Petite messe solitaire was commissioned by the Association Musique en Vallée du Thouet, and first performed at the Eglise St-Laurent, Parthenay on 9th August 1997. It is scored for four-part SATB voices – symbolising traditional Christian certainties – and a unison chorus which acts as a mouthpiece for current thinking, which is more complex, and full of doubt.
The idea that we are alone in the universe can either terrify or inspire us. Some people would find it more comfortable to belong to a society which provided easy off-the-peg answers to the troubling questions of existence; but for many of us the truth is richer and more complex. The human spirit, however – confronted daily by the ultimate reality of death, and conditioned for millennia by theocratic societies – has a deep traditional need to imagine and glorify the superhuman or divine.
The result of this is a growing tension between logic and belief. It is this tension which I have tried to express in this piece, whose title – Lonely little Mass in English- means simply that Man seems to be on his own. If we really are alone in this astonishing and beautiful universe, it would seem wiser to face reality than to shelter behind old fantasies. And if there is no divine being outside and above us, there is nothing to stop us finding one within our own spirit; perhaps it was not God who created man, but man who created God in his own image. In the end, it is probably more or less the same thing.
Giles Swayne 2009