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Mass (full version)

Photo: R.R. Jones/Courtesy Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, 1999

Bernstein, Leonard

Mass (full version) (1971)

Duration: 108 minutes

A theatre piece for singers, players, and dancers

English   Deutsch  

Libretto from the liturgy of the Roman Mass, with additional texts by Stephen Schwartz and the composer (L,E)


Celebrant (lead solo); soloists (ca.20 from Street People); SATB robed choir (ca.60); boys' choir (ca.20 with boyS solo); Street People (ca.45 singer-dancers) Stage orchestra (in costume, acting as cast members): 2(I,II=picc).2(II=corA).3(=3sax(SAT)/Ebcl/bcl).2(II=dbn)- of traps/bongos/tpl.bl/finger cyms/glsp/2tambs-street perc:claves/bottles/gourds/3steel dr/tin cans/tambs-2elec.guitars-bass guitar-2elec.kybds Pit orchestra: harp-2Allen org-timp.perc(3-4):cel/vib/glsp/marimba/xyl/chimes/SD/TD/ BD/bongos/4tuned dr/susp.cyms/cyms/tgl/tpl.bl/tamb/tam-t/wdbl/anvil/2cowbells-strings-pre-recorded tape

Abbreviations (PDF)


This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
Alvin Ailey, choreographer / Gordon Davidson, director
Conductor: Maurice Peress


Celebrant (lead solo)
Soloists (ca. 20, from Street People)
SATB robed choir (ca. 60)
Boy Choir (ca. 20, including boy soprano solo)
Street People (ca. 45, singers-dancers)

Time and Place

time not specified - a place of worship


Mass is based on the Roman Catholic Mass, as seen from the point of view of a Celebrant who is experiencing a crisis of faith. It follows the liturgy exactly, but the liturgical passages are juxtaposed against frequent interruptions and commentaries by the Celebrant and the congregation, much like a running debate. The Celebrant’s faith is simple and pure at first, as shown in his wish to sing "a simple song" in praise of God. Yet that faith gradually becomes unsustainable under the weight of human misery, corruption, and the trappings of human power. In the end, the Celebrant, on the verge of renouncing his faith, finds that the loneliness of his doubt is no match for the the joy of gathering together with other believers in praise.

Press Quotes

“…"Mass" re-emerged as the moving and visionary piece it's always been -- arguably the best thing Bernstein ever wrote.”
The Washington Post

“Bernstein left nothing of himself out of “Mass,” and like the man who wrote it, the piece demands to be noticed. …beneath the original dramatic conception, the creative exuberance, the showbiz glitter and the ear-catching set numbers is a sophisticated, carefully controlled piece of musical craftsmanship that repays close scrutiny. …Yes, Bernstein could manipulate a 12-tone row with the best of them.

“…[an] extravagant, exuberant and endlessly inventive creation…”
The New York Times




Religion, Society

Recommended Recording

Jubilant Sykes, Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Naxos

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Mass (full version)

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