If.. and the Missa Luba

Courtesy of the free Film Four, I watched Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 public school rebellion film If.. a few days ago, and was intrigued by the use of music. Of course, the oppressed boys in the school sing hymns en masse. What was more interesting was the music used at the points at which Malcolm McDowell is most ‘free’: not the Beatles or the Stones, or any of the ‘rebellious’ music of the period. Instead, the music that recurs is the Missa Luba: a recording of Congolese children singing the Mass (in this case the Sanctus). Not only does this occur as incidental music, but Mick (McDowell) has a recording of it, which he plays in his room.

I’m intrigued by this, as hitherto I’ve found no trace of the Missa Luba in any of the literature on church music of the period. Granted, it wasn’t published until 1969, and so it couldn’t yet be proposed for use in British churches. Nonetheless, I’m still surprised that a piece, integral to a controversial (indeed X-rated) film, and which had a single release in 1965, excited no comment at all, especially given the sheer diversity of experimentation with forms of music for worship at the time.

I realise that there is a substantial body of film criticism about If.., , with which I’ve yet to engage. I would be very intrigued to know if anyone knows more of the reception of the Mass. Did anyone out there buy it, and what did they think ? At least one person did – whilst in seminary in the 1960s.

Wikipedia, always invaluable for matters like this, has articles both on the film and on the mass. The sleeve notes for the original single release may be found here.

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