Saturday, June 18, 2016

Liszt: Missa Choralis

“…take this music seriously as much for its musical message as for its religious inspiration."
- Marc Rochester, Gramophone Review

What time is it? 1:22 pm on Thursday 16 June.
What coffee am I drinking? Jamaican Me Crazy
What version am I listening to? I’m listening to the Hannover Boys Choir (Knabenchor Hannover), conducted by Heinz Hennig. Organ played by Tobias Götting.

Missa Choralis is thus just what Liszt intended from its inception: a prayer to God, given voice through sublime music.”
- Westminster Chorale, April 2010, program notes.
Stripping away the excess of anything that might be "showing off", this work definitely accomplishes its goal of making the listeners think about faith in Christ and what that means. They (the Christian faith and Missa Choralis) are not all fun and games; sometimes they're simple and sometimes complex; and they're certainly not (or shouldn't be...) anything self-absorbed. They are beautiful through their joy and also through their sorrow.

Wow...there are some incredibly beautiful moments in this that almost caught me off guard. The end of the Kyrie was the first of such moments...I love the interplay between the bass and the other voices and the wide shift of dynamics in a few bars.
Liszt: Missa Choralis - "Kyrie" ending
During the Gloria, the "laudamus te, benedicimus te" are so playful...I love the imagery of worshiping God ("laudamus te" means "we praise you" and "benedicimus te" means "we thank you") as being fun and playful.

But what really captured me in this work were the Credo and Benedictus...

The Credo is about seven and a half minutes long, but is creative and changed so much throughout that it really kept my attention. Liszt uses text painting so well: Unison voices sing "I believe in one God...and in one Lord, Jesus Christ," but as the idea gets more complex ("Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible") the harmonies get more complex and the tonality shifts around (vi, v, VII, I, viio, III, VI). Each section of the Credo is so different (Credo/Crucifixus/Et in spiritum/Et vitam) and Liszt gets the point across in a concise but interesting and thoughtful manner.

I love the Benedictus. I really enjoy the harmonies, especially at the beginning. They seem very in line with what choral music in the mid- to late-20th century was doing, like Randall Thompson and Morten Lauridsen. The alternation between quartet and chorus is fun, and the ending is just incredible. Liszt strips the choir down less and less, finishing very simply with two light soprano voices.
Liszt: Missa Choralis - "Benedictus" ending
This work is a juxtaposition of Baroque (or even Renaissance) music and Romantic music. It has the harmonies and tonality shifts and dynamic contrasts of the Romantic style, but has removed the "operatic frills" as Humphrey Smith said in his Music Web International review. Liszt has stripped the mass down and laid the text bare for us to consider what is being said, but still allows us the beauty of being caught up in something that is not simply text and notes. It is not quite part of this world, showing perhaps a picture of faith itself: Christianity is certainly in, but not quite of, this world.

Thanks, Liszt.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right to describe this work as integrating the Romantic with earlier periods of compositional style. This seems to have been a common approach for romantic composers when approaching "church" music. I'm interested to know more about Liszt's movement toward a solitary and devoted lifestyle and how this affected his compositional style. I know he went to live at a monastery when his children died and devoted himself to God, but how did the attachment (or reattachment) with faith change his approach to composing? When you compare this with the young, virtuosic, egotistical(?) Liszt, how does the change potentially reflect God's work in his life? Or does it just reflect an adherence to the cultural perception of what church music should be?

    Just a few questions from your caring grandmother.