Fitting more than 160 singers onto a Harvard stage is no easy feat. And neither is organizing and performing Beethoven’s monumental choral work, the ‘Missa Solemnis.’
But after almost an entire year of preparation, the Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS), the Harvard Glee Club, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum (HRCM) will do both as they perform Beethoven’s masterpiece today in Sanders Theater.
The Friday concert, an impressive event in itself, also commemorates conductor Jameson Marvin’s twenty-fifth year at Harvard. Marvin, who is a Senior Lecturer on Music, currently directs all three of the groups that will be singing tonight.
For 25 years Marvin has been the director of choral activities at Harvard; in that time he has also directed the Glee Club and the HRCM. He began directing the RCS in 1996, and he also teaches numerous classes in the Music department on choral conducting.
“He builds on a great foundation—the conductors before him have also been very talented,” said Peggy L. Yeh ’95, President of the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum Foundation.
“Jim brings a definite sense of professionalism to the choir,” Yeh said.
Jason W. Chiang ’04, who is managing Friday’s
concert, lauded Marvin’s dedication. “Jim cares first and foremost about the choral program and about making music—making an experience for the students which they probably are not going to do after college,” Chiang said.
According to Chiang, the “Missa Solemnis” is “one of the biggest masterworks of Western civilization.”
Also known as the Mass in D, the piece was composed in Beethoven’s late period, which also saw the genesis of the massive Ninth Symphony.
Beethoven’s foremost pupil and patron at this time was Archduke Rudolph, the brother of the reigning Emperor of Austria. The Archduke, who had commissioned most of Beethoven’s compositions, was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Olmutz in Moravia on June 4, 1819.
As Beethoven developed an interest in church music, he felt that this event presented the perfect occasion to express his appreciation for the Archduke’s generosity. And so the “Missa Solemnis” was born.
Not only does the piece enjoy this royal association, it is also incredibly difficult. It lasts one-and-a-half hours, and Glee Club President Benjamin M. Schmidt ’04 calls it a “massive work.”
“The high notes, at the very top of the vocal range, are like an expression of transcendence by taxing the performers to the very limits of their ability,” Schmidt said.
Blaine G. Saito ’04, a member of the Harvard Glee Club, refers to the piece as “very strange music, with rapid shifts in tonality.”