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Ionian Mass

Ian writes: " There are very many wonderful settings of the text of the Mass, going back centuries, and many choristers and listeners, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack of them, have a deep-seated appreciation for the structure and rhythms of these works and for the sense of wonder they convey.

I wondered if there was a way to use the same basic structure, but with a different text, one that reflected my own, humanistic, beliefs, whilst retaining an appropriate sense of humility and awe.

After much searching I was not able to find exactly the text I wanted and so decided to create one from scratch. I think it serves my purpose and I hope it makes up for any shortcomings as poetry by being, at least, honest.

The title of the work was inspired by a YouTube clip of Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos in which he describes the birth of science in the work of philosophers living in ancient Ionia. These pre-Socratic philosophers rejected supernatural explanations of natural phenomena and believed that the behaviour of the natural world might be studied and understood. "Ionian" is also the name of a musical mode, a coincidence which I like very much and which helped to shape the harmonic language of the piece, particularly the first movement.

Although I have not used a religious text it was very important to me that people of faith would not be disturbed or affronted by the work. So far reaction to it has been entirely positive. "

The work is in five movements, mirroring the traditional sections of the Mass.

1. Mercy. This mirrors the 'Kyrie' movement (Lord, have mercy on us). A view of Earth from space, echoing Carl Sagan's description of Earth as photographed by the Voyager spacecraft: a "Pale Blue Dot".

2. Glory. This mirrors the traditional 'Gloria' movement. A hymn to the wonders of science and discovery.

3. Truth. Mirrors the 'Credo' movement. A procession of scientists is counterpointed with a statement of belief in Enlightenment values.

4. Sun. Mirrors the 'Sanctus' movement. A hymn to the Sun as the source of our power and sustainer of life.

5. Peace. Mirroring the traditional 'Agnus Dei/Dona Nobis Pacem' sequence, this movement references the 'Spaceship Earth' idea of Canadian Philosopher Marshal McLuhan and ends with a gentle plea for peace.


A CD of the work featuring the Vaughan Williams Singers and others, with Jan Assersohn (piano), conducted by the composer is available on request.


Support for performances

Ian is delighted to work with choirs preparing performances of his music, either by attending a rehearsal or by conducting a workshop tailored to your requirements. Get in touch to discuss

A complete set of rehearsal tracks is available at no charge on request.

The movements

Other info

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