Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass

Remember earlier this week when I posted about O Magnum Mysterium, a 16th century motet taken from Catholic Mass? Well, today I want to share another Mass with you – but this one is from the 21st century. Called Sunrise Mass, Norwegian composer Olja Gjeilo (b. 1978) created this 30-minute work for choir and strings with four sections: The Spheres (Kyrie), Sunrise (Gloria), The City (Credo), and Identity & The Ground (Sanctus/ Benedictus & Agnus Dei).

Gjeilo said of the work:

“The reason I used English titles, seemingly unrelated to the (mostly) Latin texts, for the movements in this setting of the Mass has mainly to do with the initial idea behind Sunrise Mass. I wanted the musical development of the work to evolve from the most transparent and spacey, to something completely earthy and grounded; from nebulous and pristine to more emotional and dramatic, and eventually warm and solid – as a metaphor for human development from child to adult, or as a spiritual journey.

Most of my favorite composers are film composers working in America today, and this piece is partly influenced by movies and film scores from the past few years that I love dearly.”

 The Spheres

After writing Sunrise Mass, Gjeilo arranged The Spheres for an a cappella choir, and this was the first exposure I had to the Sunrise Mass:


The text is taken from the traditional Latin Kyrie Eleison:

Latin text English text
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The music is a gorgeous layering of sound, each voice overlapping and slowly changing as the harmonies progress. The piece flows in and out of C-sharp minor; each new syllable adds to or subtly changes the harmony, which results in a constantly shifting mood.

The soprano line follows an interesting melodic pattern: starting on E, they move down to C# – D# – B – C# – A. This line of descending third intervals appears throughout the movement in all voices (for example, at the beginning the altos move from G# – E – F# – D# – E – C# and the tenors and basses move from C# – A – b – G# – A – F#). I think this is one of the reasons Gjeilo named this work The Spheres; the voice parts circle around each other in a beautiful, circular dance.

Then at 3:13, the voices (choral in the a cappella version, strings in the Mass version) start in unison and build to a harsh dissonance before resolving in the descending third line at 3:51. The Spheres ends on a unified C-sharp.

*These times are referring to the a cappella version.


Latin text English text

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.

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.

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.



Sunrise opens with sustained strings that flow from one harmony to the next, evoking images of beauty and pain. As the choir enters with the same melody (1:58), the mood shifts to contemplative before the cheerful bounce of 16th notes at 3:30. Overall, it is a work of rejoicing and excitement (much like a sunrise).

The shift at 7:11 is one of my favorite parts; the music goes from energetic to calm and intense. A violin solo doubles the choir an octave higher, and as the piece comes to an end, the subtle harmonic changes remind us of The Spheres as the text glories in the celebration of life.

The City

Latin text English text

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

Credo in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero,
Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines,
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de coelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine: et homo factus est.

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.

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.

Credo in unam sanctam
catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

Confiteor unum baptisma,
in remissionem peccatorum.

Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum
et vitam venturi sæculi.


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

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
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.
Who for us men
and for our salvation
descended from heaven;
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost,
of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

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.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Lord and giver of life,
Who procdeedeth 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.

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.



The City opens with a relentless, driving ostinato (a small repeated rhythmic/melodic motif used as accompaniment) in the strings, and the movement is somber and reflective. At 4:21, the choir sings in the descending third intervals found in The Spheres while singing the word “crucifixus” – only this time, the accompaniment is jagged and the atmosphere is distraught. Then at 5:30, while the choir sings “resurexit”, the mood changes to optimistic (listen for the ascending line, symbolizing hope).

The City ends with a return to the opening ostinato as the choir sings their sustained pleas. The dramatic coda begins at 8:08, and to me it sounds like something straight out of a film score!

Identity and The Ground

Latin text English text
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei.
Dona nobis pacem.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.Lamb of God,
Who takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God.
Grant us peace.

Identity opens with the same music as The Spheres, except now the choir is singing “sanctus” instead of “kyrie”. The music here is almost a relief after The City; its static harmonies and sustained rhythms are a glimpse of hope and peace. The Ground begins at 2:07, a gorgeous film-esque painting of harmony and melody.

Gjeilo said of this movement:

“The chorale, beginning at [The Ground]… is the culmination of the Mass, and it’s called Identity & The Ground because I wanted to convey a sense of having ‘arrived’ at the end of the Mass; to have reached a kind of peace and grounded strength, after the long journey of the Mass, having gone through so many different emotional landscapes.”

The work ends with a hushed Dona Nobis Pacem (starting at 4:32); the choir reverently sings with a solo violin, and the movement ends with a full major chord, symbolizing peace after turmoil.

I hope you enjoyed listening to Sunrise Mass as much as I did. It tells the story of triumph after struggle, something we can all relate to as we go through life.

Called Sunrise Mass, Norwegian composer Olja Gjeilo (b. 1978) created this 30-minute work for choir and strings with four sections: The Spheres (Kyrie), Sunrise (Gloria), The City (Credo), and Identity & The Ground (Sanctus/ Benedictus & Agnus Dei). Click to listen to this beautiful music!


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I'm a pianist, composer, writer, photographer, and overall classical-music-lover who is always open to new sounds.

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