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Messe de Clovis (Charles Gounod)




Messe pour basse solo, chœur mixte à 4 voix, 2 orgues, trompettes et trombones.


On 7 May 1891, Gounod began writing this mass, published posthumously  – in 1896 – with the note, on the title page: “composed for the 14th centenary of the baptism of Clovis in Reims on 25 December 496”. The work was part of the drive persuading Catholics to rally to the Third Republic, an initiative supported by Pope Leo XIII. Although the complete version of the Messe de Clovis calls for a prelude with grand organ and trumpet and trombone fanfares, the edition published by Choudens provided for a more restrained performance for solo chorus and little organ, relegating the majestic prelude to an appendix to the score. Gounod revives the vocal style with which he had experimented in 1840 when writing his Messe vocale in Vienna: the work invokes Palestrina and Neo-Renaissance writing from start to finish. However, the note “after Gregorian chant” on the edition seems a little excessive. Gounod was drawing his inspiration from a system rather than slavishly copying it. Instead of the usual supplicatory tone, the Kyrie – attacked forte – declares its faith in the spirit of the victorious monarch. Clovis, like Joan of Arc, had become a tutelary figure after the defeat of 1870 against Prussia. Of the Gloria, we remember the initial mood created by French Christmas carols, before the appearance of harmonic complications and the ample use of the low registers of the choral mass. The rest of the mass continues to explore this “historicising” style, which Gounod handles wonderfully. The final Agnus Dei, in particular, displays contrapuntal qualities which are devoid of stiffness or pedantry.

    Person - 1
  • GOUNOD, Charles (1818-1893)
  • Theme - 1
  • Genre – La musique sacrée au XIXe siècle