Beethoven’s Mass in C Major

Last night I continued my spring concert plans with Beethoven’s Mass in C Major preformed by the Worcester Chorus. I’ve never heard it before, though it felt familiar since I’ve sung Schubert’s Mass in C Major.

What can I say, I didn’t like it. For the most part, orchestral arrangements of the Mass are utterly unsuitable for use in the liturgy (not unlike contemporary church music) but they are still meant to capture some of the emotions proper to the ritual. The Kyrie was sappy, the Gloria and Credo overdone and too long (at least for my attention span). It does, however, get better for the Sanctus / Benedictus, and Agnus Dei which I enjoyed and which you can hear on the link above.

Not to sound like a Traditionalist (capital “T” Traditionalist, aka Trad, Traddy, Rad-Trad, which refers to a distinct Catholic subset) but the Roman Liturgy, as opposed to the Byzantine, Frankish, or Mozarabic, was always distinguished for its sobriety, a sobriety best captured in the Gregorian settings, and also in some Reformation and Tridentine era composers like Palestrina in Italy, de Victoria in Spain, or Byrd and Tallis in England. Those works can be sung in a concert hall, but are meant to be sung during worship.

For example:

Maybe Beethoven, being a thoroughly modern man, wasn’t into emotions like sobriety, humility and serene repentance, so he couldn’t really couldn’t capture all their subtlety? Though I’m told he did a better job with his Missa Solemnis.

Last night was my first time in Mechanic’s Hall. It was built in the 1840’s by – get this – mechanics. They wanted a place where Worcester’s industrial workers could be exposed to improving lectures by industrial experts. The acoustics are great. It houses the oldest unaltered organ in the Western Hemisphere, the Hook Organ, built in 1862. By the 70s the building had fallen into disrepair (along with the rest of the city) but it was purchased by the historical society and fully restored in 1977.  Mechanic’s Hall is now considered a top-five classical music venue in the United States (!!!). I never knew, and I grew up thirty minutes from here.

The interior is that sort of Federalist neo-Renaissance style once used for America’s public buildings. Corinthian columns grace the walls, with portraits of the city fathers. Allegories of Industry and Agriculture hang above the organ, along with the standard icons of American civil religion, portraits of Lincoln and Washington.

It’s great, but it feels like it came from another world. Factory workers built this? Would a schoolkid today be able to recognize any of it? Of course not.

The Apocalypse is not The End. The End came and went, the Apocalypse is when we wake up to the fact.

 

 

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