An Interview with Peter Latona, Composer of the Mass of the Immaculate Conception
Aug 22, 2023
The 2024 Source & Summit Missal includes new Mass Settings from Peter Latona, Paul Jernberg, Dave and Lauren Moore, and Horst Buchholz. I had a conversation with each composer to learn more about their inspiration and to have an inside look at their music from their point of view.
The third interview is with Peter Latona, composer of the Mass of the Immaculate Conception and the Director of Music for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
This is Part Three in a four-part series on the new Mass Settings in the 2024 Source & Summit Missal.
Adam Bartlett: What was your inspiration for composing the Mass of the Immaculate Conception?
Peter Latona: To be honest, I’m not sure I would say that I was inspired to compose this setting—at least not at first. Much, if not all of the sacred liturgical music that I compose is a response to my desire to meet a musical / liturgical need or come up with an alternative (and hopefully a worthy one) to some of the other musical options made available by publishers. The difficulty with congregational settings of the Ordinary (and I suppose all congregational music) is that the music needs to be uncomplicated enough (and constructed well enough) to be sung successfully by the assembly while not becoming tiresome or stale over time. For the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, I wanted to create a setting that had a sense of scope and solemnity, something that felt at home in the Roman Catholic Liturgy, something that allowed the text to feel unencumbered; it needed to be singable, efficient, sound both fresh and familiar. I suppose you can say that the “inspiration” was the Basilica itself. When I compose, I imagine the music sounding in the Basilica, in the context of our Liturgies, the dignity and sacredness of the space itself being the inspiration.
AB: Your Mass Setting is already widely sung by cathedrals and parishes across the United States. What do you think are some of its strengths?
PL: I’m delighted and humbled that there are many parishes and cathedrals that sing this Mass Setting. It’s also interesting to hear school groups and parishes from around the country visit the Shrine on pilgrimage and join in singing my setting so enthusiastically at Mass having sung it in their home parishes. In terms of its strengths, I’d leave that for others to say but I’m often told that it is singable and that congregations tend to learn the setting very quickly. There are several things that I do consider when composing for assembly to ensure that it sings comfortably: modal language, favoring certain intervals over others, not adhering to a strict meter (the text of the Preface acclamation for example is not metered and so forcing it into a strict regular meter inevitably leads to some clumsy spots in the music), manageable phrases, range, well-constructed harmonic syntax, etc.
AB: The Mass of the Immaculate Conception is somewhat unique in that it is partly chant-based and partly metrical in its composition, and I have to say that the two work remarkably well together. Was there a particular reason for this decision?
PL: The reason for mixing the chant-like and metered styles is very much a result of what I was saying about not adhering to a strict meter so that the text and tune can be happy together as it were. Most hymn texts are metered and fit beautifully with hymn tunes that accommodate their particular meter. The texts of the Ordinary require a different music that allows the text to feel natural and marry beautifully with the tune; sometimes chant-like melodies are the solution. Of course, chant is also part of the rich music tradition of the Liturgy and I feel it’s important to create new music in light of that tradition—“making the tradition new” as it were.
AB: Why did you decide to publish this Mass Setting in the Source & Summit Missal?
PL: I decided to publish this setting in Source & Summit because I’ve received such positive feedback on this setting and I really wanted to make it available to those who already look to your publication for quality sacred liturgical music. Having quality resources and music available is the key to improving the quality of music in the Church.
AB: How often is the Mass sung at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception? Do you find that it is better suited to some seasons or occasions over others?
PL: Here at the Basilica, we sing this setting during Eastertide, Christmastide and on Solemnities throughout the year. During Advent and Lent we sing a wonderful setting, Mass of St. Anne by my associate Ben LaPrairie, and during Ordinary Time we sing the Eucharistic acclamations found in the New Roman Missal along with the John Lee Glory to God and Agnus mode six number two from the “ad libitum” chants in the Kyriale Romanum.
AB: Aside from this Mass Setting, what are some of the other compositional projects you have taken on in recent years?
PL: I always seem to be composing Responsorial Psalms, antiphons and the like, but most recently I composed a piece for Transfiguration called O Light of Life and dedicated it to Jacob Perry who served as cantor here for many years. Drop, drop Slow Tears was composed for Good Friday and is one of my favorite compositions. My Vidi Aquam for Assembly was recently published by E.C. Schirmer. Looking ahead, I hope to get started on compiling all the Psalm settings I’ve composed over the years to create a psalter. I’m especially excited about a recent commission to compose a complete Requiem Mass to be premiered on All Souls 2024.
AB: Are instrumental parts or additional arrangements available for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception? And if so, where can people find them along with any other compositions of yours?
PL: Yes, there are brass parts for the Eucharistic Acclamations. As most of my compositions are yet unpublished, folks interested in the brass parts or anything else of mine that they might have heard on our live stream broadcasts or elsewhere should feel free to just shoot me an email.
Peter Latona Bio
Peter Latona is the Music Director for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Washington, D.C.), the pre-eminent Marian shrine of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Recognized as a conductor, composer, organist, improviser and teacher, he is dedicated to providing the highest standard in sacred music within the context of the Roman Catholic Liturgy.
An award-winning organist, Dr. Latona has performed throughout the United States, Europe and the Holy Land, has presented workshops on improvisation, and has released a recording, An Organ Pilgrimage, on the Raven label, featuring all four pipe organs at the Basilica. In 2012 he performed to an audience of one thousand having been invited as a featured artist for the Festspiele Europaische Wochen in Passau, Germany. As the conductor of the Choir of the Basilica, he released numerous recordings of sacred choral music, presented concerts in the United States and abroad, performed nationally for the American Guild of Organists, National Pastoral Musicians Association, Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedrals, Church Music Association of America and internationally as a featured conductor in the Festival Internazionale di Musica e Arte Sacra. Among the recently completed recording projects is Tu es Petrus: A Papal Tribute in Music which commemorates the Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI and celebrates the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis and Te Deum: The Sacred Music of Peter Latona which was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and features many of the works composed by Dr. Latona for the National Shrine. Active as a composer, Dr. Latona is published by Morningstar Music Publishers as well as Canticanova Publications, and G.I.A. His music has been featured in various media productions including Fr. Barron's well-known series Catholicism. He has received commissions from the Knights of Columbus, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the Diocese of Helena, as well as by the Archdioceses of Washington, New York and Philadelphia. His music was performed during the Apostolic visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the United States in 2008 and in each city visited by Pope Francis during his 2015 Apostolic visit to the United States. In recognition of this, Dr. Latona was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal by Pope Francis. Dr. Latona also serves on the composition faculty of The Catholic University of America Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. Dr. Latona is a graduate of Bucknell University (B. Mus.), the Yale School of Music (M. Mus.), and the Manhattan School of Music (D.M.A.).