Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 28, 1565: Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass was performed at the papal chapel

Last updated August 27, 2018.

Pope Marcellus Mass (Missa Papae Marcelli)

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (composer)


Composed: 1562


Notable Performance: April 28, 1565 at the papal chapel


Sales: --


Peak: --

Quotable: --


Genre: classical > choral music


Parts/Movements:

  1. Kyrie
  2. Gloria
  3. Credo
  4. Sanctus
  5. Benedictus
  6. Agnus Dei 1
  7. Agnus Dei 2

Average Duration: 20:09

Review:

The Pope Marcellus Mass, “arguably Palestrina’s best-known work,” NB “is primarily a six-voice mass, but voice combinations are varied throughout the piece.” WK “Recent scholarship suggests the most likely date of composition is 1562, when it was copied into a manuscript at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.” WK It has been recorded often in the latter part of the 20th century “and is often used as a model for the study of stile antico Renaissance polyphony in university courses on music.” WK

“An oft-repeated legend [said] Catholic authorities, overwhelmed by the spiritual beauty and dignity of this piece, reversed a proposed ban on the use of music during religious services.” NB While Palestrina did intentionally seek “to compose in a simplified, easily understood style to please church officials” WK “a total ban on church music was never seriously considered” NB and there is no evidence “Palestrina's mass was the deciding factor in changing their minds.” WK

“In 1555, Pope Marcellus II (after whom the mass is named) addressed the Papal choir, urging musicians to strive for simplicity, clarity, and intelligibility in their compositions.” NB “Palestrina heard and heeded Marcellus’ recommendations,” NB saying in 1567 that this mass and other masses he’d written were done in “a ‘new style’ to please ‘the most serious and religious-minded persons in high places.’” NB “Palestrina eliminated from his sacred music practically all references to popular song, using instead motivic material extracted from plainchant melodies, and developing a style of vocal writing which owed much to the melodic structure of plainsong. The result was music of great unity, clarity, and beauty.” NB

“The piece is singularly austere and dignified, darkly colored through an emphasis on low voices. The contrapuntal motion is slow and exquisitely controlled, the proportions architecturally conceived. The movements with longer texts (Gloria, Credo) are written homophonically, that is, moving all the voices together in stately chords. This novel technique, which effectively emphasized the words while providing a welcome contrast to the more contrapuntally active polyphonic movements, proved so effective that it became a standard feature of all his later masses. Despite its restrained style, the mass is not without remarkable highlights. Beautifully controlled dissonant clashes lend the Kyrie a touching poignancy, while the Christe and Sanctus foreshadow the suave melodic writing characteristic of later works. The lush, cascading ‘Amen’ at the end of the Credo remains one of the most beautiful passages of sixteenth century polyphony.” NB


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Thursday, April 26, 2018

April 26, 1733: First possible performance of Bach's Mass in B minor

Last updated August 31, 2018.

Mass in B minor, for soloists, chorus, & orchestra, BWV 232 (BC E1)

Johann Sebastian Bach (composer)


Composed: 1733-1749


First possible performance: 4/26/1733


Sales: - NA -


Peak: - NA -

Quotable: --


Genre: classical > choral music


Parts/Movements:

  1. [Part I: Missa, Kyrie] Kyrie eleison
  2. [Part I: Missa, Kyrie] Christe eleison
  3. [Part I: Missa, Kyrie] Kyrie eleison
  4. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Gloria in excelsis Deo
  5. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Et in terra pax
  6. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Laudamus te
  7. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Gratias agimus tibi
  8. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Domine Deus, rex coelestis
  9. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Qui tollis peccata mundi
  10. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
  11. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Quoniam tu solus sanctus
  12. [Part I: Missa, Gloria] Cum Sancto Spiritu
  13. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Credo in unum Deum
  14. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Patrem omnipotentem
  15. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Et in unum Dominum
  16. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Et incarnatus est
  17. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Cruxifixus
  18. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Et resurrexit
  19. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Et in Spiritum Sanctum
  20. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Confiteor in unum baptisma
  21. [Part II: Symbolum Nicenum, Credo] Et expecto
  22. [Part III: Sanctus] Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth
  23. [Part IV: Osanna, Benedictus] Pleni sunt coeli et terra
  24. [Part IV: Osanna, Benedictus] Osanna in excelsis
  25. [Part IV: Osanna, Benedictus] Benedictus qui venit
  26. [Part IV: Osanna, Benedictus] Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
  27. [Part IV: Osanna, Benedictus] Dona nobis pacem

Average Length: 113:40

Review:

“In 1733, Bach wrote a letter petitioning Friedrich August II, the Catholic Elector of Saxony, to grant him a courtly title that might be of value to him in getting his due respect from the powers in Leipzig. To warm up the sovereign to his cause, he enclosed two pieces of music as special proof of his dedication to the composition of church music; these pieces were the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass in B minor, a juggernaut of religious music that Bach didn’t complete until the very end of his life. Why a composer who must have normally worked at blinding speed took 15 years with a single mass is not known, since there was no opportunity for its performance. As a mass, it’s far too vast for liturgical use, and earnest religious music couldn’t have been welcomed in secular, courtly programs.” DM

There is debate about when the mass was first performed. “Arnold Shering…asserted that it was performed in Leipzig on April 26, 1733, when Augustus III of Poland visited.” WK However, modern scholars have argued otherwise for various reasons, including that “the proposed date fell during an official period of mourning "when concerted music was forbidden in Saxon churches.” WK “Christoph Wolff argues that on July 26, 1733 at the Sophienkirche in Dresden, where Wilhelm Friedemann Bach had been organist since June,” WK but Peter Williams noted that “there is no record of performers being assembled for such an event.” WK There is evidence of Bach performing organ recitals at the Sophienkirche on 9/14/1731, 6/23/1733, and 12/1/1736, WK and he may have performed part of the mass on those dates.

“It definitely wasn’t entirely performed while Bach lived, but it seems possible he didn’t intend it to be performed that way at all. Many movements are highly effective revisions of past works, often cantatas, spanning much of his career, and the others were composed expressly for the mass. These facts, and the wide differences in style the work contains, suggest it was intended as a summation of his whole oeuvre, but that can never be known.” DM

“Of course, the mystery of its purpose and origins have fed the fire of enthusiasm that surrounds the mass. For once, the hype is mostly worth believing. Commentators stumble over each other to praise it, treating it like a St. Peter’s of music for good reasons; the Mass in B minor positively crackles with energy, and almost everything that is good about Bach is found in it. Hearing even the brooding Kyrie for the first time can be like having of a pair of jumper cables applied to the heart. Unfortunately, the size, scale, and historical importance of the mass, taken together, seem to confuse certain interpreters into performing it with the overblown orchestral forces and exaggerated expression of late Romantic music. It becomes an overstated banality when treated that way; smaller orchestras can bring out of it an amazing, galvanized lyricism and mechanical power. The range and depth of moods is itself incredible enough; listeners almost prefer to hear the movements discretely to be able to properly take them in. From the most ecstatic, trumpeting orchestral jubilation of the start of the Gloria, to the tender, pained longing in the soprano and tenor duet of the Laudamus te, or the unstoppable fugue of the Cum sancto Spiritu. the Mass in B minor is as exhilarating to the listeners as it is exhausting to performers. Some lighter, simpler choral movements, like the Gratias agimus tibi, have a minor function of granting needed rest, but there don’t seem to be quite enough of them to make it really functional as a concert piece. For the highly trainable medium of the compact disc, however, it’s just right.” DM-


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Friday, April 13, 2018

April 13, 1742: Handel's 'Messiah' first performed

Last updated August 26, 2018.

Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56

George Friedrich Händel (composer)


Composed: 8/22/1741 – 9/12/1741


First Performed: 4/13/1742


Sales: - NA -


Peak: - NA -

Quotable: --


Genre: classical > choral music > oratorio


Parts/Movements:

Act I: 1) Sinfonia in E minor 2) “Comfort ye my people", Recitative for tenor 3) "Ev'ry valley shall be exalted", Air for tenor 4) "And the glory of the Lord", Chorus 5) "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts", Recitative for bass 6) "But who may abide the day of His coming", Air for bass 7) "And He shall purify the sons of Levi", Chorus 8) "Behold, a virgin shall conceive", Recitative for alto 9) "O thou that tellest good tiding to Zion", Air for alto 10) "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth", Recitative for bass 11) "The people that walked in darkness", Air for bass 12) "For unto us a Child is born", Chorus 13) Pifa in C major 14) "There were shepherds abiding in the field", Recitative for soprano 15) "And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them", Recitative for soprano 16) "But lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them", Arioso for soprano 17) "And the angel said unto them", Recitative for soprano 18) "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude", Recitative for soprano 19) "Glory to God in the highest", Chorus 20) "Rejoice greatly", Air for soprano 21) "Then shall the eyes of the blind be open'd", Recitative for soprano 22) "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd", Air for soprano 23) "His yoke is easy, His burden is light", Chorus

Act II: 1) "Behold the Lamb of God", Chorus 2) "He was dispised and rejected", Air for alto 3) "Surely, He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows", Chorus 4) "And with His stripes we are healed", Chorus 5) "All we like sheep", Chorus 6) "All they that see Him, laugh Him to scorn", Recitative for tenor 7) "He trusted in God that He would deliver Him", Chorus 8) "Thy rebuke hat broken His heart", Recitative for tenor 9) "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow", Arioso for tenor 10) "He was cut off out of the land of the living", Recitative for tenor 11) "But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell", Air for tenor 12) "Lift up your heads, O ye gates", Chorus 13) "Unto which of the angels said He at any time", Recitative for tenor 14) "Let all the angels of God worship Him", Chorus 15) "Thou art gone up on high", Air for bass/alto 16) "Great was the company of the preachers", Chorus 17) "How beautiful are the feet of them", Air for soprano 18) "Their sound is gone out into all the lands", Arioso for tenor 19) "Their sound is gone out into all the lands", Chorus 20) "Why do the nations so furiously rage together", Air for bass 21) "The Kings of the earth rise up", Air for bass 22) "Let us break their bonds asunder", Chorus 23) "He that dwelleth in heaven", Recitative for tenor 24) "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron", Air for tenor 25) "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron", Recitative for tenor 26) "Hallelujah", Chorus

Act II: 1) "I know that my Redeemer liveth", Air for soprano 2) "Since by man came death", Chorus 3) "Behold, I tell you a mystery", Recitative for bass 4) "The trumpet shall sound", Air for bass 5) "Then shall be brought to pass the saying", Recitative for alto 6) "O death, where is thy sting?", Duet for alto & tenor 7) "But thanks to be to God", Chorus 8) "Worthy is the Lamb was slain", Chorus 9) "Amen", Chorus 10) "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts", Supplemental Recitative for bass


Average Length: 140:00

Review:

“With the arguable exception of the Water Music, the oratorio Messiah is the one work of Handel’s which is universally known. Yet it was composed at a time when Handel’s fortunes were at a low ebb. His final attempt to return to opera with Imeneo (1740) and Deidamia (1741) had proved a failure, and rumor even had it that, having despaired of the London public, he was preparing to leave England. Fortuitously, the clergyman and writer Charles Jennens, Handel’s collaborator in Saul, lured Handel back to the idea of English oratorio; at much the same time, the composer received an offer from William Cavendish, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, to take part in the following season of oratorio performances in Dublin. The libretto offered to Handel by Jennens was based around the birth and Passion of Christ. It was called Messiah. Handel set to work on the libretto on August 22, 1741, completing the score just over three weeks later on September 12.” BR

“The resulting sacred, non-dramatic oratorio was a first for Handel, and, although it heralded the composer’s final great phase of oratorio composition, he never wrote one like it again. Messiah is therefore completely atypical within the context of Handel’s oratorios, the majority of which relate to Old Testament or Apocryphal stories in dramatized form. As a statement of Christian faith it moves the worldly Handel closer to Bach than any other work of his, although not sufficiently to prevent contemporary accusations of operatic influences. It is also worth recalling that during Handel’s day Messiah was more frequently performed in theaters than in churches.” BR

“Jennens divided his text into three parts, the first of which deals with the Prophecy of the Messiah and its fulfillment. The second takes us from the Passion to the triumph of the Resurrection, while the final part deals with the role of the Messiah in life after death. Handel’s setting consists of the usual juxtaposition of recitative, arias, and choruses. Jennens’ libretto draws across a wide spectrum of both Old and New Testament sources, but uniquely among Handel’s oratorios there are no named characters. The drama is thus articulated purely through the textual message, most powerfully through the overwhelming choruses that have ensured the enduring popularity of the oratorio. The first performance took place at the New Music Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It was received with huge acclaim, the Dublin Journal proclaiming that ‘Messiah was allowed by the greatest Judges to be the finest Composition of Musick that ever was heard.’ The following year the triumph was repeated at Covent Garden, when Handel added two more solos. Further revisions took place in 1745 at the famous Foundling Hospital performances, leaving all subsequent conductors with editorial problems as to Handel’s ‘final’ intentions. By the time of the composer’s death in 1758 Messiah had already attained an iconic status it has never relinquished.” BR

“Alongside its immensely popular choruses – of which the Hallelujah is king – Messiah’s primary allure is its effective arias and recitatives for solo voices. The opening Every Valley, sung by tenor, sets the tone for tunefulness and expressive charm, and is well-matched by the soprano’s Rejoice Greatly, the alto’s He was Despised and the bass’ The Trumpet Shall Sound.” BR


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Saturday, April 7, 2018

April 7, 1805: Beethoven premieres his 3rd symphony

Last updated August 28, 2018.

Symphony No. 3 in E♭ major, Op. 55, “Sinfonia Eroica”

Ludwig van Beethoven (composer)


Composed: 1802-1804


First Performed: April 7, 1805


Sales: --


Peak: --

Quotable: --


Genre: classical > symphony


Parts/Movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Marcia funebre. Adagio assai
  3. Scherzo. Allegro vivace
  4. Finale. Allegro molto

Average Duration: 48:47

Review:

Beethoven’s 3rd symphony, comprised of four movements, is one of his most celebrated works marking the onset of his creative middle-period. WK It is “grounded in the Classical symphonic tradition while also stretching boundaries of form, length, harmony, and perceived emotional and possibly cultural content. It has therefore widely been considered an important landmark in the transition between the Classical period and the Romantic era.” WK

The symphony, “despite everything written to the contrary,” RD “was never a ‘portrait’ of Napoleon Bonaparte,” RD although Beethoven initially dedicated it to him, believing he “embodied the democratic and anti-monarchical ideals of the French Revolution.” WK He was enraged, however, when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor and, according to Beethoven’s pupil, Ferdinand Ries, “went to the table, took hold of the title page, tore it in two, and threw it on the floor.” RD

What Beethoven didn’t tell Ries, however, is that Prince Lobkowitz had offered him “a handsome fee in exchange for the dedication,” RD making it much easier to re-dedicate the work. It was introduced “privately in Vienna, chez Prince Lobkowitz, to whom it is dedicated. Beethoven also conducted the public premiere on April 7, 1805, in the Theater-an-der-Wien.” RD

“The sheer length of the Eroica's first movement was revolutionary – an opening movement of 691 measures, plus an exposition repeat of 151 measures.” RD Beethoven also used hunting music for surprise effect in the third movement and a racy finale which included “a fugue that detractors ever since have called a falling-off of inspiration. This kind of argument ignores, however, not only what preceded the Eroica historically -- Bach's Goldberg Variations for example -- but also Beethoven's own ennoblement of the form.” RD


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