One of the noteworthy Polish sacred musical works in the last decade is the Missa Pro Peccatis Mundi by Grzegorz Duchnowski (b. 1971). The composition has its own, extremely interesting formal traits, an intriguing stylistic and expressive character, and meaningful symbolism.
The Mass was composed in 2004 for The General Józef Wybicki Representative Band of the Polish Armed Forces, with the performing collaboration of the Band with a mixed choir in mind. The work, a series of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, was written for a large force. The vocal parts consist of a mixed choir ((sopranos, altos, tenors, basses) a mezzo-soprano solo; the instrumental parts consist of wood wind instruments (flute I and II, oboe I and II, bassoon I and II, clarinet I, II and III, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone I and II, tenor saxophone I and II, and baritone saxophone), brass instruments (horn I, II, III and IV, trumpet I, II, III and IV, tenor saxhorn I and II, baritone saxhorn, tuba I and II), and, additionally, the piano and rich percussion instruments.
Duchnowski’s work combines the contemporary language of music with many composing solutions from the earlier epochs. The achievements of the musical art of 20th century and of the present period include inter alia minimal music, motorism, orphism style, the method of tonal centers, and modern harmonic language. From the older tradition - medieval music, Renaissance, Baroque, and partly classicism - the principle of strict diatonicism, modality, chorale melody, and archaisms at the tonal-harmonic level are derived. In many sections the vocal parts and instruments are led in parallel fifths in the form of a parallel organum. There are also chorale and song reminiscences, polyphonic parts a cappella with a Renaissance-Baroque tone and fairly elaborate fugues. These phenomena are matched by a transparent segmentation of form.
The level of expression is suggestively shaped. For the joyful, laudable segments of the texts the composer selects a fast tempo, motoric rhythm, the ostinato, and lively rhythm: he refers to the esthetics of vitalism in these parts. The other parts show different faces of expression: they are stern, ascetic, meditative, contemplative, hymnic, and sometimes gloomy or mysterious. Worth noting is the fact that - according to inspirations dating back to older epochs - the following categories do not appear: the lyrical, the sentimental, the emotional, or the poetic, which shows an evident distance towards the musical legacy of the 19th century. All these characteristics make the Missa Pro Peccatis Mundi fall into the neoclassicist trend.
The work is distinguished by its material cohesion and formal integration. Among the many ways of achieving this integration the fundamental role is played by the thematic use of the first four tones of the Bogurodzica [Mother of God] song and by the figure (derived from these tones) of imaginatio crucis. These structures that are present in many segments integrate the work. Owing to this, the composition is characterized by the unity of substance and by internal thematic coherence. At the same time, the imaginatio crucis reveals the symbolic message of the Mass. The whole composition by Duchnowski is imbued with this figuration, which is a very clear sign in light of the title of the piece: Mass for the Sins of the World; the sins, which Christ redeemed by dying on the cross.