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A magnificent work of choral splendour

22 February 2019 02:37 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


On February 24, 2019 the public will have the great opportunity of participating in and experiencing an extraordinary and exceptional Latin Mass in symphonic dimensions, at St. Mary’s Church, Grand Street, Negombo.  
Looking back to the origin and source of the Mass and observing its developments through the centuries, would help us understand and appreciate this Mass more meaningfully.  
The source of the Mass is the Last Supper of Lord Jesus Christ in the first century and the Mass as a sublime, structured renewal of this sacred celebration began in the time of Pope St. Gregory (d.604). The liturgically formulated Roman (Latin) Mass took place in about 1570. Music, as an integral part of the Mass was added to the liturgical texts from the seventh century to the present day – from Plain Chant through resplendent Polyphony to the richly harmonic and “adventurous” settings of the Concert Masses of today.  

The Mass in D op.111 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel composed in May 1808 is a good example of a Concert Mass, in an “inspired and sensitive” setting of the Liturgy.  Hummel was born in Pressburg (Bratislava) in 1778 and died in Weimar in 1837. He was an Austrian pianist, composer, teacher and conductor – was considered to have been a prodigy in his youth and to have been “one of Europe’s greatest composers and perhaps its greatest pianist” in his time - The New Grove ed. Stanley Sadie. Hummel was extremely lucky to have studied music under great composers like Mozart, Clementi, Salieri, Haydn and Albrechtsberger, not to mention a stormy friendship with Beethoven. The influence of these composers is evident in his music as well as the influence of the mannered Mannheim school from where he brings great dynamic contrasts into his Masses. He composed in every genre of music with the exception of the Symphony.  Hummel composed five Masses, all entirely choral with orchestral support. Strangely, no Mass uses soloists. Perhaps he thought that the elaborate solo performances in this period could take away from the “spiritual” sensibility of the Liturgical texts and could possibly be too secularly operatic.  


"He composed in every genre of music with the exception of the Symphony.  Hummel composed five Masses, all entirely choral with orchestral support"

Though the traditional “Ordinary” of the Mass had the cycle of five sections – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei, Hummel separates them into eleven sections.  
Hummel’s genius is seen in his bold use of unusual harmonies, his use of homophonic and contrapuntal textures as in the Kyrie, strange modulations as in the Credo, syncopated rhythms and contrasted tempi from spirited to slow between sections and strong contrasts of dynamics from fortes to pianos, all in an effort to make the text meaningful through the music.  
The Mass in D op.111 by J.N. Hummel is a unique, eclectic composition treating us to a variety of choral styles. It is “Classical in essence, and the consistency of mood…” Hummel’s insistence on the “impalpable quality of musicianship” – New Grove ed. S. Sadie, makes great demands on the virtuosity of the performers. This Mass is a truly magnificent work of choral splendour, a reward for performers and audience.  

The main celebrant of this Mass is His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. Chorus Sacrum comprising professional choirs will be conducted by our favourite English Conductor, Gregory Rose and Canto Pueri comprising parish and school choirs will be conducted by our very popular Francis de Almeida. The supporting orchestra is the impeccable Chamber Music Society of Colombo, led by Lakshman Joseph de Saram.  Last but not least, we will hear the delightful premiere of the well known Ave Maris Stella in an original harmonisation by Gregory Rose.  
Bridget Halpé  

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