Monday, April 7, 2014

Mozart’s Great Mass in C

by Iris Roberts 

Although Mozart’s works are among my all-time favorites, I have never developed an interest in the history of his ouvre. However, after having attended Tom Davis’s introduction to the “Great Mass in C Minor” and then attending the live presentation of the mass at the Franco Center in Lewiston on March 30, I feel a new page turning in my own education that is most satisfying.

Tom placed Mozart in context with Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Beethoven. This overview was helpful in identifying influences on Mozart. As we listened to a recording, there they were, unmistakably: Bach, Vivaldi and Handel! Tom also helped us to understand how deeply spiritual the whole was, and how innovative using brass instruments was for a church work at that time. The very structure of the whole was an amalgam of a missa brevis and a "high mass,” with the text from the Ordinary alone but written with a grand sound intended—with double chorus, solo instruments, four soloists, and the insertion of a pastoral dance style into the Credo. Perhaps this overabundance of innovation is what caused the piece to be misunderstood in Mozart’s time and why it was never finished.

I was entranced by the recording and Tom’s presentation, and could hardly wait for the live performance! Recalling the movie Amadeus, I did wonder whether the several reverences to “too many notes” in that film would apply to this composition, performed live.

The Franco Center was more enchanting than I expected. With ascending theater seats filling what had once been a church’s nave, the whole area was filled with natural light. What a lovely, interesting performance venue for a rainy New England Sunday in early spring! At the appointed time, members of the Androscoggin Chorale filed into the former chancel to join the Maine Music Society Chamber Orchestra. As soloists took their seats, an air of anticipation filed the place, and after generous applause for sponsors, director John Corrie entered. He radiated warmth, approachable confidence, and knowledge. His remarks about the work reinforced what we had learned earlier.

The baton went up, and this wonderful director, channeling all those notes into a whole of so many harmonious complexities, gave an uplifting glimpse into one of the greatest musical minds ever. I felt that Mozart was sending his very soul to reach for something beyond himself, and this director and these musicians took the audience with them to that place. They sustained an intensity from the softest pianissimo to the most powerful forte. This shared emotional connection is what makes live performances so fulfilling. The audience’s only response: a spontaneous standing ovation to express our return gift of appreciation to the director and the performers.

How fortunate we are in Western Maine to have opportunities like this! I, and I’m sure many others, hold the deepest appreciation for so many people who, collectively, made this beautiful afternoon possible. 

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