Oscar-winning composer pens Mass for the Pope

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Ennio Morricone. Credit: Gonzalo Tello / Cancha General via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The musical settings of Ennio Morricone are more likely to be heard at a movie theater than a church, but on June 10, the award-winning movie composer debuted a new Mass dedicated to the Jesuit Order and named for one of their own- Pope Francis.

“My wife asked me for years for a Mass, but I did not ever decide to,” Morricone told Radio Vaticana in a June 10 interview. However, a request from the rector of the Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuit order, convinced him to write a Mass for the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuit order.

“The thing that strikes me most about this task,” he explained, “is the fact that I wrote the music for the film ‘The Mission,’ which is the story of the Jesuits in South America, which after some years, in 1750, they were disbanded.”

“In some way I have participated in their dissolution and now I participate in the celebration of the 200th anniversary of their restoration.”

In addition to composing music for the award-winning film ‘The Mission’ – which won a place on AFI’s list of 25 Best Film Scores of all time – Morricone also wrote the score for “Karol: a Man Who Became Pope” in 2006. Among the other compositions that he has become known for: The Untouchables, Once Upon a Time in America, and more recently Django Unchained.

Morricone has received numerous awards for his compositions, including a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2007, five other Oscar nominations, two Golden Globe Awards, three Grammy Awards, and dozens of others.

His most recent project is dedicated to Pope Francis. He noted the significance of having the first Jesuit Pope: “It's amazing! I find in all of these coincidences what I would call almost miraculous.”

The Mass was debuted during a June 10 performance at the Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesu in Rome. Morricone conducted members of the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta and two choirs from the Accademia Santa Cecilia and the Rome Opera Theater.

Commonly known as the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. However, the order was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 after conflict with several Catholic states. After taking up refuge in non-Catholic countries, the order was restored by Pope Pius VII on June 7, 1814, which the Society of Jesus recognizes as an anniversary day.

The composer commented that while his new Mass does subtly experiment, musically it is tied to the liturgy and to tradition.

“I was faithful to the modality we have in Gregorian music,” he said, explaining his use of dissonance and polymodality in the piece, as well as an overall air of serenity. “The drama, perhaps, is located in the dynamism that there is in some moments.”

Works such as this Mass are testament to the ability to adapt traditional music to modern musical language, Morricone said.

“The greatness of the language of today together with the greatness of the tradition. For example, the two choirs and the use of the modality are in the tradition, which is still there. There are tradition and innovation.”

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