Work: Glagolitic Mass
About This Work
Leos Janácek's magnificent Glagolitic Mass (or Slavonic Mass) had its origins in 1907, when the composer began sketching out a Latin mass for chorus and organ. Janácek had nearly finished three sections of the work (the Kyrie, Credo,
and Agnus Dei) when he set it aside. He did not return to it for almost 20 years. This period of inactivity on the mass involved an attempt on the composer's part to redefine, in his most personal terms, the meanings of the mass texts. Janácek sometimes would ponder the reformulation of a traditional idea, such as the mass proper, for great stretches of time.
When the composer returned to the mass, he began with a change of text. Janácek settled on a ninth century Slavonic mass, used in ancient times in his native Moravia. The ancient Slavonic style of script, known as glagolitic, was incorporated into the title of his mass to help date the text, to connect the composer with his Moravian roots, and to honor the Greek influence of the past. The Glagolitic Mass had little to do with organized religion in the composer's mind, however, and was not intended for liturgical use. Janácek's mass was conceived as a paean to Nature, and a tribute to humanity. In 1928, Janácek was quoted as saying, "I wanted to portray the faith in the certainty of a nation, not on a religious basis, but on a basis of moral strength which takes God for witness."
In August 1926, Janácek drafted an expanded version of the Glagolitic Mass in Luhacovice, a small Moravian town to which the composer retreated for summer vacations. There, he combined the old 1907 mass with the new (or rather, ancient) Slavonic text, and composed new material. Around the time the organ Intrada was being composed, Janácek's copyist was on hand putting together a legible copy of the score. The Glagolitic Mass was completed in December of 1926. But when Janácek learned that a premiere was forthcoming, he revised it yet again, watering down some of the more complicated sections. The work was finally given its world premiere on December 5, 1927, and achieved overnight success.
An inferior version of the mass has been perfomed and recorded many times over. Charles Mackerras, conductor and Janácek specialist, set out to locate the original score and to reconstruct it as closely as possible to what Janácek wanted. In 1994 the restoration was completed, and the work has been returned to its original luster with an amazing performance by Mackerras and the Danish National Radio Symphony.
-- Franklin Stover
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