Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle
Lincoln Choral Society performed this work in March, 2014.
On first hearing the Petite Messe Solennelle, you might agree with a comment supposedly made by Napoleon III that ‘the piece is neither little, solemn nor especially liturgical in spirit.’ In Rossini’s own words, ‘Thou knowest well, I was born for comic opera. A little science, a little heart, that is all.’ Rossini wrote Petite Messe Solennelle later in life as part of a group of works he referred to as Péchés de vieillesse or ‘sins of old age’.
A critic of Le Siècle stated that there was 'enough fire in the piece to melt a marble cathedral were it to be scored for full chorus and orchestra’.
The piece is dedicated to the Countess Louise Pillet-Will and the first performance was given at the private chapel in her town house in 1864.
Rossini specified twelve as the ideal number of singers. Initially, the instrumental scoring of the Mass for two pianos and harmonium, seems strange, but given its context as a salon piece, such instrumentation is not unusual.
Rhythm and modulation play an important part in the opening Kyrie and the rhythmic excitement continues throughout the Gloria and Credo. The magnificent tenor solo Domine Deus recalls the Cujus animam from Rossini’s earlier Stabat Mater, while Rossini’s operatic roots are represented in the Quoniam. The insertion of the O salutaris (not part of the liturgy, but often used as a hymn during the Mass or Benediction) provided Rossini with an opportunity to explore the unusual harmonies he was using in his piano pieces at the time. The final, radiant Agnus Dei for contralto, Rossini’s favourite voice, brings the work to a dramatic close.