comes as a surprise to find that Puccini wrote anything other than
grand operas; and in fact in his adult life he did so very rarely. This mass, however, was
written when he was
only 18, as a submission for his final qualifications at the Musical
at his home town of Lucca. Puccini
a family of church musicians, and although that tradition supplied the
the piece, it is undeniably the world of the opera house which shaped
the usual five parts of the mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and
Agnus Dei. While
there are a few signs (mostly in the
passages for the soloists - tenor and bass only) of the gripping drama
psychological intensity which would characterise Puccini’s later work,
leaves us in no doubt about his operatic antecedents.
After a lyrical Kyrie, the Gloria starts with
a jaunty melody, bordering on cheekiness, which is reminiscent of
Donizetti; and at ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ it breaks
into a magnificent
slow march which might well be straight out of Verdi.
The Credo is full of dramatic interest,
heightened by frequent changes of key, tempo and dynamics. The Sanctus and the Agnus Dei are dignified but
short, and almost an
anti-climax to the preceding movements.
Perhaps Puccini realised that by then he had done
more than enough to
satisfy the examiners!
first peformance in 1880 the Messa di
Gloria was laid aside and only in the 1950s was the
by an American musicologist. Since
it has been regularly performed – but
not as often as its musical inventiveness and exuberant theatricality
mention its contribution to our understanding of
Puccini’s development) would seem to justify.