Wednesday, April 01, 2009

NCH Action: Leos Janácek's "Glagolithic Mass" & Ludwig van Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony

Our pal Leedy was singing in the Glagolithic Mass – not on her own, but as part of a choir. But what is a mass when it is being glagolithic? That I cannot tell you. Oh wait, no, the programme says it is derived from the Latin word for the Old Church Slavonic language in which Janácek decided to render the text of his mass, as a way of making it doubly incomprehensible. The programme helpfully gives translations (in English) of all the Old Church Slavonic stuff the choir are singing, so I now know that Bog seems to be the Old Church Slavonic for God, while Gospod is the word for Lord. But what does Sabaoth mean? It is helpfully translated here as… Sabaoth. Now, you might wonder why I am fixating on this one word, but it is one I have seen before – in the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. In his short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the villainous wretch who has, from his essentiale saltes, been resurrected at one point mutters "Per Adonai Sabaoth – " when trying to protect himself from being turned back into a pile of saltey nuggetes. Could it be that Janácek was himself a servant of dark forces, that his Glagolithic Mass is a sacrament not of Good, but of Evil?

Whatever about its possible status as a portal into our universe for obscene deities from outside time and space, the Glagolithic Mass is also interesting in how little mileage it gets from its lead vocalists. One of the lady singers barely sang anything at all, while the other leads did not really do that much, making the achievements of the main choir that bit more noticeable. The other fascinating feature of the piece was its wonderful false ending. I mean, it's a mass, so when they reach the The Mass is over, go in peace – amen bit you do rather think "Well that'll be that then", even if the Mass is being sung in Church Slavonic or Aklo or whatever they call it. What you do not expect is a crazy organ solo. I cannot but think this might prove the solution to the problem of falling church attendance.

The Eroica symphony of Beethoven, meanwhile, is a very famous piece of classical music, so famous that I was surprised not to recognise it from an ad or film score. Famously, it was originally meant to be dedicated to the French general Napoleon Bonaparte, seen at the time as a hero of the Enlightenment and a man who was sweeping away the dark forces of illiberalism that had been holding back Europe; but then, when Bonaparte declared himself Emperor Napoleon, Beethoven tore off the dedication from the score. The music is very impressive, though at first I was having some problems getting to grips with it. The last section, though, is astonishing. Beethoven seems to really know how to build to a finish, and the musical spectacle was well counterpointed visually by Andreas Delfs giving us loads of crazy conductor action.


Ammonite said...

An organ solo is the solution to many problems, methinks.

ian said...

I will take this advice to heart.