Beethoven's Missa Solemnis BBC Proms

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

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Tonight at the Proms, a work of monumental power - 90 minute-long


breathtaking religious drama, a Mass where belief and doubt battle


for supremacy, set to music that's rich and uncompromisingly bold.


Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Sir Colin Davis conducts the London


Symphony Orchestra along with the London Symphony Chorus and the


London Philharmonic Choir in one of Beethoven's late masterpieces. It


took four years of intensive effort to compose this solemn work as he


studied Bach, Handel and Palestrina to see how they had approached


setting the Latin Mass. Beethoven finished his account four years


before his death and at an hour- and-a-half, this is one of his


longest and largest compositions. Beethoven made full use of all the


resources that were available to him, a large orchestra, a quartet


of soloists and an extensive chorus as well, 260 singers on the Royal


Albert Hall platform. He was determined to do justice to what he


described as "the fundamental truths of the text", creating


passages which are incredibly rich and symphonic, others which are


much more intimate, rather more akin to chamber music. You feel the


anguish and the anxiety. There is a sense of solemn serenity around the


Benedictus. I spoke to Sir Colin Davis and asked him if he believed


that some sense of faith was essential to performing this work.


I am sure that is true. You don't have to believe in the religious


sense, but when Beethoven says he believes, we have to go along with


it. It is an amazing piece of music, truthfully. That is what is so


tiring about it. Every number took him four years to write. So I think


he had a lot of struggles. There are comic stories of him being in


such a terrible state trying to write a few... What do you think he


achieved with the piece? I don't know if he achieved his greatest


piece. He pretty well prevented anybody from writing a Mass again.


Why is it so great? Why? Because the music is so good. The text had


been around for a long time. We all know the lyrics. It is finding a


way of showing respect for those lyrics, isn't it? That's true. He


was like that - passionately committed. At the same time he was


writing the 9th similar foe any, which, great though it is, doesn't


compare. Sir Colin Davis who conducted the London Symphony


Orchestra more than half a century ago. If you want to read more about


the work in tonight's Prom, Missa Solemnis, you can go to our website.


There is also full text there. Right now, I'm joined in the


gallery of the Royal Albert Hall by a man who knows this piece very


well. He's sung the bass solo role. Rodney Earl Clarke. You need to


believe in it, don't you? If it is necessary for you to believe, if


you take a look around here with the enormous number of people who


have flocked in here, they have faith in the performance and the


orchestra and in Beethoven. Why is it so difficult to perform this


work? It requires lots of rehearsal. I was at rehearsal earlier on today.


I can safely say that we are in for a special treat. I was watching the


rehearsal today, but also yesterday at the BBC Maida Vale studios, and


the chorus being taken over certain passages because there are moments


when the balance is critical? You have to make it clear that this


piece is very challenging to put together. You have the forces of


the 80-strong orchestra, 260 members in that chorus and the four


wonderful soloists. That's a feat of engineering to fit that together.


We are lucky here tonight to have Sir Colin Davis. Sometimes in great


choral works, the soloists are placed around the conductor, two on


each side - ladies on the left, gents on the right. Tonight, they


are going to be much more bunched up. Why is that? This piece is very


much an ensemble piece. It is essential that all four soloists


can hear each other so we can get this whole piece tightly performed.


They perform as a quartet? Exactly. What are you most looking forward


to - please don't say the bass solo? This is described as a five-


movement symphony. My favourite number is the second number, the


Gloria. I can describe it as a huge choral explosion. You have the


Benedictus in stark contrast, where the leader of the orchestra stands


up and has his internal dialogue with the chorus and the violin,


solo violin. It is a very special moment that, solo violin, alone on


the stage. Thank you very much indeed for being with us. Here


comes that solo violinist. Gordan Nikolitch is leader of the London


Symphony Orchestra. Beethoven's inscription on the score reads


"from the heart, may it return to the heart." The soloists this


evening, Helena Juntunen, mezzo, Sarah Connolly, tenor Paul Groves


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