Gioachino Rossini

Petite messe solennelle, for soloists, 2 pianos, harmonium & choir

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Gioachino Rossini was 71 years old when he composed the Petite messe solennelle in 1863; this most celebrated of opera buffa composers had not issued a single new opera in over three decades, and it had been a full 51 years since his music was first head at La Scala. But Rossini's hand was not at all rusty, even though he spent the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s in comparative retirement, dabbling only occasionally in this odd piece or that one. There are even those who consider this mass to be Rossini's most finely-crafted effort. Rossini composed the Petite messe solennelle for a private performance at the home of the Count Michel-Frédéric Pillet-Will and his wife Louise in Paris, and he scored it accordingly, using 12 solo and semi-solo singers, a pair of pianofortes and harmonium. A few years later Rossini orchestrated the work, not for any specific occasion but simply because he feared that if he didn't, someone else might, and that idea was as unacceptable to him as it has been to countless other composers over the generations.

    The Petite messe solennelle is really not all that petite: it fills over 150 pages in its chamber version and covers all of the necessary Mass ordinary material at full length. The deployment of the soloists throughout the 16 musical numbers is varied: sometimes, as in No. 5 "Domine Deus" for tenor solo, No. 10 "Crucifixus" for soprano solo, and No. 15 "O salutaris hostia" for soprano again, a single soloist is left completely alone in an aria-like number; sometime the small chorus remains to back up a soloist; and yet other times the four soloists work together in the traditional vocal quartet fashion. Never, however, does the chorus get a number all to itself.

    Rossini had a fine sense of humor (could he have written the operas he did without one?), and the manuscript to the score contains many wryly self-deprecating little written notes, including an apology to God for the shortcomings of this "poor little mass" and a note remarking that, unlike the 12 disciples, none of his 12 singers will "sing falsely"! But the mass is in no way meant to be a comedy; it is a serious piece, honestly and deeply felt in an innocent, straightforward way. If some of the passages sound as though they might have come from a light opera, well, Rossini's apology explains that that's just Rossini doing what Rossini did best, hoping that the God for whom he wrote the piece would give him the benefit of the doubt. The Petite messe solennelle joins Rossini's Stabat mater of some years earlier as a vital, yet all-but-unknown, piece of the nineteenth century European sacred music puzzle.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Kyrie
    2. Gloria
    3. Gratias agimus tibi
    4. Domine Deus
    5. Qui tollis peccata mundi
    6. Quoniam tu solus sanctus
    7. Cum sancto spiritu
    8. Credo
    9. Crucifixus
    10. Et resurrexit
    11. Preludio religioso [Offertorium]
    12. Sanctus
    13. O salutaris hostia
    14. Agnus Dei

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Accent ACC 24311
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMX 2901724
    2015 Naïve V 5409
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94459BR
    2014 AAO Music AAOC 94292
    2013 Stradivarius STR 33880
    2013 Carus CV 83406
    2013 MDG
    2013 EMI Classics 5099941674222
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca
    2011 Netmark NEMACD 900
    2011 Newton Classics 8802059
    2011 Alto / Musical Concepts 1121
    2010 Decca 446 097-2PH2
    2009 Gala Records 100664
    2009 Denon Records
    2008 Decca 4441342
    2007 Harmonia Mundi 2908250
    2007 Tactus 791803
    2006 Hyperion CDA67570
    2006 Challenge Records 72157
    2006 Philips 4752302
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 68658
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586552
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Euromusica 12
    2004 Guild Historical 2254/55
    2004 Accent ACC 30039
    2003 Accord 4760602
    2002 Naïve 20007
    2002 Haenssler 93053
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 901724
    2001 Aura Music 131
    2000 Arcobaleno 9429
    2000 Disques Pierre Verany 730102
    2000 Berlin Classics 0017082
    1999 Opus 111 10015
    1998 London 444842
    1997 London 455 023-2DF2
    1995 Opus 111 30123
    1993 Kontrapunkt 32122
    1989 Erato 45321
    Koch Schwann 313452
    Discover 920324
    Conifer 16191
    Meridian Records 84133
    Forlane 16577
    Accord 203562
    IMP Masters 524
    Decca 421645
    Ermitage 118