This week brings the San Francisco Symphony’s performances with Michael Tilson Thomas of the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven — a work that certainly belongs to my top-ten list of all time.
Following a trial run in Los Angeles in January, it’s being given as a “multimedia staged event”, complete with scenic, lighting, and video design; James Darrah is the director.
Of the earlier run in January, Mark Swed had this to say about MTT’s relationship with the Beethoven score:
In the grandest sense, this “Missa Solemnis,” with all its attendant baggage, is a kind of mission statement for MTT. He sets out to unpack a complicated artistic and musical construct, to reveal its workings and to treat it as a large-scale act of discovery.
The Missa Solemnis held intense personal significance for its composer as well: “Von Herzen — Möge es wieder — Zu Herzen gehn!” (“From the heart –- may it return to the heart!” wrote Beethoven on the copy of the score he presented to its dedicatee, his pupil and friend Archduke Rudolf.
For its public “premiere” in Vienna, three of the Missa‘s movements were given as part of the grand concert of 7 May 1824 that also unveiled the Ninth Symphony. (The secular context brought objections to performing the entire Missa.)
Next week MTT and the SFS continue their Beethoven Festival with a recreation of an earlier “marathon concert”: the one on a cold December night in 1808, when Beethoven premiered his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and Fourth Piano Concerto in a program that also included a concert aria, three movements from his other Mass setting (the Mass in C major), a piano fantasy, and the Choral Fantasy, that fascinating precursor to the Ninth.