Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Missa Solemnis (Liszt)
Liszt's "Missa Solennis" was first heard in this country at one of the Cincinnati festivals. For that occasion, Otto Singer, who had made a profound study of all of Liszt's music and who was recognized as a Liszt authority, prepared a synopsis of the Mass, from which (...) we quote:
"In Beethoven's Mass, the forms of the single parts of the 'Kyrie,' 'Gloria' and 'Credo,' are of really enormous and unprecedented proportions. Besides, Beethoven's conception of the text varies almost always from the ordinary meaning attached to it. Here lies a characteristic difference between his and Liszt's work. The latter does not permit himself to make such bold deviations from the customary style of the masses; in his 'Missa Solennis,' the single parts do not grow to such immense size as in Bach or Beethoven; it is more the religious than the musical standpoint from which he starts. It is true that he uses, besides the organ, all the ample means of instrumentation which the orchestra of the present time affords, but the vocal part, represented by a chorus and solo quartet, takes everywhere the most important position.
"The 'Kyrie,' in spite of a powerful climax in the middle, retains throughout the character of a solemn introduction. In it, as in all the other movements, we meet the same thematic unity so familiar to us from his symhonies. The 'Gloria' is, perhaps, the grandest part of the mass. The fugue, 'Cum sancto spirito,' that follows later, is of a primitive force, enlivened by a very pregnant rhythm. After the introduction of the four vocal parts, it is constructed, not in polyphonic, but homophonic manner; the fugue is taken up by the orchestra and opposed by the solid mass of the chorus.
"The chief theme of the following 'Credo' contains a strong, convincing, and joyous confession of faith. 'The Crucifixus' comes forth with sombre originality at first, and rises higher and higher until it becomes the outcry of pain and repentance of a whole world. The contrasts of 'Vivos et Mortuous' are of a truly grand effect. The following 'Sanctus' is simple, melodious, and comprehensible, though very polyphonic. The 'Benedictus' for four solo voices, with its wonderful softness and delicacy, will give the inmost contentment to all who possess true musical and religious feeling. In the final movements, the 'Agnus Dei' and 'Dona nobis Pacem,' we meet with a recapitulation of the chief motives of the mass -- the 'Credo' and 'Gloria' -- and after that the work is concluded with the theme of the 'Kyrie.'"