Thursday, May 23

Beethoven’s Mass will resonate through Royce

Famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven is celebrated for his multiple symphonies, string quartets, concertos and piano sonatas, but the songsmith’s gripping, 90-minute Catholic mass may be his most poignant, overlooked piece of music to date. UCLA hosts the production of Beethoven’s masterwork, “Missa Solemnis,” Saturday in Royce Hall.

Although Beethoven is world-renowned for probably the most recognizable four measures of music on the planet ““ the opening notes to his most famous work, “Ninth Symphony” ““ many music lovers overlook the fact that both his “Missa Solemnis” and the “Ninth Symphony,” his two most respected works, were composed during the same four-to-five year period preceding his death in 1827.

“This was the same period during which he had entirely lost his sense of hearing,” said music Professor Donald Neuen.

Neuen, director of choral activities on campus, is in his 17th year at UCLA and will be conducting the musical production of Beethoven’s “Solemn Mass.”

“When it came to sacred music, he was a more physical composer than others who might wear their religion on their sleeve,” Neuen said. “If he wants to say it, he’s going to say it with enthusiasm.”

The symphony is even more impressive considering the disability Beethoven was facing as he composed.

“I knew that Beethoven was completely deaf towards the end of his lifetime, but I could not imagine composing two works of such magnitude without having any notion of sound at all,” said Samira Soroory, a fourth-year sociology student. “I attended a Catholic high school and am thusly familiar with the Latin Mass, but I look forward to hearing it performed on such a large scale.”

Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” or “Solemn Mass” is a five-part musical embellishment of the traditional, uniformly structured Catholic mass setting. The five pillars of the worship service include “Kyrie,” “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” “Credo,” “Sanctus” and finally, “Agnus Dei.”

“The service starts out with the humility of “˜Lord have mercy on me,’” Neuen said. “Then the praise, “˜Glory be to God on high,’ then the “˜Credo,’ then the angel chorus saying “˜Holy, holy, holy,’ then quietly saying “˜lamb of God’ ““ meaning Christ ““ “˜grant us peace.’ And then you’re ready to go out for the rest of the week until next Sunday comes around.”

Beethoven’s ability to both captivate and challenge his audience to participate in the discernable emotionality involved in this work makes the “Missa Solemnis” a memorable composition.

“Most major composers of the Baroque era, Classical era, Romantic era and even today compose music based on this five-part structure,” said music professor Michael Dean, featured concert baritone and chair of vocal studies. “I think it’s really interesting to hear a composer like Beethoven, who was such a rugged individualist, take it on. To me, it just sounds like a big opera, almost, unlike anything you would expect from such a structured work. And what’s so great about this project is that so many different people are involved ““ it does the piece justice and allows for the magnitude of the work to be captured.”

The concert will feature more than a combined total of 200 singers from both the UCLA Chorale and the Angeles Chorale, the esteemed Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra and four guest soloists from both UCLA and the surrounding Los Angeles area.

“Sometimes a composer’s work is almost too big to be contained in one category and it’s nearly impossible to downsize somebody like Beethoven, who is adored and respected worldwide. What’s so great about this project is that it is involving so many different people,” Dean said.

“I feel that it’s indicative of the type of appeal it has and it’s indicative of what Beethoven was trying to do with his music ““ broaden the feeling associated with his work, broaden overall perspectives and fling the doors open to all of humanity,” he added.

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