Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924): 
Messa di Gloria

It 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 Institute at his home town of Lucca.  Puccini came from a family of church musicians, and although that tradition supplied the form of the piece, it is undeniably the world of the opera house which shaped the music.

Puccini set 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 and psychological intensity which would characterise Puccini’s later work, the mass 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 Rossini or 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!

After its first peformance in 1880 the Messa di Gloria was laid aside and only in the 1950s was the manuscript rediscovered by an American musicologist.  Since then it has been regularly performed –  but not as often as its musical inventiveness and exuberant theatricality (not to mention its contribution to our understanding of  Puccini’s development) would seem to justify.

 Peter Harbord,  North Yorkshire Chorus

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