Wednesday, 9 May 2012

'Missa Salisburgensis' - baroque splendour

I was interested to read the account of the recent visit of the Papal Choir to Westminster Cathedral, which revealed in a practical way, the extent of the Holy Father’s goodwill towards our Country. Without doubt the visit was very much a personal expression of gratitude for the warm welcome he received on his visit to  the United Kingdom, and for the sacred music performed in the his presence, particularly at Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

This is the first ever visit of the Papal Choir to this country , a truly historic event, which has allowed us to hear sacred music sung by a choir trained in the European continental style, as distinct from the style and technique of Westminster Cathedral Choir, faithful to the post-war Catholic choral tradition inculcated by the late George Malcolm. 

The continental choral tradition  has been described as ‘fulsome’ in its manner of presentation,  which while creating impressive and lively sound, loses perhaps a little in purity of tone and clarity of enunciation; whereas George Malcolm insisted, among other things, on the importance of these particular qualities, delivered directly and precisely. Since then, this tradition has been honed to near-perfection, with Westminster Cathedral Choir now regarded as one of the finest Cathedral Choirs in the world. 

Moving from the 21st century to the 17th century, allows me to introduce a magnificent Baroque composition by Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644-1704), namely his ‘Missa Salisburgensis’, composed for the great celebrations in Salzburg in 1682, commemorating the cities 1100th anniversary as a centre of Christianity, a jubilee unparalleled in the High Baroque era. 

That the papal state of Salzburg enjoyed precedence over the Habsburg emperors and bishoprics, indicates its unique importance, both spiritually and temporarily, with preparations for the ambitious anniversary celebrations beginning years before the event. 

                           Salzburg Cathedral Facade

The archdiocese of Salzburg regarded itself as the focal point of Roman and Venetian tradition, and ‘Missa Salisburgensis’ was composed not only for the glory of God, but also for the honour of Salzburg. 

There are six ‘choirs’ in all, comprising two principal vocal choruses with string accompaniment; a ‘chorus’ of recorders and oboes , a ‘chorus’ comprising cornets and trombones; and two groups of court trumpeters,’ outward manifestations of the secular power of the archdiocese, whose fanfares  represented the union between heaven and earth.’ 

The choirs were situated separately, but in complementary areas of the Cathedral, representing the ‘Choirs of angels standing upon every one of the towers of the heavenly Jerusalem, armed with all the instruments of the time, glorifying Almighty God, the Creator of all things.’ 

That is the message of this great Festival Mass, ‘the innermost concern of which, is the unification and strengthening of every section of society in the archdiocese, in the praise of God.’

 Spare a few minutes to listen to the ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Gloria’ from this extraordinary work – you will be blown away – figuratively speaking, of course! I find it deeply spiritual, powerful , and very moving. 

I think that Fr Blake from St Mary Magdalen’s, Brighton, as a baroque devotee, will particularly enjoy this. What about a performance at your Church, Father, it would be a full-house, without a doubt! Sublime sacred music, composed for the glory of God, and performed for the honour of God.                                           


Our Blessed Lady, Queen of Heaven and Earth, guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI


Ben said...

It is magnificent music. I have the CD somewhere - must dig it out & listen to the whole thing. Thanks for your message: I hope to get to Stronsay again in the next few weeks.

umblepie said...

Good to hear from you Ben. As you say this is magnificent Church music, and listening to the whole Mass is strongly recommended.
Look forward to seeing you on your visit here. Brian.

Physiocrat said...

Do you think Mozart examined the manuscript when he was at Salzburg?

umblepie said...

Thank you for your interest. Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756 74 years after the first performance of this Mass. Apparently the original score was lost over the years, with only a copy of the full score, in the hand of a professional copyist, surviving and kept in the archives of Salzburg Cathedral. It is possible that Mozart might have seen the score (or copy) but the work was composed specifically for the one occasion, and the style of composition was very different to that of Mozart and his contempories; thus he might not have been interested in it, and it is possible that he might not even have known of it. Interestingly there is debate as to whether Biber actually composed this work, or whether it was his 'rival' at the time Georg Muffat, or even Andreas Hofer, his predecessor 'Kapellmeister' to the Archbishop of Salzburg.

Physiocrat said...

On the subject of later composers looking at the scores written by those of a previous generation, there is the case of Handel who visited Rome in 1709 where he met Corelli, who was the last survivor of the circle of proteges gathered around Queen Christina of Sweden. There was a substantial body of music written by others of that group, including Carissimi, composer of Jepthe. Again, I wonder what Handel got to see.

umblepie said...

Physiocrat, many thanks for that information. Room for speculation on this one.

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