ROME (CNS) — Six decades and hundreds of film and television scores later, award-winning Italian composer Ennio Morricone premiered his first-ever Mass in the Church of the Gesu, the Jesuits’ main church in Rome.
A parishioner at the historic church in the city centre, Morricone composed the Mass to mark the 200th anniversary of the universal reconstitution of the Society of Jesus.
Composed for a dual chorus, the Mass was to be performed for the actual anniversary in 2014, but was postponed when the famed musician ran into some health issues.
Back on his feet, the 86-year-old took up his conductor’s stick for the June 10 performance in the church where the Jesuit order’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, is buried. Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, the head of the Jesuits, was in attendance, along with former Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and hundreds of Jesuit alumni.
Morricone conducted Rome’s “Sinfonietta” orchestra throughout the 45-minute piece. A dual chorus, made up of 100 singers from the National Academy of St. Cecilia and the Rome Opera, was directed by Stefano Cucci.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Morricone said his wife had been asking him to compose a Mass for years but he could never put his mind to it. He finally did upon the invitation of the Jesuits.
Morricone said the invitation to compose the Mass for the Jesuit bicentenary came from the rector of the Gesu one morning in the square in front of the church in 2012.
By January 2013, Morricone showed the first pages of the composition to Pope Francis in the sacristy of the Gesu, when the pontiff celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization for St. Peter Faber, said U.S. Jesuit Michael Rogers, who was present that day. The notes on the first pages of the score form three successive crosses, the composer told Vatican Radio.
Though commissioned for the bicentenary (1814-2014), Morricone decided to dedicate the Mass to the first Jesuit pope, naming it “Missa Papae Francisci.”
The Mass is not the first collaboration between the Jesuits and Morricone, who had composed the soundtrack for “The Mission.” The 1986 Academy Award-winning film tells the story of 18th-century Spanish Jesuit Father Gabriel, his ministry among the indigenous people in South America, and the dynamics that led to the suppression of the order in 1773.
After composing music to mark the suppression, Morricone told Vatican Radio he saw the invitation to compose this Mass, marking the order’s restoration and during the pontificate of the first Jesuit pope, as things coming full circle.
He said he considers these “coincidences” to be “almost miraculous.” He described his Mass as “serene” with moments of “drama” and said he is “satisfied” with the result.
Father Rogers, who tweeted about the performance, told Catholic News Service that Morricone’s composition is “absolutely beautiful.”
“It is a concert piece though, not for Mass on a Sunday,” he said.
Father Rogers said the introit, or entrance antiphon, seems to “try to evoke meditation of the Incarnation as in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius;” the Kyrie communicates “a sense of sorrow before God,” and the Sanctus “evokes a sense of entering into the mystery of heaven.”
Father Rogers said he thought the concluding piece picked up on the score of “The Mission” and was “the best version of the theme I’ve ever heard.”
The Italian state television, RAI, recorded the performance, which is available online here.