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St Michael's Mass

Peter Tranchell's St. Michael's Mass was written in 1965 for Congregation, SATB choir and an accompaniment of three oboes, string quartet or string orchestra, and organ, with four movements: Ninefold Kyrie, Creed, Sanctus & Benedictus, Gloria.

It was revised in 1988 for John Martyn, who studied music under Tranchell at Fitzwilliam College in the 1950s and was a lifelong friend. We have typeset and published here this revised version for Bass Solo, SATB Choir and Organ. Typeset PDF scores for each movement, and a cover sheet, can be obtained using the links below. Please also see our guidance on the use of these scores.

  1. Cover sheet
  2. Ninefold Kyrie
  3. Gloria
  4. Sanctus & Benedictus
  5. Agnus Dei

Peter Tranchell's notes, included as pages 14-15 of the 1988 manuscript:

In 1964 the Reverend Mr Hugh Montefiore (Vicar of Great St Mary's Church, Cambridge, later Bishop of Kingston and subsequently Bishop of Birmingham) asked Peter Tranchell to compose music for a special service of Holy Communion to be held in Great St Mary's at the beginning of the Cambridge Michaelmas Term 1965.

Great St Mary's, the central parish church of Cambridge and also the University Church had never possessed a parish hall, but at this time Trinity College, Cambridge, agreed to cede the redundant St Michael's Church for the use of Great St Mary's.

St Michael's Church, which stands often un-noticed opposite Gonville and Caius College and some hundred yards north of Great St Mary's, was refurbished as a parish hall with committee-rooms and lavatories in addition. The chancel was retained as a small separate chapel.

A new amateur choral body was formed, which was to lead the singing at services when the choir of Great St Mary's was not on duty. This body was entitled The St Michael's Singers, and was directed by David Fallows, an undergraduate.

Thus the new Holy Communion setting was to be performed as near as possible to St Michael's Day, by The St Michael's Singers, to celebrate the acquisition of St Michael's Church. Not surprisingly, the work was called the St Michael's Mass.

However, Mr Montefiore's optimism as to rehearsing and mounting a new work and advertising and gaining attendance at a special service at the very start of the academic year proved unrealistic. Another festal occasion had to be sought, and Shrove Tuesday 1966 was decided upon.

Peter Tranchell composed the St Michael's Mass during July and August 1965. It was a setting of five sections of the Anglican Holy Communion Service according to the 1662/1928 rite. The musical forces envisaged were Congregation, SATB choir and an accompaniment of three oboes, string quartet or string orchestra, and organ. The five sections were set in four movements: Ninefold Kyrie, Creed, Sanctus & Benedictus, Gloria.

The work was so written that firstly the third oboe and strings could be omitted, and secondly the congregational part need not be sung.

The congregational part consisted of a limited number of repeated musical refrains which (it was hoped) could be adequately learnt in a fifteen-minute congregational rehearsal before the start of the service.

Thus in the Kyrie, the choir was to sing the first two invocations of each set of three to the same melodic phrase at different pitches. The third invocation in each case was for congregation supported by the choir, and had the same phrase again, at a yet different pitch.

In the Creed, the congregation were to sing a single two-bar phrase of music which returned at the end of each section in the manner of a refrain, but which was so contrived that the same music could fit all the following portions of text: I believe in one God; And in one Lord Jesus Christ; God of God, Light of Light; I believe in one God; Very God of very God; By whom all things were made; Whose kingdom shall have no end; I believe in one God; Amen.

The congregation had no vocal part in the Sanctus & Benedictus.

In the Gloria, the same principle of a recurrent musical refrain for the congregation was used as in the Creed. The text of the refrain remained unvaried throughout the Gloria: Glory be to God on high, and in earth peace, good will towards men.

In 1988 the composer revised the work, removing the parts for the congregation, wind and strings, and re-writing the part for organ so as to comprise the whole accompaniment. Minor adjustments were made to the parts for choir, the setting of the Creed was omitted, and the additional made of a version for Bass Solo, SATB choir (divisi) and Organ of an Agnus Dei originally written for the Gonville & Caius College male-voice choir in 1962.

The organ part of this Agnus Dei requires the organist's particular attention, on account of its special technical problems.


This revised setting was sung in Hereford Cathedral on Sunday July 16th 1988 by the choir of St Peter and St James, Hereford under the direction of John Martyn. We are informed by Philip Dickinson that it was performed several times thereafter in Hereford churches.

The typeset edition presented above (minus Kyrie) was sung in Southwell Minster on 31 July 2022, and again in Sherborne Abbey on 30 July 2023, by The Ferrabosco Singers, paired with the communion anthem O that our faith. Due to available forces, the Agnus Dei was performed with unison voices on the solo part, splitting in the final bars, and with a little more support from the organ.