Visiting : London
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Beethoven: “Missa solemnis”
This piece overwhelms its listeners. It baffles and provokes controversy. Beethoven considered the “Missa solemnis” to be his “greatest, most accomplished” work. For artists like pianist Igor Levit, it was the key experience that drove them towards Beethoven. The composer himself called it an oratorio, which means that it was not intended for church service. It unites the dramatic and the spiritual, palpable realism and refined artistic sublimation, scenic clarity and philosophical wisdom.
John Eliot Gardiner has explored and revisited Beethoven’s great credo over a period of several years, a piece that captures and rethinks centuries of European intellectual and musical history. He first recorded the “Missa” in 1990 – with the very same ensembles that will now perform it at Musikfest Berlin. Both of them, Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique were founded by Gardiner himself. Together, they undertook expeditions into the historical contexts of music with an age-old tradition, finding out what the old works have to tell us today. Their concertante performance of Hector Berlioz’ opera “Benvenuto Cellini” at Musikfest 2019 was an impressive example of how music can be brought into the present in a most captivating manner.
The challenges of “Missa solemnis” are by no means lesser than those found in Berlioz’ musical drama. The diversity of its score was informed by traditions of opera, liturgy, symphony, concert and sacred music. Bringing these sometimes contradictory forces into the right balance demands the ability to keep “the entirety [of the work] in sight at all times” (Beethoven). Beethoven may have left the text of the Latin Ordinary of the Mass unaltered, but he composed it like a libretto, which meant that the music was not confined to a mere affirmation of the text. What he created is not a confession of faith in the triune god according to established Christian instruction, but rather a work about the eternal communication between mankind and divinity, between the earth and the heavens – about the path towards “inner and outer peace”, for which mankind seems to need guiding stars beyond their acute condition.