May 7, 1824 in Vienna: a concert was presented, with the following program:
Consecration of the House Overture
Missa Solemnis: Kyrie, Gloria and Credo – translated into German because the local authorities didn’t want sacred music performed in a public theatre.
Symphony No. 9
All of this after (brace yourselves) a smattering of choir/piano rehearsals and only two full rehearsals, with amateur musicians who donated their time. “The idea of mounting these [Missa Solemnis] movements and the Ninth with an amateur chorus and mostly amateur orchestra after a few rehearsals is painful to contemplate. Here could be at least one day in his life when Beethoven was lucky to be deaf.” (Jan Swafford, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph)
It is heartening to read accounts from the day – according to Swafford, “some of the weaker string players were seen to put down their bows during the harder parts. The sopranos in the chorus [during the Ninth] simply left out many of the high notes.” (Don’t get any ideas.) Heartening because there are moments in rehearsal when we also struggle with the range, complexity and sheer mass of music we need to learn. But heartening as well to realize that we are carrying on a long tradition of hard-working amateurs, donating our time and often-tired bodies to singing this great music. From the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: “The impact was indescribably marvelous and strong. [The Missa Solemnis] was acclaimed with enthusiastic shouts…”
I look forward to the same for us.