Program 1 August 2010  

20.00 Oratorio concert

The Church of the Holy Cross

Johannette Zomer Johannette Zomer (soprano) - Dutch soprano known for her wide, varied repertoire. more »


Maarten  Engeltjes Maarten Engeltjes (alt) - Dutch counter tenor, he studies with Andreas Scholl and Richard Levitt. more »


Thomas  Walker Thomas Walker (tenor) - British tenor, one of the first singers to receive a Susan Chilcott Award more »


Peter Harvey Peter Harvey (bass) - the baritone specializing in Baroque music more »


Janusz Olejniczak Janusz Olejniczak (piano) - Polish pianist and teacher, winner of Sixth Prize in the 8th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. more »





Daniel  Reuss Daniel Reuss (conductor) - Dutch conductor, artistic director and chief conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. more »



Fryderyk Chopin

  • Mazurka in F minor [Op. 68 No. 4] [Op. 68 No. 4]

Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Mass in B minor BWV 232

About the programme [+]

The work that opens our festival is of symbolic significance. For Fryderyk Chopin, mazurkas were the domain of his most personal utterances, the musical expression of his attachment to his homeland, his recollection of the landscape to which, after leaving Poland in 1830, he would never return. This was encapsulated perhaps most accurately by Chopin’s first German biographer, Wilhelm Lenz, when he wrote: ‘Chopin’s mazurkas are a diary of his spiritual journeys to the Sarmatian regions of the world, for which he yearned! In them, he returned home, in them, also, all the specific distinctness of Chopin the pianist was contained. He represented Poland, his land of dreams, in the Parisian salon.’

Chopin’s last composition is generally considered to be the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68 No. 4. According to the legend passed down to posterity by Julian Fontana, the composer was unable to write the work out cleanly, since ‘he was too ill to try it on the piano’. He did, however, have the desire to complete the work, and allegedly expressed this desire in the following words: ‘I have to work, I have to tear the Mazurka from my exhausted heart’. The extant manuscript of this work is indeed a chaotic sketch notated on a single sheet. On the basis of that dramatic manuscript, Fontana carried out the first posthumous reconstruction of the work.

Today, it is thought that the Mazurka in F minor was written in 1846, and that Chopin intended to include it in the opus 63 set, but ultimately abandoned the idea. But for the legend, that matters not.

On 27 July 1733, Bach sent to the court of the Polish king and Saxon elector in Dresden the part scores of the first two movements of the Mass in B minor – the Kyrie and Gloria (described by the composer as the Missa). They were appended to his application for the title of court composer. Thus the Missa was a work designed to affirm Bach’s supreme qualifications for the title he desired. We are not fully au fait with the reasons why Bach decided to apply for this appointment, given that he had already held the prestigious function of cantor of St Thomas’s in Leipzig for almost ten years. It is most likely that he submitted his application in connection with the changes taking place in the royal chapel at that time, and that it was just one of many similar applications. Yet Bach was not seeking either an active post or a permanent salary. He wanted only an honorary title. He awaited the decision for three years. The matter was finally resolved in the autumn of 1736. On 19 November, by royal decree, he was granted the distinction of Hof-Compositeur. To mark the occasion, on 1 December 1736 the composer gave an organ recital at the Frauenkirche in Dresden, apparently in the presence of many court dignitaries and Kapellmeister Hasse himself. In 1738, Bach’s name was placed on the list of the king’s officials as titular composer of church music at the Polish-Saxon court. And that is how one of the greatest geniuses in the history of mankind, on account of one of the most magnificent works of music known to the world, came to be linked to the history of Poland.

Nothing is known about any performances of the Missa during the time that Bach’s application was being considered or afterwards. The only matter of course is that Bach, with respect to the addressee of his work – the King of Poland and Elector of Saxony – tailored it to the style of liturgical music cultivated in the Catholic court church in Dresden. When seeking models for his Mass, he found them above all in the works already composed there. At that time, the capital of Saxony was one of the most important centres for Neapolitan music, due to the predominance of Italians in the royal orchestra. This explains why Bach’s Missa displays primarily features of the Italian style so admired in the retinue of King Augustus III.

While the circumstances surrounding the composition of the Kyrie and Gloria are known, the reasons why Bach composed the remaining parts of the Ordinary and arranged them, towards the end of his life, into a complete work that after his death came to be called the ‘great mass’ (even the ‘great Catholic mass’) remain in the realm of speculation. By this time, Bach no longer had to take into account any practical considerations or cater to anyone’s tastes. Yet deep down he was doubtless counting on the work being performed. He may have been encouraged to complete the work by some Catholic patron. It has recently been suggested that the work could have been commissioned by Count Johann Adam von Questenberg of Moravia. Towards the end of the 1740s, Questenberg carried on intense correspondence with Bach. As an important politician from the emperor’s entourage and a wealthy amateur musician, he was an influential member of the Viennese Cecilian Society, which each year, on its patroness’s feast, would commission from one of the greatest composers a new liturgical work, which was subsequently performed at St Stephen’s cathedral. How exciting it would be if Bach’s Mass in B minor, in its full version, found its way there!

For the time being, we must content ourselves with the assertion that the B minor Mass in its final form was conceived as a composition with no practical purpose, as a work of a universal character, the expression of the perfection attained by Bach in the musical art, a sort of summa of his achievements. Many fragments of the Mass have been identified as parodies, that is, recastings of earlier Bach works, both secular and sacred. It also constitutes a sort of survey of the compositional techniques available to Bach. One finds there almost all the types of aria and duet known to the Baroque, with the participation of nearly all the concerting instruments. The choruses are elaborated in virtually all the ways practised during the eighteenth century, from the stile antico, through polychoral passages, to homophonic settings cast in dance rhythms, such as the ‘Et resurrexit’ section in a polonaise rhythm. Generations of scholars have pondered not only the outward shape of this work and its history, but also its significance, symbolism and message. As yet, few of the questions concerning the Mass in B minor have been answered. But one thing seems certain: this is the most magnificent of the musical works through which humanity has paid tribute to its Creator.

Szymon Paczkowski

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