"Come and Sing" Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle

Saturday 10 January 2015, 19:00

St Mary's Nantwich

undefinedThis very popular event is open to all singers. As in previous years we shall rehearse during the day and give a performance in the early evening.

If you have sung it before you will know that it is neither "Petite" nor "Solennelle" but a wonderful happy work full of big Rossini tunes!

If you haven't sung it, come along and learn. It's not difficult and you'll enjoy it.

The Petite Messe Solennelle is the most substantial of the works written during Rossini's Indian summer of composition. It was composed in 1863 for private performance and is scored for four soloists and chorus, with harmonium and piano accompaniment. It was not heard in public until 1869, the year after his death, when it was performed in the composer's own orchestral version at the Theatre Italien. The work's title is misleading, since the Petite Messe Solennelle is neither petite nor particularly solemn. It lasts well over an hour, and despite the religious text is unmistakeably operatic in style, in common with the Stabat Mater of twenty years earlier. The music ranges from hushed intensity to boisterous high spirits, and abounds in the memorable tunes and rhythmic vitality for which Rossini became justly famous. The quiet A minor opening of the Kyrie Eleison contrasts sustained choral writing with a running bass part in the piano accompaniment. This soon gives way to a brighter mood as the music moves into the major. For the Christe Eleison, Rossini adopted a deliberately archaic style, echoing the church music of Palestrina some 300 years earlier. As the second Kyrie unfolds, the movement returns to the serious mood in which it began. The Gloria begins with a short introduction for chorus and soloists, followed by four extended solo movements that are operatic arias in all but name. The chorus returns for the final section of the Gloria, an extended fugue to the words 'Cum sancto spiritu in gloria Dei Patris, Amen.' This is a real tour de force of musical craftsmanship, reflecting the thorough classical training in harmony and counterpoint that Rossini received all those years ago at the Bologna Academy. In the Credo Rossini ingeniously uses the word 'credo' as a unifying motif to which he repeatedly returns. This section of the mass concludes with another brilliant fugue for the chorus, at the words 'Et vitam venturi saeculi, Amen.' There follows an extended piano solo, leading to a lyrical Sanctus and Benedictus, and the work ends with a moving Agnus Dei for the alto soloist and chorus. There is a sense in which Rossini's extraordinary musical facility was one of his weaknesses as well as one of his strengths. He once remarked, 'Show me a laundry list and I will set it to music!' and this neatly illustrates his complete confidence in his own ability to produce music to order, whatever the words. To some extent, this is what he has done in the Petite Messe. Of course, there are many sections which beautifully reflect the words, such as the Christe Eleison and the Agnus Dei, but in other places one feels that Rossini has paid little regard to the essential meaning and form of the text. The two extended choral fugues are good examples of this; they are disproportionately grand in relation to the rest of the Gloria and Credo. Yet at no point in the work does the music become remotely dull or routine. Such was Rossini's genius that even when the spirit of the music seems to depart from the spirit of the text one can't help but be captivated by the beautiful melodies and sheer joie-de-vivre of the piece. As he himself said, 'Delight must be the basis and aim of this art', and that is what he has achieved - a work not of profound religious insight, but one that is a delightful, life-enhancing musical experience.