With two more weeks to go in our choral desert island, I find myself struggling to make very tough decisions. To wrap up next week, I may need to include a group of pieces and designate them honorable mentions. There is so much great music; it is harder than I thought to designate pieces as my favorites. But, we have laid down the gauntlet so there is no turning back now.
No. 2: Kyrie Eleison from the Cantus Missa in E-flat. Josef Rheinberger
Josef Rheinberger was a 19th century German organist and choral conductor who wrote numerous settings of the Latin Catholic Mass. All of these settings were written in a particular style which harkened back to the 16th century music of the Catholic Church. He became associated with a group of composers named the Caecilians who felt that church music had veered too far into the world of popular music. (Sound familiar? Some of the discussions we have about popular music in worship were prevalent throughout history. This is nothing new) Caecilians had an unfortunate reputation as composers for being too conservative, non-inventive, and frankly boring. Rheinberger is the one composer who stands out. He was able to mix romantic musical language with proper compositional technique so that his pieces adhered to his ideals regarding what church music should be, but also was musically interesting.
The Cantus Missa was written for double choir so you need a fairly large choir to perform the piece. However, the writing is so intricate that having too many singers could muddy the waters. Because it is such a difficult piece to pull off, it is not often sung. The Kyrie (Lord Have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy is the translation) is a standout amongst the other movements. Its beauty is inspiring and left an indelible impression on me.
As with most of the other pieces in this “desert island” exercise, I have had wonderful experiences performing this piece. As a young and impressionable masters student at CCM, I experienced this piece with my main teacher Earl Rivers preparing the choir and conducting the concert. This piece had me hooked from the beginning. I was floored by the sonority and deeply moved by a pleading affect that I associate with asking for mercy.
I hope you experience that same feeling as you listen.