Saint Cecilia Mass by Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

Composer Charles François Gounod (b. Paris 1818; d. Saint-Cloud 1893) was a practicing Catholic and as a youth intended to become a priest. He eventually decided he was unsuited for the priesthood but expressed his devotion in numerous works of sacred music. After winning the Grand Prix de Rome in 1839, Gounod spent much of his time at the Sistine Chapel listening to and studying the works of sixteenth century masters. During the summer of 1855, while at work on the St. Cecilia Mass, he wrote to his mother, “During the afternoons I usually go to the woods and read selections of my beloved Saint Augustine.  I have translated them; that is my time of reflection. Following that, I contemplate my Mass.” After the premier of the Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile, in the Church of St Eustache in Paris on Saint Cecilia’s Day, November 22, 1855, a French publication’s reviewer noted, “He has the sense of liturgical things; and I shall say more, he is convinced; he believes!” This rendition established Gounod’s fame as a noteworthy composer. The Messe Solennelle was dedicated by the composer to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, who like Saint Agnes, was martyred for her faith in Rome and is memorialized in both the Roman Canon (Para. 96) and the Roman Martyrology (September 16 and November 22). Gounod also composed this Mass in memory of his music teacher and father-in-law, Pierre Joseph Zimmerman, who died in 1853. Gounod’s ability to compose dramatic music for the opera is also evident in this great Mass. The Gloria and Credo are famous for their drama, power and memorable melodies. The Sanctus with the enormous and beautiful tenor solo reaches a full musical climax at “Hosanna in excelsis” near the end of the movement.  This Mass is a traditional favorite of the Chorale, and we are especially pleased to present it in memory of our founding music director, Msgr. Richard J. Schuler.

(Adapted from a note by Erik Eriksson in the “All Music Guide to Classical Music”, published in 2005 by Backbeat Books)

Processional:  Josef Rheinberger, Organ Concerto No. 1 in F Major, Op. 137: I.  Maestoso (1884)
This processional is the first movement (Maestoso) of Josef Rheinberger’s (b.1839 Vaduz; d.1901 Munich) Organ Concerto No. 1 in F Major.  Much respected in his life-time, the composer and organist is chiefly remembered for his organ music; notably twenty sonatas, and two concertos from late in his career. He showed phenomenal early ability and was trained at the Munich Conservatory, where he was later employed as a professor until his death. Written for string orchestra with judicious touches of color, a trio of horns in the First Concerto and pairs of trumpets and horns with timpani in the Second, Rheinberger’s organ concertos display a masterful use of deceptively simple motifs and several very effective climaxes.

Offertory:  Charles Gounod, Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile in G Major: IV. Offertorium (Instrumental) (1855)
An instrumental Offertorium included in Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass follows the chanted Offertory Antiphon.  A threefold supplication in the original score was inserted by the composer between the Credo and the instrumental Offertorium. The text, “Domine, salvum fac Imperatorem nostrum Napoleonem, et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus te” (Lord, bless our emperor Napoleon and hear our prayer this day that we call you), was sung the first time as the Prière de l’Eglise (prayer of the church) by the choir a cappella after a short instrumental introduction, the second time as the Prière de l’Armée (prayer of the army) by the men’s voices and brass, and the third time as the Prière de la Nation (prayer of the nation) by the choir with orchestra. This intercession is not included in the score used by the Chorale & Orchestra.

Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass is conducted by Chorale music director Robert L. Peterson.  Mary E. LeVoir is the organist.  Soloists are Patricia Kent, soprano; Jocelyn Kalajian, contralto; Adam Gedde, tenor; and Jon Nordstrom, bass. The Schola Cantorum is directed by Paul W. LeVoir.  The Saint Cecilia Mass was first presented by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale & Orchestra as part of its 1985-1986 season. The Chorale and Orchestra last presented this Mass on January 18, 2015.

The Saint Cecilia Mass was recorded by the Chorale in 1986 and is available for purchase in Schuler Hall after Sunday Masses, or from the Leaflet Missal Co. at http://www.leafletonline.com/.

The weekly schedule of Chorale Masses is posted here, and printed copies are at the church entrance, along with donation envelopes. The Chorale is a non-profit organization and depends on the generosity of donors. Please send contributions to: Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, P.O. Box 4234, St. Paul, MN 55104. A few of our contributors have asked about sponsoring a specific Mass on a given Sunday. If you might be interested, please contact Virginia Schubert, the Chorale’s President, at inquiry@catholicchorale.org.

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