Choral Arts premieres American Mass

Just who is George Bristow? Choral Arts Cleveland, with director Brian Bailey, invites you to find out as it brings to life the Mass in C by 19th-century American composer George Bristow, in a world premiere of the composition. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., on Wednesday, June 8, with a talk on Bristow and American classical music, followed by the choral performance. The venue is Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2757 Fairmount Blvd. in Cleveland Heights.

The Mass in C (1884–1885) is filled with lush, romantic phrasings that segue into joyously spirited, energetic and robust movements. Its expressive text setting infuses movements, such as the Kyrie, with an evocative imploring quality, and the Credo, with moods of triumph. Other artistic assets of the Mass include its varied use of vocal solos, alternated with long choral sections and short instrumental interludes, and the use of bold homophonic styles.

In it, “Bristow shows a command of compositional craft and an understanding of the voice,” said Bailey. It is the “work of a mature, confident composer who had found his unique voice.” 

The Bristow Mass is especially significant to Choral Arts because of Bailey’s work in resurrecting music that has been too long neglected.

Intrigued by the musical and emotional strengths of Bristow’s Mass, Bailey completed the first modern printed edition of it, and presented it as part of his doctoral thesis at the University of Iowa.

Prior to Bailey’s work—except for the Kyrie, which had been typeset—the Mass existed only in manuscript form. During Bristow’s lifetime, only two movements of his Mass were performed. Because there is no evidence that the work was ever performed in its entirety, this project will almost certainly be the world premiere of the complete Mass.

Now in its 47th year of bringing both well-known classics and premieres to its audiences, Choral Arts Cleveland is privileged to be sharing this forgotten work.

Bailey has been director of choirs at Cleveland State University (CSU) since 2009. He also conducts the CSU Chorale and University Chorus, coordinates the voice area, and teaches aural skills and conducting.

The Bristow Mass will be performed with the organ accompaniment fleshed out by Bailey in his 2016 thesis. The concert, supported in part by the citizens of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, is a live performance. The free-will-donation event is open to the public. For more details visit

Marge Geiger

Marge Geiger, a 30-year Cleveland Heights resident, is a singer with the Choral Arts Society of Cleveland, and is a retired Tri-C English professor. She is married to Joe Geiger, a retired Heights High English teacher, and is a patron of many Cleveland Heights businesses.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 5:51 PM, 05.01.2022