FESTIVAL MASS (for a cappella double choir) op.377 (April 1987)

An eight-part a cappella setting of the mass in Latin for SSAATTBB. Commissioned for the Three Choirs Festival
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Donald Hunt on behalf of The Three Choirs Festival
Instrumentation: SSAATTBB unaccompanied or with optional organ
[Key to Abbreviations]
Note on Lyrics: Latin text
Duration: 20 mins
First Performance: Donald Hunt conducting The Worcester Cathedral Choir at the opening service of the Three Choirs Festival 23 August 1987
Sheet Music Available
Vocal score for sale
Organ / vocal score for sale
Recordings Available


  • 1: Kyrie
  • 2: Gloria
  • 3: Sanctus
  • 4: Benedictus
  • 5: Agnus Dei


FESTIVAL MASS opus 377 1987

Composer’s note: In 1987 Three Choirs Festival scheduled a performance of my dramatic oratorio ‘Benedictus’ in Worcester.  The cathedral choir was in particularly fine form with a wide vocal range and advanced standard and the musical director Dr. Donald Hunt, who knew that I was coming down for the performance, aksed if I would be interested to compose a new setting of the communion service for the ambitious medium of a cappella (unaccompanied) double choir. I asked the Dean if the work should be in English or Latin but he said he would leave the decision to me. Several nights later I virtually  ‘dreamed’ the intense opening Kyrie in Latin and this decided me. The four further movements followed soon after - an ambitious virtuosic ‘Gloria’, a solemn antiphonic ‘Sanctus’, a flowing contrapuntal ‘Benedictus’ in eight really separate parts (of which I’m particularly fond) and a minor-key Agnus Dei of great sadness which is redeemed by a move to the major only in the last four bars on the words ‘donna nobis pacem’. ‘Festival Mass’ was commissioned for Three Choirs Festival with financial assistance from West Midland Arts and given its first performance at the opening service of the festival in Worcester Cathedral on August 5th 1987 by the Cathedral Choir trained and conducted by Donald Hunt.

[The Benedictus was used by the composer in 1986 for a scene in Adrian Noble's film of Shakespeare's'Midsummer Dream']


12th April 2020 At 18.00 in Catalanya on Easter Sunday 12 April 2020 Ars Aurea Sonora Channel will be broadcasting the film of the oratorio 'The Passion of Mary'. It was originally recorded in Manresa Cathedral on 8th December 2015 in a concert conducted by the composer with principal parts taken by Patricia Rozario (soprano), Richard Edgar Wilson (tenor) and David van Asch (Bass), with the choir and orchestra of Tarragona University. The Liverpool Quartet and Jaume Comas were also featured in a performance of 'The Snowman'. See coverage below., Manresa Basilica.


Poblet aplaudeix 'The passion of Mary'

El Monestir acull l'estrena de l'oratori dramàtic de Howard Blake, que també es representa a Manresa

09 de Desembre de 2015, per Text: Marc Busquets/ Fotografies: Fabián Acidres
  • Interpretació de l'oratori 'The Passion of Mary' a Poblet

    Fabián Acidres

















El Monestir de Poblet ) i Col·legiata Basílica de Santa Maria de Manresa han acollit l’estrena a Catalunya de l’oratori dramàtic The passion of Mary, que fins ara només s’havia representat al Regne Unit i a Suècia, del compositor britànic Howard Blake. Dos concerts irrepetibles Els dos concerts, dirigits pel músic, han seguit el mateix guió i han comptat amb la intervenció del Liverpool String Quartet i la flautista Nèlia Sanxís a la primera part del concert, per interpretar un quintet de flauta.

Posteriorment, el programa de les dues actuacions ha donat pas a The snowman, obra per la qual Blake va ser nominat a l’Oscar de Hollywood i que s’ha convertit en un clàssic televisiu d’aquestes festes al Regne Unit. “És tan o més celebrat que el Conte de Nadal de Dickens”, ha assenyalat l’actor Jaume Comas, que ha interpretat el narrador de la història. Val a dir, a més, que per petició de Blake, el text de la peça s’ha traduït al català per tal de ser presentada a l’audiència del nostre país als concerts de Poblet i de Manresa. La cirereta d’aquest primer bloc l’ha posada el jove cantant Iker Utrera, que ha cantat el tema I’m walking in the air traduït també al català.

A la segona part de les representacions de l’espectacle s’ha interpretat The passion of Mary (op.577), en què s’ha comptat amb la intervenció de destacades figures de l’escena internacional com la soprano Patricia Rozario Orbe (en el paper de Maria), el tenor Richard Edgar Wilson (Jesús) i el baix David Van Asch (Satan).

Cal destacar, a més, l’aportació de les formacions que han format part de l’equip artístic dels concerts. L’Orquestra de cambra Terrassa 48 i el Liverpool String Quartet i la Coral de la URV han estat als dos concerts. Blake ha donat les gràcies a ARS Aurea Sonora “per la magnífica organització de l’espectacle” i ha explicat que The passion of Mary és una obra única perquè “la història es planteja des del punt de vista de la Mare de Déu”.

9th November 2016 Choristers of King's College conducted by Joseph Fort, King's College Chapel, London University, 1.10 pm
12th November 2015 Canticum Choir conducted by Mark Forkgen, St. Paul's Knightsbridge

JUBILATE DEO (choir & organ - Opus 406* commissioned by Abington Presbyterian Church, Penn. USA 1990)

FESTIVAL MASS (a cappella 8-part double choir - Opus 377* commissioned by The Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 1987)

THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (organ solo - Opus 532* (commissioned for Dame Gillan Weir by The Usher Hall, Edinburgh 2003)

WALKING IN THE AIR (a cappella choir - Opus 585* commissioned by the Stockholm Boys Choir 2007)


 MOTET: GOD BE MERCIFUL UNTO US AND BLESS US (a cappella choir - Opus 494 - commissioned by St. Margaret's Westminster & 1st performed there in 1996)

STILL FALLS THE RAIN (choir & organ - Opus 495* - commissioned by  Chester Bach Singers 1997)

A TOCCATA OF GALUPPI'S (solo voice & harpsichord - Opus 263 - commissioned and 1st performed by Michael Leighton Jones, baritone with Howard Blake, harpsichord, on BBC Radio 3 1978 - 1st London concert performance)

SONGS OF TRUTH AND GLORY (choir & organ - Opus 546* - The Elgar Commission for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival  2005)

* = 1st London performance

29th March 2008 Bristol Bach Chorus, conductor Peter Leech, St.Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, 7.30pm
23rd August 1987 Worcester Cathedral Choir / Donald Hunt, Three Choirs Festival, Worcester Cathedral



Howard Blake, one of this country's most versatile composers, has developed a most personal style of composition which combines contemporary rhythmic and contrapuntal elements with a great gift for melody. The development of this idiom, combined with his other pre-occupations of recent years - a search for spiritual understanding - culminated in his oratorio 'Benedictus which is currently receiving much acclaim. The Festival Mass, written for Worcester Cathedral Choit and first sung by them at the 1987 Three Choirs Festival in Worcester is a contination and elaboration of this style. The work is scored for double choir.

The Kyrie is a solemn movement based on a simple rhythmic pattern but exploring some dramatic choral sonorities The Gloria is in complete contrast: this concise movement makes use of dance rhythms exploiting the range of the voices to the full. The more restrained middle section combines two themes, one of which is heard in the Agnus Dei, with conflicting time patterns. The movement ends in unrestrained jubilation. The central point and climax of the mass is the Sanctus, a highly original conception of this powerful text. The second choir is used almost exclusively to re-iterate the word Sanctus, providing a back-cloth on which the first choir weaves its melodies as well as sometimes adding additional power to the acclamation. Benedictus is a beautiful flowing movement in which the composer exercises his contrapuntal skills; here there is no antiphonal writing, the eight voices being used in melodic independence until the final 'Hosanna'. The prayerful setting of the Agnus Dei makes much use of a sighing figure in 12/8 time, but this most significant contemporary setting ends peacefully with slow-moving chords and a return to the key of A which has dominated the Mass.

Donald Hunt, Abbey Recordikng Company (sleeve note), 1/3/1988

Related Works

'A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM' op.487 (November 1995) (Audio Sample Available)
Songs and score for a film of The Royal Shakespeare Company's production, starring Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan.

Related Autobiography Chapters

'All the Way Up' with 'The Scaffold', BBC 'Music Now' and a radical change (1970)
'Festival Mass' Three Choirs Festival, 'Shakespeare Songs' and 'Robocop!' (1987)
'The Land of Counterpane' - an animated film with music (2015)

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