I am still zoning in on the two new commissions, so have spent some time this week putting myself through some technical exercises again in order to be able to spring with purpose into the writing proper if and when it arrives.  Having spent the first part of the week and much of the fortnight before that listening to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, surely one of the most visionary pieces ever written, I do not feel so bad about taking things one step at the time and spending so much time on study.  If Beethoven was able to spend five or so years putting that piece together, and that does not include the years (yes, years) of study and rigorous research that he did before a single note was put onto paper, then a little exercise here and there is the very least I can do.  I have been keen enough to get to the stage of putting proper notes on paper and even transferring them to the computer.  It is early days yet and the gap in the piece are significantly more widespread than the notes, but it is a good start.

My next listening project is the Berlioz Messe Solennelle, which had been considered lost until just over twenty years ago when a manuscript copy turned up in an organ loft in Antwerp.  Berlioz had burned all the copies, or so he thought, and this one came back to life unexpectedly, as happens every now and again in the musical world.  The piece was written by Berlioz when he was twenty and it is…ok, but I can hear immediately why he was dissatisfied with it to the eventual extent of destroying it.  The writing is good but some way from being assured, and the word setting is often so awkward as to make me believe that the young Hector really did not know where the stresses of the Latin text lay.  What is interesting, though, is the material that shows up in later works – a significant prefiguring of the Symphonie Fantastique here, a dab of Benvenuto Cellini there, and I’ll need to cling to those references for the next couple of weeks as I dig deeper into the work, because I have not come away from it thus far thinking that it is a rediscovered masterwork.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that I do not care for Berlioz’s rather histrionic style anyway, liking it less and less as I grow older, and I think that the first movement of the Symphonie Fantastique makes no musical sense at all if you take the story away, but you cannot fault the man’s ambition, and his Memoirs make for some riotous and scandalous reading.  As far as works by twenty-odd year olds go, though, I’ll take Handel’s Dixit Dominus any day of the week.  Yes, Handel does not yet understand the difference between violins and voices, but it is a work of dazzling promise.  Even Berlioz was driven to write on one part of the score of his Mass – il faut refaire cette exécrable fugue

Into the week ahead I’ll hopefully find more time for writing and sketching, and then I shall just have to see if and how these two commissions progress.

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