DETROIT 17 Oct – Assumption Grotto – Solemn TLM – Mass of Igor Stravinsky

On Sunday 17 Oct at 12 Noon at Assumption Grotto parish in Detroit there will be a Solemn TLM (Extraordinary Form).  The setting of the Mass is by Igor Stravinsky.   The undersigned will be celebrant for the Mass.

Assumption Grotto’s annual benefit dinner is on the same day after the Mass.  See their site for details.

I am really looking forward to hearing the Stravinsky Mass!  Additional music for the Mass will be by J.S. Bach.   That’s not a contrast, is it?

During one of my previous visits to Assumption Grotto, the pastor, Fr. Perrone, spoke about the Stravinsky and astonished me by what he told me about it.  I had never heard it before and didn’t know that Stravinsky had written a Mass.

He was Orthodox, of course, but he wrote his Mass setting from real piety and not for a commission.  Here is a bit of text about the Mass, just to get your head around what he was doing.

So, why did Stravinsky, in 1944, begin work on a liturgical musical form which was alien to his own religious tradition? The answer may be found in his Expositions, where he recounts finding some Masses by Mozart in a second-hand shop in Los Angeles in 1942. He wrote: ‘As I played through these rococo-operatic sweets-of-sin, I knew I had to write a Mass of my own, but a real one‘. By ‘real one’ he may have meant a Roman Catholic one that would allow the use of instruments – Stravinsky wrote that he could ‘…endure unaccompanied singing in only the most harmoniously primitive music’. Like Howells, he eschewed the decorative style and set out to write a work which would be ‘…very cold music, absolutely cold, that will appeal directly to the spirit’. In a conversation with Evelyn Waugh, Stravinsky noted: ‘My Mass was not composed for concert performances but for use in the church. It is liturgical and almost without ornament. In making a musical setting of the Credo, I wished only to preserve the text in a special way. One composes a march to facilitate marching men, so with my Credo I hope to provide an aid to the text. The Credo is the longest movement. There is much to believe’.  (source)

I look forward to this occasion at Assumption Grotto.

I urge any of you readers in the area to come and participate!  Put it on your calendar.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. plaf26 says:

    Msgr. Schuler did this Mass on the opening day of school with the student choir when he taught at Nazareth Hall back in the ’50’s. Archbishop John Gregory Murray, who was the celebrant, nearly killed him afterwards. Told to me by the priest who was the spiritual director at the time.

  2. plaf26: LOL! Great story! Schuler was cutting edge.

  3. Clemens Romanus says:

    I love Stravinsky’s Mass. It’s a real masterpiece.

  4. ghp95134 says:

    Hmmmm …. is it as inharmonic as is his “Rite of Spring”? Yukkkk.

    I found his “Sanctus” on YouTube:


  5. Mariana says:

    Just checked it out on You Tube. Ouch! How could one concentrate at Mass under this onslaught?

  6. ghp95134 says:


    I suppose you and I would have been amongst the people during the 1913 “Stravinski Riot” !! Perhaps I should from now on refer to this piece as “The Riot of Spring”?

    Stravinsky debuted the The Rite of Spring Ballet at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913, to an audience accustomed to the grace, elegance, and traditional music of “conventional” ballets, i.e. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Opposition to Stravinsky’s work literally happened within the first few minutes of the piece as members of the audience booed loudly in response to the inharmonic notes accompanying the unrecognizable bassoon’s opening solo. What’s more, the work’s unconventional music, sharp and unnatural choreography (dancers danced with bent arms and legs and would land on the floor so hard their internal organs would shake), and Russian pagan setting, failed to win over the majority of the audience.

    As the ballet progressed, so did the audience’s discomfort. Those in favor of Stravinksy’s work argued with those in opposition. The arguments eventually turned to brawls and police had to be notified. They arrived at intermission and successfully calmed the angry crowd (yes, the show wasn’t even half way over before people were throwing punches). As the second half commenced, police were unable to keep the audience under control and rioting resumed. Stravinsky was so taken aback by the audience’s reaction, he fled the scene before the show was over… [source:


    –Guy Power

  7. ExHic says:

    I agree, Yikes. I will listen to more of his Mass before I decide. I am very particular to what Mass settings I like and dislike. It pretty much is in line with my taste in all Classical Music. I like very little from the Romantic Period on and it gets less as it gets towards today.

    I normally go to the EF Mass there at 9:30. Since the EF Mass will moved to Noon and I prefer the EF Mass, I will most likely go to the EF Mass at St. Cyrils at 6:00 on Saturday.

    It it were up to me, I would love to have a Low Mass to go to. I prefer simplicity.

  8. teomatteo says:

    I’ll try to run from the Detroit marathon to Assumption Grotto…

  9. Looking forward to having you back at the Grotto., Fr. Z.

    Will you be coming over to the benefit dinner?

    One of the most interesting aspects of the dinner is the bidding process. A few years ago, someone got the idea to put up, “Dinner with the Priests” and another one for “Dinner with the Sisters”. Both of these go for quite a high amount. In fact, the bidding on the dinner with the sisters was going so high that the guy running it told us to stop for a minute. He went over to the house superior and asked her if they would be willing to make dinner for the three interested parties if all paid the highest bid. She agreed. The nuns netted Grotto over $3000 between the three bidders (you have to know them to understand why having dinner with them would be so popular).

    There was also a bid for lunch with Fr. Perrone with a tour of Grotto led by him and the “Dinner with the Priests”. I can’t recall how much these went for, but look for them again.

    If you are coming to the benefit dinner you must reserve in advance. As Father Z pointed out, use the Grotto homepage for info.

  10. Gail F says:

    Wow that’s… something else. Actually, I am not a particular fan of Stravinsky’s. But the parts I listened to on YouTube are not as “Stravinsky” as usual. I’m not sure I would want to hear it more than once but the whole story behind it is so interesting… imagine him taking the time and effort to write this when it is not even his faith, and when he was a busy composer with commissions to work on. It must have been a real labor of love, a real challenge to undertake just because he wanted to do it. In the arts, that kind of project is often either a masterpiece or a disaster — artists are not always the best judges of their own work, especially when they are passionate about things. I think it’s funny, though, that he said it is “almost without ornament.” There’s a pretty sprightly organ bit in there that took me by surprise!

    I would love to have the opportunity to go to a lot of masses with settings by famous composers to see how they interpreted the sacred texts –to really hear them at a mass, not at a concert or on an album. Unfortunately, all I get is 1980s hymns, etc. But I don’t think I could take this very often. Maybe once a decade.

  11. It’s probably not fair to start listening at the Sanctus, because that’s the end of the buildup, not the beginning.

    Don’t forget to pray for the souls of all composers you hear Masses by!

  12. pmadrid says:

    I’m partial to the Stravinsky Mass. It’s true that it is modern and that it has dissonance, so it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, it is far from atonal, and there are parts that are simply angelic. The Gloria in particular is wonderful. To me, Stravinsky had in mind the participation of humanity in the heavenly liturgy when he wrote those parts, and perhaps that’s why his Mass as a whole appeals to me. I also had the opportunity to sing it once, so maybe that has something to do with my partiality.

  13. I just downloaded the Mass from iTunes and listened to it. It’s great!

  14. Hieronymus says:

    It must have been a real labor of love . . . – Gail F

    His must have been a strange sort of love. When listening to this I see him standing over me with his arm raised hissing out, “This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me . . .”

    I am generally a big fan of the severity and gravity of most things Russian, but this seems more the product of hopeless Communist Russia than of the Orthodox Russia of the Czars. I like Rublev, Dostoevsky, and Rachmaninov, but unfortunately, this does nothing for me.

  15. nhaggin says:

    Stravinsky’s Mass is not going to be to everyone’s taste. I also listened to it (via YouTube) last night, and things I heard reminded me of everything from florid organum (Leonin and Perotin) to Le sacre, but all with a cold, dispassionate, analytical quality which I’ve noticed in everything Stravinsky wrote. A masterpiece, no doubt, and certainly not an offense to the liturgy, but not my first choice.

  16. ppb says:

    Ah, Stravinsky…he was a believing Orthodox Christian, to be sure, yet as modernist as you can be (in the artistic sense) at the same time. I’ve never known what to make of him.

  17. Denis Crnkovic says:

    Stravinsky’s Mass is certainly challenging to the ear trained in the Romantic sound, a style that Stravinsky made no beans about disliking. The speculation that by a ‘real’ Mass he meant one with musical instruments notwithstanding, it is clear that he is dissing Mozart. Chacun a son gout.

    On the other hand, Stravinsky’s Mass has its moments; the Credo is strangely engaging – an adaptation of Russian Orthodox chants to Stravinsky’s sparse classicism. He nonetheless seems to miss a few points about Western Roman Catholic traditions and the Credo. The piece is subdued and sung piano throughout except for the jarring marcato toward the end, on the words ecclesiam… peccatorum…mortuorum. Did the composer really intend here to emphasize the words ‘[I believe] in the church… of sinners and… of the dead?’ If so, this seems an untoward underlying of the darker sides of the Church’s make-up. One of the beauties of the Nicene Creed, and one traditionally recognized in the Catholic West, is the miracle of the incarnation; indeed, the genuflection at the Et incarnatus est is often highlighted in the musical settings of the Credo. This is not so in Stravinsky’s piece, where the texts about the incarnation and resurrection are not highlighted nearly so strongly as the texts about the sinners and the dead. It makes one wonder about Stravinsky’s own view of world and the universe.

    In my (gratuitously offered) humble opinion, the Stravinsky Mass is an ‘okay’ piece, born more of dissent than of inspiration and written with a starkness that, though intended to be ‘simple,’ rather more reflects the mid-twentieth century reaction against Romanticism than a desire to bring heavenly beauty to the liturgy.

  18. Hieronymus says:

    I just went back to listen to Rachmaninov’s “All Night Vigil” to put my mind back in order. Now that is a heavenly piece of music!

  19. Clemens Romanus says:

    I believe this Mass was written during his neo-classic period. One can hear the elements of classical style, with twentieth century harmony, of course. This music suits my ear, which is particularly fond of Le Sacre from 1913, as well as all things Bartok, Berg, Ives, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Goldsmith, etc. I love this Mass, though for liturgy I would actually prefer the “sacred minimalst” Arvo Part’s Missa Syllabica or Berliner Messe. Of course, I’m more of a fan of Old Roman chant and all things chant, in general.

  20. RichardT says:

    Sounds fascinating – even the negative comments make me want to listen to it.

    Is there a recording available to buy?

  21. Vox clamantis in deserto says:

    Well…for me, Stravinsky’s mass would be a reason to think twice whether to attend an EFM with Stravinsky or a reverent NOM, had I the choice…and most probably and very exceptionally, NOM would win…or even better, I would go to an Eastern Catholic church and listen to chants “in which angels express their silence to God”.

    Simply this modern classical music disturbs me…disturbs me so much that I can’t concentrate on the mystery of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.

    I prefer unaccompanied singing (perhaps with the exception of basso continuo organ from late Renaissance/early Baroque…but ison in Eastern church music sounds better :-) ), and the disturbing I mentioned starts to appear somewhere in high Baroque…

    “…no instrument, however perfect, however excellent, can surpass the human voice in expressing human thought, especially when it is used by the mind to offer up prayer and praise to Almighty God.” (Pius XI, Divini Cultus)

    And if there must be an instrument, let it be the organ, and let it play as it should…

    “The traditionally appropriate musical instrument of the Church is the organ, which, by reason of its extraordinary grandeur and majesty, has been considered a worthy adjunct to the Liturgy, whether for accompanying the chant or, when the choir is silent, for playing harmonious music at the prescribed times. But here too must be avoided that mixture of the profane with the sacred which, through the fault partly of organ-builders and partly of certain performers who are partial to the singularities of modern music, may result eventually in diverting this magnificent instrument from the purpose for which it is intended.” (Pius XI, Divini Cultus)

    I don’t say that the Stravinsky’s mass is too bad for a holy mass…but I would avoid it if possible.

    And I allow myself to cite Father Z himself :-) ( )

    “For example, I know that there is presently a revival of Catholic architecture in the Latin Church in part with the integration of elements from the Greek Byzantine tradition. I like the Byzantine tradition. But I think we Latins have our own styles and traditions.
    Why do we have to turn to the Easterners in order to reclaim the sacred and transcendent?”

    I don’t see a sharp difference between the Latin and Byzantine tradition (or, maybe one should speak about the “western West” and “eastern West”, and similarly of the “western and eastern East” – I, being Roman Catholic, come from a region where Latin and Byzantine traditions are interwoven). I never thought that Byzantine elements in church architecture or icon-like images of God, His Most Holy Mother, angels and saints could be inappropriate in Roman Catholic churches. Even for somebody who is not used to Byzantine elements in art, it is implementing one expression of the sacred into another one.

    But…and I am going to provoke intentionally… do we need masses like the one by Stravinsky?

    What is sacred must be sacred both as a whole and also per partes. Are not some parts of the Stravinsky’s mass more new than sacred, new at any cost? If so, do we need a not-so-sacred music sung (and played) for sacred purposes? Yes, some parts of the mass are inspired by chant(s)…but isn’t it a kind of a “mixture of the profane with the sacred”? Can we admit a totally sacral character ( both a whole and its parts) of the music? The Church says that for polyphony in the Latin liturgy, Palestrina is the “canon”. Can be Stravinsky be compared with Palestrina? Is not modern music so modern that too many people can neither understand nor “feel” it? If so, they need to be taught first – but is the holy mass the right occasion for a lesson in modern art?

    And, apart from Stravinsky, which is imho still acceptable (although it clearly moves from the classical Roman polyphony towards modernity), modern music often (too often…) uses disharmonies and tension. Throughout the history, disharmonies were considered ugly and exploited but rarely. Throughout the history, tension was considered – let’s use a euphemism – not contributing to concentration. Throuthout the history, art aimed (inter alia) at beauty.

    Has a man changed suddenly? Disharmonies flourish in “modern organists’ ” improvisations… Do they still play sacred music? Does modern art still express beauty, truth and goodness? Or did the modern sacred art resign on beauty and did it join “art modernists” who – Stravinsky among them – tried to “redefine” art, avoiding the notion of beauty?

    Will the modern artists rewrite also psalms? “You are the most handsome of men” will become “most original”, “newest”, “most interesting”?

  22. sejoga says:

    It’s funny, I think, that most of the music that’s touted as beautiful contemporary examples of sacred music leave me feeling intensely underwhelmed and not spiritually uplifted (James MacMillan, Daniel Knaggs, and Richard Rice come to mind as composers much praised that I find prosaic despite their many virtues), while this Stravinsky Mass, that others seem to be pretty dismissive of, I find profound and moving in the extreme.

    I wonder what it is in the temperament of some people to like certain kinds of sacred music while being dismissive of others? I suppose this is why I like the wisdom of keeping things to chant and not really “dressing up” the mass with other musical styles. Flannery O’Connor once wrote, with regards to sacred language, that she avoided “the pious language of the faithful” and loved the language of the liturgy (this was prior to the NO) because it was stylistically “flat”. I think there’s something to be said for the austerity of the Roman rite, and the dignity that arises from it. Maybe that’s why a lot of these masses put me off… there’s something flashy about it all.

    But I do love the Stravinsky Mass.

  23. CPKS says:

    People have been saying “ouch!” to new music for centuries! The link above to the Sanctus is to a rather unsatisfactory recording. I recommend This you-tube posting for a better one.

    Listening to recently-composed music (other than light music) is harder for most people because much of it acquires meaning by reference to less familiar musical elements in the tradition.

    So if you listen to Stravinsky’s very rich harmonies and hear “discord”, and think this indicates “tension”, you are judging his music by an earlier aesthetic, one which is quite opposite to the one Stravinsky was employing in the Mass.

    Although Stravinsky certainly did have a “neo-classical” period, it was pretty much over by 1948 when he wrote the Mass. But even throughout that period, there was a strand of “Russian” compositions: the Symphonies for Wind Instruments, Les Noces, Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms (and several religious choral works). It really helps to know those earlier works, particularly the first, to put the Mass into perspective. In this strand, Stravinsky’s models are not classical, but rather Russian folk and liturgical music, and also the music of the early Baroque; compare the sound-world of the Mass with the antiphonal brass bands in the music of the Gabrielis at S. Mark’s.

    So it is a mistake to listen to the climactic passages in the Credo as if they were somehow highlighting or illustrating the words at that point. This is not how Stravinsky’s music works: the logic of the music is completely independent and is a musical logic. (I think this is what Stravinsky means by “cold”.)

    If we go forward 4 years to the Cantata of 1952, this becomes clearer: counterpoint is evident, particularly in the instrumental parts, where complex canonic forms pursue their logic in a strand parallel to the sung narrative. (The Cantata is a jewel!)

    Here in the Mass, and especially in the Sanctus, we often hear dense harmony, in which all the notes of the scale are sounding somewhere. This is nothing to do with “tension” or “stress”: I’m reminded of a similarly crowded harmonic space in the Ps. 150 setting from the Symphony of Psalms (1930), and I wonder whether this harmonic “plenitude” is alluding to the vastness of the heavenly choir, and the acoustic of heaven. Perhaps others familiar with Stravinsky would disagree?

  24. Vox clamantis in deserto says:

    To CPKS:

    > So it is a mistake to listen to the climactic passages in the Credo as if they were somehow
    > highlighting or illustrating the words at that point. This is not how Stravinsky’s music works:
    > the logic of the music is completely independent and is a musical logic. (I think this is what
    > Stravinsky means by “cold”.)

    Words not highlighted by musical climax? Yes, I believe that it was how Stravinsky wanted it to be understood. But it only proves that something is rotten is the state of modern music…

    Music does not work only on the intelectual level (I realize/study/am told what which part of a composition means/expresses). Music works also on physiological level. From a basic level (certainly forte attracts more attention than piano, at least from a listener which is not so concentrated at the moment, or, a mystery sung forte would sound strange…et incarnatus est is sung piano in good liturgical music :-) ), to much more complicated things (influence on brains).

    It’s words which are the most important in liturgical music. The role of melody/contrapunct/instruments etc is exactly to highlight them and to make their pronouncement more beautiful. Music must serve the words. It should not be independent of them. Obviously modern music says its “non serviam”.

    Yes, it is possible to distinguish between a climax in music and in text… But it is also possible to realize that the holy mass said versus populum is a sacrifice offered to God, and not a priest’s performance which I am expected to watch (again, on the intelectual level I know what the holy mass is, but on the physiological level it is more natural to see it as a “performance”)… While both of them are possible, neither of them is ideal. And why to use something tolerable, but not so good, if we have something better? Why not to respect what is natural?

    You say that “listening to recently-composed music (other than light music) is harder for most people because much of it acquires meaning by reference to less familiar musical elements in the tradition.” In other words, people don’t understand it, they must be educated first to be able to appreciate it (and it does not always help…I am a counterexample :-) ).

    And I ask once more. Is the holy mass an appropriate time for a lesson in modern music? Why can’t we wait and let the modern music be tested by time? If it survives and becomes a part of our common cultural heritage, the Church will adopt it. But my prediction is that it will die. It’s not only new, it wants too strongly to be too different. And it does not respect natural beauty.

  25. CPKS says:

    > Yes, I believe that it was how Stravinsky wanted it to be understood.
    Well, evidently you are privy to more information about Stravinsky’s intentions than I have been able to glean from his writings and my knowledge of his music (I have studied just about everything that Stravinsky ever wrote).

    I’d add that the concept of “natural beauty” in art music is unintelligible to me. I think it’s a posh way of saying “what I happen to like” or “what makes sense to me”. And that is not a natural thing, it is culturally conditioned. Perhaps Messiaen’s Réveil des Oiseaux would have a claim to be one of the most “natural” pieces of music.

    Anyone could say of any piece of music (other than folk music) that it “wants too strongly to be too different”. Impossible to justify or to refute, really. Church musicians have been castigated for centuries for their self-glorifying “difficult” music – think of the Tudor composers, who were forced by the reformers to abandon their counterpoint. (Think, too that most of John Sheppard’s music was destroyed for just that reason. And just listen to what little remains!)

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