‘More an orgy than a mass’

A couple of nights ago, I sat next next to a man who said that he has been coming to the Three Choirs Festival every year since 1965. That’s over 50 years!

Another woman told me she has been regular attendee for the last 40 years. Many of these people sit in the front section of the cathedral, “have come here for years,” and come to know the people who sit around them.

It is because of people like this that the Three Choirs Festival programs many seldom-heard works; after all, these people don’t want to say that they hear the same old stuff, year after year.

[As an aside, may I say that the people in the audience at the Three Choirs Festival are the nicest and friendliest ever. I have been drawn into a conversation by nearly every one of my seat neighbors at every single concert. I can’t ever say that I’ve engaged in conversation with any of my seat neighbors in America unless I already know them.]

For people like me, hearing last night’s Glagolitic Mass by Leoš Janáček was a first, in fact, I had never heard any of the music on the program before. In many ways, it was somewhat of a relief after hearing the first half of the program. The concert started with Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen. I am sorry, this piece to me just meandered and I couldn’t hold on to any of it. It was written for strings only, but no ordinary configuration. There were 23 separate solo parts, making for “a complex polyphony, relentless pathos and virtuosic solo-as-texture … driving forces” according to the program notes.

The second work was Torsten Rasch’s A Welsh Night, which was commissioned by the Hereford Three Choirs Festival in 2015 for voice and piano accompaniment. This year it was fully orchestrated including a full complement of percussion. I did enjoy the poetry by Alun Lewis, but as I told my seat mates, I certainly did not come out remembering any melodies, but only the dissonance.

Bows with the composer who was in the audience.

Described as ‘more an orgy than a mass,’ the Glagolitic Mass by Leoš Janáček was “a glorious explosion of life.” The text of the mass was mistranslated into high church Slavonic by Janáček, omitting several parts of the mass.

I think the fact that Janáček was non-religious to the extreme and wrote this piece more as a patriotic than a religious work is important to remember. Even though he was brought up as a Catholic, he said that the church was ‘concentrated death … tombs under the floor, bones on the altar, pictures full of torture and dying .. death and nothing but death. I do not want to have anything to do with it.” He even refused extreme unction when he was dying.

That said, I finally stopped trying to follow the text in the program, and tried to just listen to the work as a piece of music, because to me, the text of the mass did not fit the nature of the music. Here’s a little video clip with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

I actually liked the work, although the word that kept coming back to me was the word ‘tormented.’ I tried to put the work in the context of the long-suffering Czech people now that I have just visited that country and learned about their many years of persecution.

I was sitting in row 10 for this concert.

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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