A masterpiece for Saint Cecilia

Charles Gounod’s “Messe solennelle” in a new Urtext edition

On 17 June 1818, almost 200 years ago, the French composer Charles Gounod was born in Paris. The “Messe solennelle en l’honneur de Sainte Cécile” is his best-known sacred work. In good time for the Gounod anniversary year, Bärenreiter is publishing a new Urtext edition (BA 8966) which carefully evaluates the autograph manuscript and first printed edition.

The Mass was commissioned in 1855 by the Association des artistes musiciens for the celebration of the feast of Saint Cecilia. The first performance took place in the church of Saint-Eustache-des-Halles on 29 November 1855. The aim of the Association was to provide financial support and pensions for musicians, as well as financial resources for the improvement of musical life.

The melodic richness of invention in the work and effective treatment of the orchestra reveal an evident closeness to opera. The mass was not a completely new work. In 1851 Gounod had presented a “Sanctus” and a “Benedictus” in a concert in London which made a tremendous impression.  One journalist wrote that he had never known such a successful beginning for an unknown composer.

The situation regarding the sources for the “Messe solennelle” is straightforward. There is an autograph score, which is the primary source for the new edition,  but unfortunately it is incomplete. The printed edition of the full score is the other important source.

What is remarkable are the differences between the autograph manuscript and the first printed edition in the cornet parts in the “Sanctus”. The new edition published by Bärenreiter is the first to eradicate these mistakes and to identify differences between the two sources. An extensive Critical Commentary clarifies the differences between the two main sources and offers an in-depth Introduction. Choirs and orchestras now have the opportunity to perform this work using reliable material.

More information on www.takte-online.de

(Picture: Charles Gounod, Painting by Imanuel Heinrich Lengerich)