Kim André Arnesen’s Holy Spirit Mass is released by Decca Classics for Easter, his first full-length recording on the label. Sofi Jeannin conducts the Trondheim Vocal Ensemble and Trondheim Soloists on the recording.
Holy Spirit Mass is a recent work for choir, strings, and piano, commissioned in 2017 for the National Lutheran Choir in America’s Nordic heartland, Minnesota, to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Mona Spigseth, piano
Sofi Jeannin, conductor
Kim'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 says, “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 realized 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 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. The work combines the text of the Catholic Mass with words from the hymn Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord by the great 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.”
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 continues, “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.”