St. Stephen's Catholic Church
4 June 2017
“The Twelfth Mass of Mozart has become a household word among all those who have the remotest idea of or taste for music. It has been translated from its original destination in the Catholic choir to the theatre, the cathedral, the drawing room; its melodies are hummed, whistlred, sung, played reverywhere, and the earliest ambition of the aspiring bass singer is to sing the delightful opening solo of the ‘Kyrie,’ a theme full of sweetness, grace and simplicity. We have spoken of it frequently before, and it might seem unnecessary to dwell on it here. Yet the superb and complete manner in which it was given at St. Stephen’s yesterday, nothing in the score being omitted, made it new to most of the immense congregation. Few of those acquainted merely with the vocal and organ parts have any idea of the extreme beauty, power and variety of the orchestration and the mine of melody and harmony in the concluding fugue of the ‘Gloria,’ the minuet of the Benedictus, and the other parts which are generally ommittee as too difficult or redundant. Some of the musicians in the orchestra said that they have seldom played a work that gave so much pleasure to the performer as well as the hearer. The instrumental parts want only the flute and clarionet parts to meet the full capacity of a grand orchestra of the present times. In the ‘Kyrie Eleison’ we have numerous evidences of the progressive spirit of the composer, which caused him to disregard old time-honored laws, and to introduce those daring innovations which created a new school of music. Yet those wonderful effects which sounded so strange in the ears of his contemporaries are as charmingly simple as they are ingenious. There are none of the absurd vagaries of the Liszt and Berlioz school to be found in any part of the work. The violin passages in the ‘Christe Eleison’ are the most characteristic and beautiful, and the melody and harmony are such that none but Mozart could have written them. The ‘Gloria’ is divided into four movements—the first bearing a strong similarity to the finale of the first act of ‘Don Giovanni.’ The opening unison of voices and instruments is so grand and jubilant that, when years ago, under the Kemble management, the gorgeous cathedral coronation of Charles X, at Paris were represented at Covent Garden, this music was selected as the most fitting to accompany it. The delicacyof the violin passages in ‘Pax Hominibus’ again attests the presence of Mozart. The entire movement is declamatory and gives the most triumphant expression of the theme that can be imagined. Then comes the ‘Qui Tollis,’ an adagio in C minor, for solo voices, chorus, stringed instruments and bassoons. It is a solemn, grand, ecclesiastical movement, and contrasts pleasingly with the dashing ‘Quoniam tu solus that follows. The last chorus of the ‘Gloria’ consists mainly of a fugue, with a bold and grand subject worked up in such a florid, intricate manner that few choirs are capable of executing it. The subject commences with the bass, and is taken up by the tenor, alto and soprano in succession, thereby reversing the usual order. The joyous character, melodious syncopation, passionate eagerness of this fugue makes it a favorite with all musicians. The ‘Gloria’ brought to a close amid a blaze of grand harmonies and of glittering and rapid accompaniments, all the resources of the chorus and orchestra being united in a general expression of exultation and triumph. In the ‘Credo,’ the delicious and dramatic tenor solo, ‘Et Incarnatus,’ which breathes of pathos and tenderness, and the subdued tones of the chorus in the ‘Crucifixion’ are the moststriking features. The ‘Benedictus’ opens with the minuet in ‘Don Giovanni,’ and contains rare gems of melody for every instrument in the orchestra. The vocal parts are too long and too trying. In the ‘Dona Nobis,’ the finale of the mass, we have brilliancy and originality to the highest degree. Light and perpetual motion in the accompaniments, it resumes and blends in new forms all that preceded with new ideas and forms a fitting climax to the great work.
William Berge, organist of the church, conducted the chorus and orchestra. [list of soloists] The chorus consisted of sixty singers, and Thomas’ orchestra of twenty-seven performers assisted. The performance of the work was deserving of the highest praise, and there was little to find fault with in it. Mr. Berge took the tempi in some instances with a greater degree of spirit and rapidity than they usually receive, and the effect was correspondingly better. At the offertory the ‘Adeste Fideles’ very cleverly orchestrated and varied by Berge, was sung. The soprano and bass obligati in the arrangement of the well known hymn, and the crashing finale which seemed like Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner rolled into one, were very effective. The overture to ‘Masaniello’ and the ‘Tannhäuser March’ were given by the orchestra and organ at the commencement and at the end of the mass, and were played with unwonted spirit and brilliancy. . . . The church was crowded to its utmost capacity, and the display of rich toilets among the congregation was remarkable. Few of the four thousand persons assembled in this splendid temple of religion yesterday will forget the effect which the admirable rendering of the Twelfth Mass produced on them. It was a royal Christmas feast, and enough to satiate the most inveterate lover of music and the most devout worshipper who ever bent knee in a church.”