed it in solid but not antiquated ways, and the end result is satisfying and well within a lively tradition that embraces the past and present.

As the title suggests, Allen bases this work on the ancient plainsong Mass VI, Rex genitor. In many sections, the polyphony makes use of the original chant melodies, but thankfully more by intimation than slavishly accurate transcription, and the harmonies venture off to interesting places without putting the piece out of reach of a group of respectable skill. Allen makes use of plainchant passages throughout the Mass. The Kyrie is set in a straightforward alternatim way, which is an attractive approach. Other movements are not set alternatim as such but have extended chant passages.

Gerald Harder