Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen has released a world premiere recording of his Holy Spirit Mass just in time for Easter. Arnesen’s works have crossed oceans and continents, with rapturous performances for the likes of former President Barack Obama. Already one of the world’s most performed living composers, his scores have become mainstays of both amateur and professional choral repertoire.
Holy Spirit Mass is a new work for choir, string ensemble and piano, commissioned in 2017 for the National Lutheran Choir in America’s Nordic heartland, Minnesota. This world premiere recording features Swedish conductor Sofi Jeannin, Trondheim Vocal Ensemble and the world-renowned Trondheim Soloists.
Arnesen’s musical influences are rooted firmly in his native Trondheim, Norway, where he was once a chorister at the imposing, medieval Nidaros Cathedral. The liturgical hymns and chants performed at the venue had a hand in shaping Arnesen’s voice as a composer, combined with the pop and alternative music he encountered as a teenager growing up in the 1990s.
Arnesen said: “The whole community of the place has had a big impact on me. It was the cathedral’s embracing of varied traditions that introduced me to musical settings of the Latin Mass. At the same time as I was getting interested in choral music at the cathedral, I was watching MTV every day. In a way, hymn melodies have lots in common with pop music. I realised that the most powerful experiences I had in the church were usually connected to the simplest, most singable melodies.”
Arnesen describes how the inspiration for the Holy Spirit Mass “was a great hope for unity between Christianity’s two dominant traditions, Lutheran and Roman Catholic. The same quest forms a central part of the ministry at Nidaros Cathedral”.
He said the work combines the text of the Catholic Mass with words from the hymn Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord by the reformer Martin Luther, and from the 9th-century antiphon Veni Creator Spiritus.
“I had always wanted to write a Mass and grew up singing many other settings that I loved, so being able to finally write my own has been very inspiring. As with most of my music my initial focus was to develop the main themes and motifs to give each movement and the whole work its distinct identity,” said Arnesen.
The focal point is the work’s sixth movement, the hymn Together in Hope – a literal expression of unity in which multiple, disparate voices are drawn together.
In Creator Spirit (the Mass’s Kyrie), a melody from the first movement features, returning in the fifth movement Peace (the Mass’s Agnus Dei). The Spirit’s Work, equivalent to the Mass’s Credo, feature almost operatic statements from smaller groups of singers.
In Blessed, the Mass’s Benedictus, a divine violin solo induces the choir’s rising statements of Hosanna. The final Alleluia opens with a snippet of plainchant, steadily gathering momentum towards a joyous proclamation of unity. At the recording sessions in Trondheim in September 2020, those feelings were particularly acute.
Arnesen said: “It was the first time a lot of us had performed together since March. We were very lucky to be able to do it at all. It became a very special time.”
Holy Spirit Mass by Kim André Arnesen is out now on Decca Classics.
Picture: Kim André Arnesen. (Ole Wuttudal).