When I was in Regina recently, I came across a business survivor, a store that specialized in classical music. It was its name, Bach and beyond, that drew us to the Golden Mile shopping centre (the oldest in the city) on Albert Street south of the Legislature grounds, which were so remarkably designed by Saskatchewan‘s first premier, Walter Scott. And there I had opportunity to add another rendition of Janácek’s mass, conducted by Warsaw’s Antoni Wit, to the Bernstein I long have had in my collection.
This mass, extraordinary in its invention, rhythmic complexity, and visionary orchestration, has been in my consciousness for a very long time. The composer frames the five conventionally sung sections of the mass with an opening introduction for orchestra that pulls out into the fore one’s attention with its sounding majesty and sheer fierceness of sanctity; and, keeps it there until a concluding orchestral exodus that is all fire with its declamatory trombone chords and final strokes on the timpani; the final movement itself introduced by a magnificent organ solo that bridges from the Agnus Dei—a postludium to the singing that also summarizes all the commentary that the organ has made throughout the mass.
Like much of Janácek’s greatest works, such as The Makropulos Affair, the mass seems to start in the middle of nowhere,
as if exploding from the void, and concludes similarly,
as if having filled the void.
The wildness, savage outbursts, and profound musing of the music of this invention are so daring artistically and spiritually that the work takes the breath away and causes the heart to hold quiet for a beat. Sometimes, for two or three.
Janácek, an agnostic, was 72 when he wrote it.