GOUNOD'S MASS IN HONOR OF ST. CECILIA.
Though only a handful of his works may be described as well-known in our time-most significantly the operas Faust (1859) and Romeo et Juliette (1867)-Charles Gounod (1818-1893) stood among the most prominent composers of his age and exerted considerable influence in French musical culture over many decades. His prominence reached well beyond the opera house to the realms of orchestral music and particularly sacred music, in which he achieved international success through his wide array of Catholic liturgical compositions and oratorios. It is thus fitting that the recent bicentennial of his birth, marked otherwise by rather limited fanfare, should elicit new editions of the most popular of his seventeen known settings of the Mass Ordinary, the Messe solennelle en l'honneur de Sainte-Cecile of 1855. The present urtext edition from Barenreiter, which adopts the title as given in the first published edition, stands as a valuable reference text of generally high critical and typographical quality.
The Sainte-Cecile Mass is a pivotal work in Gounod's oeuvre, as it represents the culmination of his early endeavors as a church musician while also marking his establishment as a composer in the wider Parisian musical sphere. Gounod had developed a deep fascination with the Church and its music during his studies in Rome and Vienna as winner of the Prix de Rome, from 1840 to 1843. Upon his return to Paris he accepted the post of maitre de chapelle at the church of the Foreign Missions Seminary, where he cultivated a program of traditional Catholic church music. He embarked on studies toward the priesthood by the late 1840s, but ultimately withdrew and expanded his aspirations as a composer. In the early 1850s he went on to compose his first operatic works and marry the daughter of an influential piano professor. It was during a brief retreat from the theatrical world, following the failure of his La nonne sanglante in 1854, that Gounod completed the Sainte-Cecile Mass as well as his two symphonies. He would begin preliminary work on Faust in the following year. The Mass was his first concerted setting since his student period, and far exceeded the type of musical resources available to him during his years as maitre de chapelle. Composed for the annual celebration of the feast of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, by the Parisian Association des artistes musiciens, it was tailored to the most ample ensemble available for a liturgical performance in Paris at the time. In this context, at the church of Saint-Eustache, it was first heard on 29 November 1855, postponed from the actual feast day (November 22) due to logistical reasons related to the concurrent World Exposition ("Messe de M. Charles Gounod" in La France musicale [2 December 1855]: 379). It soon entered the active repertory of French church music, and by the early years of the twentieth century achieved popularity as far away as the United States. To this day it is still embraced by various church music programs that sustain the practice of orchestral masses.
In its basic structure Gounod's setting follows the typical outlines of an orchestral solemn mass demonstrated by more widely familiar late-eighteenth-century Austrian examples, especially those by Mozart and Haydn. It presents all five prayers of the Ordinary, and the musical organization of their individual movements accord with traditional textual-formal divisions. For example, the Gloria and Credo are cast in continuous, mainly ternary forms, with grandiose outer segments framing more affective middle sections. The ensemble includes a large orchestra with organ, four-voice choir (in the French configuration dessus I, dessus II, tenor, bass) and soloists (soprano, tenor, bass). Choral sonorities predominate, their textures ranging from unison to polyphonic. In the orchestral writing, a martial style is most prevalent, but a wide stylistic spectrum is covered, with a pastoral style employed at conventional points such as the middle lines of the Gloria and throughout the Agnus Dei. Occasional evocations of Gregorian chant melody and ecclesiastical a cappella textures provide the interhistorical stylistic dimension that has always been essential to durable Catholic liturgical composition.
Nevertheless, a variety of modern and novel elements give the Mass a distinctively romantic character. Its orchestration is especially luxuriant, replete with six harps, bass drum and cymbals, and the very rare octobass. In the Benedictus, which otherwise utilizes the smallest instrumentation in the Mass, Gounod divides the string choir into ten parts; until the last measures of the movement all play softly, providing an other-worldly accompaniment to the delicate soprano solo. The Offertoire movement, which features the orchestra without voices, represents a prayer without words. Sweeping unison choral themes and occasionally dialogical writing for the solo voices (soprano, tenor, bass) recall the styles of grand opera. Particularly dramatic is the introductory section that begins the Gloria. After an ethereal passage for solo horn, strings, and harps, the solo soprano sings the lines "Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis." The harmonic accompaniment to this solo includes, besides strings, the unusual sonority of the upper choral voices singing with closed mouth (a bouche fermee). A more substantive novelty occurs in the Agnus Dei, where Gounod makes the liturgically questionable decision to import the text "Domine non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum die verbo et sanabitur anima mea" ("Lord I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed"), from the Communion rite occurring around the same point in the liturgy, in passages heard between the three Agnus petitions. These two passages are sung by the solo tenor and solo soprano, respectively. The Mass concludes with a distinctively French Second Imperial appendix, a setting of the prayer "Domine salvum fac imperatorem nostrum Napoleonem" ("God save our Emperor Napoleon"), derived from the concluding line of Psalm 19 "Domine salvum fac regem" and the long tradition of Domine salvum motets in the royal chapel during the ancien regime.
Some matters of the generic context and the specific structural and stylistic aspects of the Mass, such as these, are addressed in the preface by Hans Schellevis, but many are not. This is unfortunate since Gounod's setting is particularly interesting when studied in relation to the broader concerted Mass repertoire and its liturgical and musical-cultural underpinnings. Nevertheless, the preface stands as useful and commendable. Focused mainly on the biographical and immediate Parisian historical contexts, it is well-grounded in primary and secondary source research. Earlier performing editions have fallen short in this respect. For example, the edition by Elmar Schloter (Charles Gounod, Cacilienmesse: Messe solenelle [sic] de Sainte Cecile [Munich: Max Hieber, 1983]), provides only a brief introductory text with little detail. Meanwhile, the edition by Andreas Schenck (Charles Gounod, Messe solennelle en l'honneur de Sainte-Cecile [Frankfurt: C. F. Peters, 1995]) offers a more substantial essay, but with a limited scope of research; tellingly, it perpetuates the mistaken understanding that the work was first performed on 22 November 1855. Further, Schellevis's preface is enriched by quotations from important reviews by Camille Saint-Saens, Adolphe Adam, and Joseph d'Ortigue that testify to the impression made by the premiere. A preface of comparable quality may be found in the publication by Carus-Verlag (Charles Gounod, Messe solennelle de Sainte-Cecile, ed. by Frank Hondgen [Stuttgart: Carus-Verlag, 2017]), also prepared in anticipation of the Gounod bicentennial.
The present edition appears to compare favorably with this other recent publication. Though it lacks certain elements included in the latter, such as subsequent alternative versions of the Offertoire, Schellevis's edition is based on both the incomplete autograph score held by the British Library (GBLbl 37639) and the complementary incomplete autograph score held by the Library of Northwestern University (US-Eu MSS 242), in addition to the earliest published score (Paris: Lebeau, 1856). Schellevis's critical report accounts for their divergences thoroughly. In contrast, the Carus edition relies only on the British Library autograph and printed sources without reference to the Northwestern score. Consequently, a variety of minor differences arise between the Credo, Sanctus, and Benedictus portions of the two editions. A few errors mar the Barenreiter score; these are accounted for in a small errata sheet. Otherwise the edition is typographically quite admirable and stands as a welcome and authoritative version of a work that Saint-Saens once asserted would outlast all of Gounod's operas (Camille Saint-Saens, Portraits et souvenirs [Paris: Societe d'edition artistique, , 84-85]).
San Francisco Conservatory of Music