Tonight we will bash through (putting it charitably) some of the Missa Solemnis and then repair to the pub for some convivial drinking – setting the stage, I hope, for a joyful and invigorating process of learning this amazing piece.
As we begin, I’d like to bring you Philip Huscher’s take on the opening of the Missa:
“As Beethoven told Stieler early in 1820, the key is D major—a key Beethoven associated with Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus and with the Gloria and Sanctus of Bach’s B minor mass, scores he deeply admired and restudied before he set to work. Beethoven’s opening chord is the same brilliant D major that Bach and Handel knew, and yet the sound is entirely his own. Beethoven sees to that, not just in the particular voicing of the chord— the way the three notes of the D major triad are distributed over five octaves and among the instruments of the full orchestra—but in the way that it arrives mid-measure rather than on the downbeat, like a premature shout of faith. As we enter this grand and holy space, it takes our ears a few moments to adjust, to find Beethoven’s pulse, and to begin to move with it as clarinets and then oboes intone “Kyrie” long before the chorus sings. That’s one of the hallmarks of this music: the instruments of the orchestra often speak the words of the mass, anticipating and answering—but never, in the conventional sense, accompanying—the singers.”
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.