Ludwig van Beethoven – Missa solemnis (75’)
For the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra’s final concert of the season, conductor Mark Wigglesworth will be joined by an all-star quartet of soloists, and the marvelous Hallé Choir at The Bridgewater Hall.
‘From the heart – May it return – To the heart!’ The spidery handwriting that spells out the impassioned dedication on Beethoven’s score to the Missa solemnis reflects the extent to which the composer invested himself in this work. On the one hand, this mass is Beethoven’s largest and grandest piece of music (discounting his opera Fidelio). On the other, it’s one of his most intimate revelations.
Beethoven’s compositional process was, by all accounts, a traumatic one. Originally intended for the installation ceremony of his patron Archduke Nicholas Rudolph, Beethoven missed the deadline and continued working away at the mass for a further three years! In the original score, countless corrections and torn out pages betray his uphill battle with a work whose structure, proportions, scope and aesthetic aims continually expanded.
In the end, the battle was won; in 1823, the world was gifted a mass like no other. Unfolding in the five movements of the Mass Ordinary, starting with the Kyrie and ending with the Agnus Dei, Missa solemnis seamlessly assimilated the spirituality of church music with the power and expression of the symphony. Containing a very personal expression of his religious faith, this was a work that Beethoven cherished, considering it his greatest achievement. Audiences and critics today regard it as one of the greatest masterworks in the realm of music.
This being said, performances of the Missa solemnis are rare. The reason, simply, is that it is an incredibly daunting work to perform! Firstly, the scale of the thing makes it unfeasible for most hopeful interpreters. Secondly, the contrasts of style and gesture within the work mean that enormous demands are placed on its performers. When it does find the concert hall, however, the live experience of the Missa solemnis is exquisite. At The Bridgewater Hall, it will shine ever brightly in the hands of some truly gifted performers, including Lucy Crowe (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor) and Roderick Williams (baritone).
A work of towering proportions, and yet an intimate statement of religious faith. Beethoven’s Missa solemnis will be extraordinary at The Bridgewater Hall.
Lucy Crowe – soprano
Allan Clayton – tenor
Roderick Williams – baritone
Hallé Choir – choir
Mark Wigglesworth – conductor