Mercy – Program Notes

Portara Ensemble Presents


Sunday, October 7, 2018, 4pm
Trinity Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Jason Shelton, Artistic Director
Patrick Dunnevant, Assistant Director
Jeff Burnham, Accompanist

Mercy (n.) compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish
or harm.

I. Kyrie (ca. 1595 & 2015)

William Byrd (1540-1623) composed three mass settings between 1592-1595, for three-, four-, and five-part voices. Byrd composed at the time of the English Reformation, and his mass settings were composed for Catholic patrons who gathered for clandestine celebrations of the Mass at a time when doing so would have been extraordinarily risky. To reduce the risk of discovery, the initial printed editions of these masses were undated and no mention was made of the printer.

Contemporary English composer Roxanna Panufnik (b. 1968) studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and has written opera, ballet, musical theater, choral, chamber, and film music. She was commissioned to write her Kyrie setting for a recording project in which classics of the choral canon were reinvented through modern interpretation. The composer writes:

I loved the way that the melody of the first Kyrie eleison almost immediately transposes and capitalized on this harmonically by taking my version through several quite chromatic changes and adding an extra bass voice, thereby extra harmonic potential. I’ve kept the Christe eleison as a calmer and more ethereal section, floating gently back into the chromatic Kyrie, which almost forgets itself in harmonic and dramatic propriety but suddenly takes stock of itself and ends with quiet reverence.

Mass for 5 Voices: Kyrie – William Byrd
Kyrie After Byrd – Roxanna Panufnik

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

II. Mass by Steve Dobrogosz (1992)

American-born composer/pianist Steve Dobrogosz (b. 1956) hails from Pennsylvania, and studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduation he moved to Stockholm, Sweden, and he has had an extensive writing, performing, and recording career over the last four decades. His Mass, with its jazz-infused harmonies and unconventional approaches to the traditional texts (including perhaps the most sparse and reserved Gloria you’ll ever hear) has been performed in over 40 countries.

This performance is conducted by Patrick Dunnevant, Portara’s Assistant Director.


Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Et in terra pax
hominibus bonæ voluntatis.

Glory be to God in the highest.
And in earth peace
to those of good will.

Laudamus te; benedicimus te;
adoramus te; glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.

We praise Thee; we bless Thee;
we worship Thee; we glorify Thee.
We give thanks to Thee
for Thy great glory.

Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris.

O Lord God, Heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father.

Qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dextram Patris,
O miserere nobis.

Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy upon us.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe.
Cum Sancto Spiritu
in gloria Dei Patris.


For thou only art holy,
thou only art the Lord,
thou only art the most high, Jesus Christ.
Together with the Holy Ghost
in the glory of God the Father.



Credo in unum Deum;
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

I believe in one God;
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.

Credo in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero,
Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.

God of God, light of light,
true God of true God,
begotten not made;
being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made.

Qui propter nos homines,
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de coelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine: et homo factus est.

Who for us
and for our salvation
descended from heaven;
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost,
of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis
sub Pontio Pilato,
passus et sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die
secundum Scripturas.
Et ascendit in coelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.

He was crucified also for us,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
and was buried.
And on the third day He rose again
according to the Scriptures:
and ascended into heaven.
He sitteth at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead;
and His kingdom shall have no end.

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
Dominum, et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul
adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per Prophetas.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Lord and giver of life,
Who prodeedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
as it was told by the Prophets.

Credo in unam sanctam
catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma,
in remissionem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum
et vitam venturi sæculi.


And I believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins.
And I await the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.



Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei.
Dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God,
Who takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God.
Grant us peace.


“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.” – Ellis Boyd Redding, The Shawshank Redemption

Hold Fast to Dreams (2016)

Joel Bentley Thompson (b.1988) is a composer, pianist, conductor, and educator hailing from Atlanta. His 2017 work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed (for TTBB chorus and full orchestra), was premiered February 2017 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and Sphinx Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Eugene Rogers. Seven Last Words is wrenching setting of the final known words of men such as Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, and Thompson was awarded the American Prize in composition for his work. Several men of Portara had the honor of singing Seven Last Words this past January, in a performance led by Intersection (Kelly Corcoran, conductor). Thompson is currently pursuing graduate studies in composition at Yale.

Notes from the composer:

These words of Langston Hughes have proven their immortality this year in American history, and not in the way one would hope. The 1951 poem Harlem still captures the essence of disillusionment in a deceptively simple series of vivid questions. Dreams, a lesser-known poem, urges the reader to “hold fast to dreams” while making plain the misery of a life without them. One poem summarizes the pain of broken promises and the other encourages faith that things will get better because the alternative is absolute despair. Both contain essential truths made evident in this turbulent 2016.

When asked to write a piece in response to Martin Luther King, Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, the possibility of dialogue between these succinct literary gems was an instant inspiration to me. Today’s rampant cynicism casts Hughes’ words in muted light – they seem to be the stuff of childhood and innocence, but my hope is that all who experience this piece will put aside our jaded lenses and choose to be vulnerable and continue to dream.


What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.


Agnus Dei (1967)

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was one of the most celebrated American composers of the 20th century, perhaps best-known for his iconic Adagio for Strings. The Adagio began as the second movement of Barber’s string quartet (1936), and was recast for string orchestra in 1938 at the request of Arturo Toscanini. For his choral setting, Barber made only slight modifications to the original work. In the Latin Mass, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is a three-stanza prayer. The first two stanzas end with “miserere nobis” (have mercy on us), while the final stanza ends with “dona nobis pacem” (grant us peace). Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly for the theme of today’s concert, Barber ends his work with both final lines sung simultaneously, as though perhaps mercy and peace were somehow intertwined.

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei.
Dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God,
Who takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God.
Grant us peace.

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