The Mass, with libretto by Nathaniel Bellows, is a celebration of, and elegy for, the natural world, performed by English vocal ensemble Gallicantus, led by Gabriel Crouch.
Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Mass for the Endangered, the fourth record in a partnership between New Amsterdam and Nonesuch Records, will be released on September 25, 2020. A video for “Sanctus/Benedictus” from the Mass, made by Deborah Johnson/CandyStations, can be seen here. Snider’s Mass, with a libretto by poet/writer Nathaniel Bellows, is a celebration of, and an elegy for, the natural world—animals, plants, insects, the planet itself—an appeal for greater awareness, urgency, and action. Originally commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street, this recording features the English vocal ensemble Gallicantus conducted by Gabriel Crouch.
The six-movement Mass for the Endangered is a rumination on the concept of the traditional Catholic Mass, its fidelity enhanced by Snider’s interpolation of traditional Latin text for the Gloria, Sanctus/Benedictus, and parts of the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei. For the album art, Bellows created an illustrated triptych of endangered flora and fauna that evoke medieval Christian altarpieces and stained-glass windows.
Snider explains, “The origin of the Mass is rooted in humanity’s concern for itself, expressed through worship of the divine—which, in the Catholic tradition, is a God in the image of man. Nathaniel and I thought it would be interesting to take the Mass’s musical modes of spiritual contemplation and apply them to concern for non-human life—animals, plants, and the environment. There is an appeal to a higher power—for mercy, forgiveness, and intervention—but that appeal is directed not to God but rather to Nature itself.”
Growing up in Princeton, NJ, one-time home of the American Boychoir School, Snider attended that venerable institution’s co-ed summer camp as a youth: “I attended for five summers. I fell in love with choral singing there, and later sang with the Princeton High School Choir, which was at the time one of the most celebrated high school choirs in the country. These experiences were profoundly formative for me, and I learned a lot of the choral repertoire. I felt very at home in that music, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to explore it in my writing in a significant way. The Mass was my first large choral commission, and I was thrilled to immerse myself in memories of singing the Mozart, Brahms, and Fauré Requiems, the Palestrina and Byrd Masses, the Bach chorales.
“Rather than consciously upend those traditions,” she continues, “I wanted to open the gates in my mind between centuries-old European vocal traditions and those of more recent American vernacular persuasion, and write from a place where differing thoughts about line, text, form, and expression could co-exist.”
VI. Agnus Dei
“Snider’s 'Mass for the Endangered' warrants all of the success that it has had…It’s frankly beautiful. Snider consistently delivers music you want to hear…the music has a keen sense of collage – with thoughtfully chosen musical objects co-existing in the same sound canvass…Particularly magical and virtuosic is the convergence of disparate elements in the Agnus Dei…”
Always a bit otherworldly and ethereal, Snider’s music gives in to each of the four elements, both at different points throughout the Mass and, occasionally, within the same movement. The “Gloria” opens with a choral passage that ripples and reverberates like a lake receiving a stone, and is soon met with a male chorus far more tethered to earth, perhaps in the same zone of suffering as Schubert’s Wanderer. An ebb and flow of strings at the beginning of the subsequent “Alleluia” flickers like a candle struggling to hold onto its flame. Perhaps the liminal upper choral registers of the concluding “Agnus Dei” are providing the breeze. The movement I’ve turned to over and again with “Mass for the Endangered” is the penultimate “Sanctus-Benedictus,” which hears Snider’s vocal textures vacillate most acutely between the ecumenical and the earthy. At certain points, it feels like a trail that has been tread for centuries—witness Britten’s choral writings, informed by the traditions from the era of Mary, Queen of Scots, or even Mendelssohn’s comparatively grander choral work in “Paulus.” But even more apparent on this relisten is the connective tissue between Snider and Price, who both work at times with the same American musical lexicon. It creates familiar ground and deep twilight; the ideal vantage point to find a moment of stillness, or perhaps a beginning."
"This ravishing album came to my attention during some of the most disconcerting times of lockdown last year. A sumptuous, but gloriously judged new setting of the Mass, [Mass for the Endangered] caresses, haunts, and illuminates the listener with its tender melodies, and a harmonic language that grasps you smoothly yet firmly." -- Six Things I've Heard I Couldn't Live Without
Snider’s lucid score [for ‘Mass for the Endangered’] is at once powerful and delicate…[with] striking harmonies, imaginative use of texture [and] counterpoint that is as intricate and exquisite as a spider’s web. This a luminous and arresting disc that conveys its urgent ecological message with power and beauty.”
"'Mass for the Endangered’ is musically penetrating and textually provocative…On one level, [it] is a requiem for the natural world…But Snider’s colorful music, while not shying away from the pain of this realization, is, at heart, optimistic, offering a sliver of hope that we may yet save what’s left.” (Critic's Choice)
"American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider adapts the ancient contemplative template of the Catholic Mass to honor and mourn for a burning planet and its wildlife...This premiere recording [of 'Mass for the Endangered] hands the piece to the luminous British choir Gallicantus." ("10 Reasons to Keep Falling for Classical Music")
"Arresting…[Mass for the Endangered] shines with multi-layered singing of uncommon beauty…Snider asserts her own musical personality as a composer who knows instinctively how to write for the human voice...Through her smart and resplendent exploration of age-old musical formulas, Snider's eco-inspired Mass for the Endangered is a blast from the past that resonates profoundly in the present.”
"Arresting…shines with multi-layered singing of uncommon beauty…Snider asserts her own musical personality as a composer who knows instinctively how to write for the human voice. Through her smart and resplendent exploration of age-old musical formulas, Snider's eco-inspired 'Mass for the Endangered' is a blast from the past that resonates profoundly in the present.”
“Sarah Kirkland Snider, a rising star on the American compositional scene … describes ['Mass for the Endangered'] as a prayer for endangered wildlife and their imperiled environments. More plea than polemic, the first recording of this riveting work … [is] elegiac and affecting.”
[In Mass for the Endangered], Snider summons from her forces a lustrous wonder... By turns diaphanous and urgent, exultant and wary, the music both immerses us in this perilous era and stirs us to examine our collective conscience… Snider and Bellows’s collaboration is a meeting of questing, unsettled minds.”
"Snider’s Mass is embedded with the mysticism, sonorities, and spaciousness found in church music throughout the ages that imbue it with a sense of timelessness. What’s more, it sounds, feels, and sings like a Mass, resulting in music that is not only beautiful, but fit for liturgical purposes."
"As with Snider’s past works, the surface details of 'Mass for the Endangered'] can be quickly identified as mellifluous and engaging. But there are additional levels to enjoy...This emphatic articulation of purpose, sung by and for other humans, seems to be reaching beyond environmentalism and toward morality at large."
"Snider re-works the mass into a requiem for the environment to spectacular effect...This most accessible and very contemporary work (which just might be the first vegan mass) is deeply grounded in earlier traditions and will be of certain interest to lovers of high-quality choral writing." ('Mass for the Endangered' 4.5 Stars, Editor's Choice)