The BBC Proms start on 15th July with concerts running right through to 10th September. Amongst the many incredibly concerts there is one that caught my eye which is on Saturday 6th August, 15.00 at The Chapel Greenwich and the programme is Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini.
In the first half of 19th century, no composer enjoyed such prestige, wealth and popular acclaim as Gioacchino Rossini (1782-1868). His operas were so successful that in 1829, aged 37, he retired from composing and took up cooking as a hobby whereupon he become immensely fat which led to ill health. His achievements in opera caused his contemporaries such as Bellini and Donizetti to work under his shadow, even Beethoven resorted to snide remarks about him.
In 1855 Rossini decided to compose again and wrote over 150 piano pieces, songs and works for small ensembles, including the graceful Petite Messe Sonnelle which he wrote in 1863. Most of these works were written for private audiences in the salon, usually made up of the great artistic and public figures in Paris
The title of the work is a little misleading in that it is neither little, solemn, nor especially liturgical! Rossini even wote: “Good God – behold complete this poor little mass – is it indeed music for the blest that I have just written, or just some blessed music? Thou knowest well, I was born for comic opera". The first performance of the work was given at the town house of the Countess Louise Pillet Will, to whom the work is dedicated. All those who attended agreed that it was a magnificent feat for a retired seventy one year old composer.
Rossini specified that twelve singers is the ideal number including four soloists who, according to his instructions should also sing the chorus. The original scoring is for two pianos and harmonium which might seem strange but given it was written for the salon, such instrumentation is not unusual. However, shortly before he died Rossini orchestrated the work, not because he felt he needed it but more to stop anybody else doing it after his death. Like anything composed by Rossini it is a glorious work and if you don’t know it you are in for a treat.
The recording I recommend is conducted by Riccardo Chailly with the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna.
Download the recording from iTunes