On the Cleveland Orchestra’s website you can read the program note I wrote about Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Or, rather, about what Franz Welser-Möst, the orchestra’s music director, thinks about the piece and tried to bring alive in his performance. (The link takes you to a PDF file, which you can’t read unless you have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed. It’s a free program, which comes with most computers these days. If you don’t have it, go here. Note that the first two pages of the PDF are something Franz wrote. My own program note begins on page three.)
This program note is in many ways like the press releases I made up in a previous post. It addresses the same questions. What’s the meaning of the music we’re going to hear? What will it feel like when we hear it? What do the performers think of it, and what are they trying to bring across? All of which implicitly addresses further questions, which are even more crucial. Why should we go to this performance? Why should we care?
An approach like this is really revolutionary. Program notes, as we all know, usually discuss music historically or analytically. They talk about the composer’s life, about how a piece fits into the composer’s oeuvre, or about the structure of the piece. They don’t talk about how it feels to listen to the piece, or about what it’s like to perform. I should add here that these are my own thoughts, not necessarily the Cleveland Orchestra’s. They just asked me to write the note (as, for all I know, a one-time experiment), and to talk to Franz about the music. I also had the chance to watch him rehearse parts of the work, and incorporated some of what he said into what I wrote.
I have to thank Franz, and compliment him. He took a risk here. He exposed himself. Normally, you hear a performance, and if you don’t like it, you say, “I don’t think the piece should go like that.” But now you can go further. You can say, “Welser-Möst himself didn’t want this! He said he’d do X, and it didn’t happen!” Bravo for Franz, who (or so it seemed to me) cared more about communicating with his audience than about protecting himself.
And, no small thing: His thoughts about the Missa Solemnis are well worth reading.