Friday, 25 October 2013

Janácek Glagolitic Mass

Janáček's Glagolitic Mass is an incredible work and one of my ultimate favourite compositions. It was introduced to me by a high school teacher who was passionate about exposing students to classical music. In this post, I will introduce you to an excellent version of the reconstructed original work. 

Leoš Janáček

Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) composed the majority and his best known works during the last decade of his life. His musical style is distinctly individual and original making his work unique and interesting. Prominent are "speech" derived melodic lines and influences from Moravian and Slavic folk music.

Janáček's Glagolitic Mass for soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, double chorus, organ and orchestra was mostly composed in 1926, using some material which dates back from as early as 1907. Janáček chose to set his mass to Old Church Slavonic text, rather than the more traditional Latin text, hence the title, "Glagolitic Mass". The original version consists of nine movements, with the exciting Intrada repeated at the beginning and end of the piece.

There are a number of excellent versions of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass, including those conducted by Simon Rattle, Michael Tilson Thomas and Leonard Bernstein. My favourite recording is played by the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Charles Mackerras (featured on this blog previously conducting Mozart).

Janacek Glagolitic Mass Charles Mackerras

This recording features Paul Wingfield's reconstruction of Janáček's original version of the score. Some of the differences include that the Intrada, usually heard at the end of the piece, appears at the beginning too and is more complex rhythmically; and Timpani interruptions are restored to the Credo.

The opening and closing Intrada of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass are amongst the most dramatic and exciting that I know. What a great way to start and end a piece of music. The wailing violins at 1:28 are especially spine-chilling. Alex Ross in his excellent book, The Rest is Noise, mentions that one of Janáček's signature sounds is a raw pealing of trumpets. This can be heard to full effect in the Intrada. There is some wild singing from the soloists (some other versions faring slightly better), but I find this adds to the primal nature of the music and certainly doesn't detract from this marvellous recording. The chorus, excellent throughout are well balanced in this recording. The second last movement for solo organ is unusual in this setting, but is so wonderfully moving that it feels appropriate as a prelude to the conclusion of the work. This is an incredible recording of a marvellous work, which commands to be known.

Here is an Amazon link to The Rest is Noise for readers wishing to acquaint themselves further with 20th Century music:

Below is a youTube video of the opening of the Glagolitic Mass conducted by Boulez.

Links to the recording:


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