its title (meaning “little solemn mass”) this setting of the Latin
mass, lasting around 85 minutes, is neither little nor solemn! Rossini is best known as a
composer of comic
operas; but he finished writing his operas in 1829 aged 37 and only
composing again when he was in his sixties.
Many of these late pieces are quirky and written
with tongue partly in
called them “the sins of old
age” and this mass “the
sin of my old age”.
mass was written in
1863, when Rossini was over 70, for the dedication of a private chapel
a wealthy friend. Because
circumstances the number of musicians needed was small: 12 singers
by 2 pianos and a harmonium; but Rossini later recast the mass for 4
soloists and choir with full orchestra.
the piano/harmonium combination is still the more popular, though the
piano was simply intended to reinforce the first in some sections and
vital for a performance.
famously wrote at
the end of the score “I do not know if
this music is sacred or sacrilegious”.
But although the music is always
entertaining and sometimes
playful – not quite what we would associate with the solemnity of a
– it is never irreverent. Rather,
highlights the joy and exuberance which reflect a genuine enthusiasm
worship of God. This
true in two fast fugal sections for the choir (Cum
in the Gloria and In vitam venturi in the Credo). Throughout the work we can
Rossini’s supreme gift for artless melody and witty accompaniments; while his dramatic power is
in some of the solo passages.
set all the usual parts of the mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and
Dei. He also
included a setting (for
soprano solo) of a separate text, O Salutaris Hostia,
prayer suitable for the Communion.
addition, between the Credo and the Sanctus, there is an extended solo
piano (entitled Preludio religioso) which reveals
and reflective side to the composer.
Peter Harbord, North