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Vokalmesse (Charles Gounod)




After the first performance of his Requiem at the Karlskirche in Vienna, Gounod was commissioned to write an a cappella mass for five-part mixed chorus. “Composed,” he said, “more or less in the style of the Sistine Chapel”, this work was to benefit from criticism that he had received for his first despatch from Rome—a neo-Palestrinian Te Deum. Gounod used a “Renaissance”  vocabulary (perfect chords, suspensions, weak degrees) in combination with a modern syntax. The date chosen, 25 March 1843, the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, caused him to place the Virgin Mary at the centre of the composition. Each prayer is preceded by an invocation (Coral) taken from the Alleluia in the mass and the vespers dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The melody of each Coral, initially harmonised, shifts several times during the prayer in relation to certain words. Taken from the Viennese liturgy, these Corals would have been familiar to members of the congregation, who would have been able to identify them. The highly specific nature of this mass may account for the fact that Gounod did not reply to Mendelssohn’s offer to publish it. On 9 August 1843, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig printed an article by its Viennese correspondent, who mentioned the mass: “Although it imitates the style of Palestrina, [it] nonetheless betrays too often a French romanticism”. Known only through an archive copy kept in Vienna, various annotations suggest that the mass was sung on subsequent occasions. Except for the Sept Paroles du Christ (1855), Gounod was to abandon this polyphonic style of choral writing, which proved too difficult for Parisian choirs.

    Person - 1
  • GOUNOD, Charles (1818-1893)
  • Theme - 1
  • Genre – La musique sacrée au XIXe siècle
  • Study - 1
  • Condé, Gérard – ‘Mighty Palestrina, old master, ancient genius’