Beethoven – Missa Solemnis (Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Capella Amsterdam)

Conducted by Daniel Reuss, the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and Cappella Amsterdam perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123. Soloists: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Marianne Beate Kielland (alto), Thomas Walker (tenor) and David Wilson-Johnson (bass). Recorded during the AVROTROS Friday concert on October 14, 2016 at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht. Published by the AVROTROS Klassiek.

Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123

Missa solemnis is Latin for solemn mass, and is a genre of musical settings of the ordinary mass, which are festively scored and render the Latin text extensively, opposed to the more modest Missa brevis. In French, the genre is “Messe solennelle”. The terms came into use in the classical period.

When “Missa solemnis” is used as a name, without referring to a composer, Beethoven’s work is generally implied. The piece was composed from 1819 to 1823 and first performed on 7 April 1824 in St. Petersburg, Russia, under the auspices of Beethoven’s patron Prince Nikolai Galitzin (8 December/19 December 1794 – 22 October/3 November 1866), the Russian aristocrat).

Like most masses, the work is in five movements:

  1. Kyrie: Perhaps the most traditional movement, the Kyrie is in a traditional ABA’ structure, with stately choral writing in the first movement section and more contrapuntal voice leading in the Christe, which also introduces the four vocal soloists.
  2. Gloria: Quickly shifting textures and themes highlight each portion of the Gloria text, in a beginning to the movement that is almost encyclopedic in its exploration of 3/4 time. The movement ends with the first of the work’s two massive fugues, on the text “In gloria Dei patris. Amen”, leading into a recapitulation of the initial Gloria text and music.
  3. Credo: The movement opens with a chord sequence that will be used again in the movement to effect modulations. The Credo, like the Gloria, is an often disorienting, mad rush through the text. The poignant modal harmonies for the “Et incarnatus” yield to ever more expressive heights through the Crucifixus, and into a remarkable, a cappella setting of the “Et resurrexit” that is over almost before it has begun. Most notable about the movement, though, is the closing fugue on “Et vitam venturi saeculi” that includes one of the most difficult passages in the choral repertoire, when the subject returns at doubled tempo for a thrilling conclusion. The form of the Credo is divided into four parts: (I) allegro ma non troppo through “descendit de coelis” in B-flat; (II) “Et incarnatus est” through “Resurrexit” in D; (III) “Et ascendit” through the Credo recapitulation in F; (IV) fugue and coda “Et vitam venturi saeculi, amen” in B-flat.
  4. Sanctus: Up until the Benedictus of the Sanctus, the Missa solemnis is of fairly normal classical proportions. But then, after an orchestral preludio, a solo violin enters in its highest range-representing the Holy Spirit descending to earth-and begins the mass’s most transcendently beautiful music, in a remarkably long extension of the text.
  5. Agnus Dei: A setting of the plea “miserere nobis” (have mercy on us) that begins with the men’s voices alone in B minor yields, eventually, to a bright D major prayer “dona nobis pacem” (“grant us peace”) in a pastoral mode. After some fugal development, it is suddenly and dramatically interrupted by martial sounds (a convention in the 18th century, as in Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli), but after repeated pleas of “miserere”, eventually recovers and brings itself to a stately conclusion.

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and Cappella Amsterdam perform Beethoven's Missa Solemnis
Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and Cappella Amsterdam perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century was founded by Frans Brüggen (30 October 1934 – 13 August 2014, the Dutch conductor, recorder player and baroque flautist) Lucy van Dael (born in 1946, the Dutch baroque violinist and member of the faculty of the Amsterdam Conservatory) and a group of friends in 1981. The orchestra consists of some fifty-five members from more than twenty different countries. Five times a year the orchestra assembles to go on tour. The musicians, who are all specialists in eighteenth and early nineteenth century music, play on period instruments or on contemporary copies. The wide-ranging repertoire this orchestra has recorded for Philips Classics and nowadays for The Grand Tour / Glossa includes works by Purcell, Bach, Rameau, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Chopin.

In August 2014 the Orchestra had to say farewell to Frans Brüggen. The inspired collaboration with the Orchestra’s founding father came to an end but Brüggen’s inspiration will remain and lead the Orchestra in the years to come. The Orchestra decided to continue the tradition of five projects a year, now inviting guests and guest conductors.

Cappella Amsterdam

Cappella Amsterdam was established by Jan Boeke in 1970 and has, since 1990, been under the artistic leadership of Daniel Reuss. In recent years the choir has occupied a prominent position in the field of Dutch music and has also enjoyed great success in Europe and beyond. Cappella Amsterdam has thus played a vital role in the European Tenso Network of choirs.

Cappella Amsterdam is renowned for it’s homogenous, refined consonance and its extraordinary versatility. The choir excels in both modern repertoires as in music by the old masters and especially embraces the works of Dutch composers.

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