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In 1807, with his Mass in C major, Op. 86, Beethoven transformed sacred music no less than his Eroica, Razumovsky Quartets, Waldstein, and Appassionata redefined instrumental music a few years earlier. He replaced the Baroque trappings of Bach and Handel and the opera-like settings of Mozart and Haydn with a simple, direct message. The music envelops us in the presence of something greater than ourselves, imparting to us courage and strength to deal with all of life’s challenges.
This masterpiece has never received the adulation it deserves. In 1807 – no surprise – people were not yet ready to dispense with Baroque trappings and operatic atmosphere. Later, it was overshadowed by the Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123, in which Beethoven again composed a direct religious statement and, additionally, poured out his entire soul and personal philosophy.
Although the message is simple and direct, the music in the C major Mass is at Beethoven’s customary level of sophistication, including two thrilling fugues. There is tension, grief, and trepidation in the sections where the text calls for it – but, as usual with Beethoven, these sections are building blocks to ultimate life-affirmation.
The music most strongly reminds me of two of Beethoven’s compositions from those years: the Pastoral Symphony and the Leonore Overture No. 3. It occasionally recalls slightly earlier works, such as the Eroica finale or the 2nd movement of the 3rd Razumovsky Quartet; elsewhere, it perhaps foreshadows the Missa Solemnis and Consecration of the House Overture. But all these resemblances are tenuous. A glory of Beethoven is that, in addition to sounding different from all other composers, each of his own works sound different from one another – as if he reinvented himself with each new composition.
This recording is outstanding. Robert Shaw conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, with Henriette Schellenberg, soprano; Marietta Simpson, mezzo-soprano; Jon Humphrey, tenor; and Myron Myers, bass. Shaw (1916-1999) was an acknowledged master at getting chorus, orchestra, and soloists to work together. In this case, Beethoven made it easier with a score that graciously gives all forces opportunities to shine individually and interactively. Shaw avoids the pitfalls of some other currently available recordings (mechanical performances with unduly brisk tempos). The recording also includes two nice short compositions for chorus and orchestra: the touching Elegiac Song, Op. 118, in which Beethoven consoles his friend whose wife had just died in childbirth and the cheerful Calm Sea/Prosperous Voyage, Op. 112, based on a Goethe poem.
Recordings of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and his Mass in C major will greatly enrich your collection. For the Missa Solemnis, Otto Klemperer’s craggy, earnest, but intimate performance on EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” just blows away the competition. For the Mass in C major, I enthusiastically recommend this recording by Robert Shaw.
NUC MED TECH
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01-12-14 Beethoven wrote his Mass in C in and it was premiered under thew composer's direction. 0ver 200 years later here is the terrific choral conductor Robert Shaw leading the spl.endid Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and chorus in a 1990 recording of the Mass. Soloists are henriette Schnellenberg, soprano---Marietta Simpson, mezzo---Jon Humpfrey, tenor and Myron Myers, bass. The duration of the mass is 47;26. Also included are two fillers, the Elegiac Song, and the overture "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage."
The Kyrie opens with a hushed chorus, pleaing for mercy before the majesty of God. Their hymn of suplication is moving, devout and paced, as is so much of Shaw's work, inm a stately tempo. The chorus's entries, at various points, are gentle, but firm. Their edges are taperfed so as to avoid harshness. In so much of Beethoven's music his entries, vocal or instrumental, are attacks, crisp and clear, but not here. The sense of piety and suplication in this Kyrie is very well done.
The "Gloria" opens as we might expect it to. Bold, unisonstatements from the combined forcesreplace the morfe traditional intonation by, say, a solo voice or a small choir. Often, the intonation of lesser size is in chantr form Not so here, as the composer jumps into the text with energy aznd power. This "Gloria" is a healthy 11:08 long, second in duration to the"Credo". At the second stanza of the Gloria's text, beginning Gratias agimus tibi, propter magnum gloriam tuam, the soloists enter, taking turns. first the tenor, then soprano the bass and tyenor again, the the mezzo. Every body gets a moment to themselves jumps back in at "Qui sedes ad dexterumPatris miserere nobis". Here the chorus stats the line firmly then stretches it out with increasing grace and eloquence. The concluding stanza, Quonium tu Solis Sanctus, etc., ribgs out from the composer's pen and starts to take a fugal shape . Moments before the 10 minute mark, the chorus states "Amen," which then gets treated by soloists and chorus back ands forth for a good minute before ending in C major.
Next is the "Credo," the longest text of the Mass, and the most elaborate one as well. There are two reasons for this. umber one is that the "Credo" is the musical version of the Nicene Creed, formulated at the Council of Nicea, in ______ by the Catholic Church This was done to combat the Arian Heresy of that time. This condemned belief was taught by a Bishop of Roman heritage, Arius< whoi denied that Jesus Christ was both God and man, even though he said so, several times in scripture. If we are all ChristiannsLL Christians, we must therefore acknowledge that Jesus had this dual nature. Arias could not rationalize it, so he rebelled . The Church replied with this Credo, an oatrh, if you will, of what a Roman Catholic must hold as true, to be obedient to the Roman Church. I am A Catholic and I DO believe Jesus was man and God.
Beethoven opens his "Credo"without an intonation or bold statement, which suprised me when I first heard it, yeasago. The chorus continues until the central section, where we hear of the birth of Jesus and a brief affirmation that he became man, of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary. All christians hold this as true, the whole idea is called "the Incarnation." In this middle section we get both chorus and soloists alternating and modulating between forte and piano in volume. At the 06:56 mark, the chorus sings of the resurrection with soloists commenting here and there. The composer turns it into fugue, aznd does this with untypical form. Usually Beethoven's fugues are clearly deliniated and clear for all to hear. The composer breaks off the fuge in the 09:14 region as he heads for the finish. But, around the 09:58 point he turns the final line,"et vitasm venturi saeculi" he returns to the fuge, adding into the mix, once again, our soloists. Amen is intoned and togather, all the voices race in fugal style to the final notes of a purely beautiful and majestic Credo.
The Sanctus is a solemn hymn of faith and devotion. The chorus sings the ealy pazrt acapella, with timpani taps and rolls. Shaw's control at this hushed volume is revelatory in effect. Then, aT 02:10, another fugue bursdts onto the scenewith a rollicking choral treatment. This is joyous and gloifying music and Shaw allows much energy to emerge, but holds back some of it in reserve. Some Masses, by other composers, treat the text of the "Sanctus" as one large piece, but here, Beethoven chose to split it into "Sanctus" and then "Benedictus. The result for us is a large part for the solo quartet to sing in various combinations. The 5th track is the "Agnus Dei" and this can be done many different ways. Beethoven writes this muic with darkness and a sense of dramanot unlike trazgedy as in an opera or symphony. Still, coming through the music is the composer's determination to hold onto his faith. This is only one of the several reasons I doubt these stories of Beethoven spitting the eye of the world and especially the Church, as he lie on his deathbed. It sounds colorful to say, He shook his fist at HJeaven, but I think these are motly xspurious in themselves. Beethoven died from what may have been severe alcholic cirhosis of the liver. He asked for and got, a solomn Catholic High Requiem mass before his burial, and the attendance at his funeral was said to have been about 20,000 Vieneseadmireers, friends and lovers of his music. Schubert was one of the torchbearers. He would die the following year. What a loss, these two giants of music gone within a little over a year.
Robert Shaw does the usual great job here and most of the little negative criticism is aimed azt his orchestral leadership, not his handling of the vocal component of this Mass in C. Irregardless, I give it a solid 4.25 stars and I will endevor to lean more of it this new year. Very highly recommended.
The additional pieces on this splendid Telarc CD inclde the "Elegiac Song. This little work is a funerial hymn, oozing with comfort and tenderness, and was written in 1814 for thed wife of his friend Dr. Johann von Pasqualati. it is a rare example of the degree of tenderness and consoling that the composer was capable of.
Lasly, we have the Overture, "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage," in it's choral version. I have never heard this, but I liked it right away. It actually is a mini-cantata for chorus and orchestra, with a text by Goethe. The first section is the "Calm Sea" portion ahich speaks of the dread windless ocean, which spells disaster,and possibly death for the crew due to starvation and isolation. The second half, very different and another example of the powerful and boisterous Beethoven, is the "prosperous Voyage" part , and is a rollicking allegro. The refrence in the text to Aeolus, is in refrence to the "wind god" of myth. Overall, this CD rates a well deserved 4.5 stars. I have a Giulini Mass in C and one by George Guest and the Choir of St. John's College in England, both very very nice, but Robert Shaw is still my favorite. We should miss him badly. Happy listening friends, and God Bless you all, Tony.