I flirted with a separate blog for musical matters, but as my concert going is very limited these days, I decided Random Arts would have to go and I would write about music and opera etc on Random Jottings. Makes life easier. I know this is mainly a book blog but as I write about decorating, gardening and my lack of skills thereof, as well as family matters, I can hardly claim it is for the purists and so everything Random will be here from now on.
On Sunday I watched the Prom live from the Albert Hall. This was a performance of the Missa Solemnis by Beethoven and conducted by one of my favourite conductors Sir Colin Davis, who I have been in love with since 1968 (yes I can date the first year I saw him at a Prom) and was not to be missed. I have been fortunate to sing in several performances of this mighty work in my singing days and it is, quite frankly, a killer for the choir. Not so easy for the soloists either but at least they do get the odd sit down, not so the choir who are on their feet and singing nearly the entire time.
I am not sure where to start in writing about this work. Beethoven is the one I would choose if told I could only listen to one composer for the rest of my life. My introduction to him was at the Proms, (where else?) as a teenager when Friday night was Beethoven night and one of my memories of this time was Colin Davis conducting one evening with Stephen Bishop playing the Emperor concerto, my favourite piano concerto of all time. It was one of those performances that come along every now and then, which are perfect. You know it, the conductor knows it and so does the soloist and you never know when it is going to happen. I have attended several such evenings and when they happen they bring a joy and wonder that is hard to describe. I am still working my way through Beethoven and am nowhere near plumbing the profundities of all his works - I have only just started on his string quartets and violin sonatas so feel sure they will see me out.
When singing in a choir you find you perform all the old war horses, Verdi Requiem, Dream of Gerontius, Messiah, Elijah, Mozart Requiem, Bach St John and Matthew Passions etc etc and I love them all. Nothing, however, prepared me for the Missa Solemnis which the choir I then belonged to years ago decided to do. We started from scratch as none of us knew it and it took a year before we were sung in. I am not going to say we were relaxed about it as you do that at your peril with the Missa, the tempi changes are lethal and take a breath at the wrong moment and you are about two bars behind straight away. But oh it is worth all the hard work - it is simply glorious music.
For me the moment I wait for at each performance is the Benedictus and the solo violin, almost a mini-concerto, intertwining with the soloists and the choir. I am saying this now and I don't care if you write in and contradict me, that this is the most sublime and beautiful piece of music EVER composed. I will take on all comers in my defence of this statement and I have sat through magical performances of symphonies, concertos, operas, choral works over my 60 years of classical music listening, and I am happy to have this statement out there in cyberspace. In fact, when I tweeted that the Missa Solemnis was the greatest choral work ever, the BBC picked it up and put it on their Proms web page so I was thrilled to bits with that as I am sure you will understand.
Every time the violin solo starts with the choir hushed singing I dissolve into tears. I don't know why, but my throat closes up, my eyes fill and I have to sit down and listen and I can do nothing else while this is being played. It is the kind of music that demands you pay it attention and one thing I noticed about the audience on Sunday was their stillness. There were mini-breaks in between the huge Gloria and Credo and instead of the outbreak of rustling, coughing and moving there was almost total silence as we all awaited Sir Colin lifting up his baton.
Sir Colin is now in his eighties, no longer the vigorous, dynamic man I first fell in love with and he has recently lost his beloved wife and seems bowed over with sorrow. He sat down to conduct and he appeared tired and inward looking, but he was there all the way and while he conducted with great thoughtfulness and depth, every now and then he would catch the eye of an orchestra player and smile and his whole face lit up. Very clear that the orchestra and choir loved him and to see the faces of some of the players with rapt expressions and the beauty of what they were playing, was quite moving. A wonderful wonderful glorious evening.
A friend of mine is a member of the London Symphony Chorus and she was taking part in this performance. Like me, she adores Sir Colin and after the performance she emailed me with the following comment:
"The Missa is quite an emotional journey: I couldn't believe it was only just after 9.00 p.m and yet I felt as if I'd been to Mars and back since the concert began......The Benedictus is quite simply sublime, and the other heart-stopping moment is in the Credo; the chorus tenor entry "Et incarnatus est" and the next couple of pages are so unutterably beautiful that I well up each time"
No more to be said......