I am having real problems getting into the Berlioz Messe Solennelle, and not just because it is a work of grandiose scope, as one might expect from Hector. I just cannot find any reason to admit to myself that it is any good, and I feel desperately unfair for coming to this point of view, partially because the composer was only twenty or so when he wrote it, and partially because even Berlioz thought it not up to the mark and thought it destroyed.
Still, as I wrote last time, there are interesting moments in it, mainly the bits that end up being in his more mature works. The problem is that I don’t particularly like those works either, and, going against the grain, it is only really Harold In Italy that I find interesting enough to come back to. Even with Harold, though, the commissioner turned it down – Paganini, no less – which hints at some kind of pattern.
Berlioz is one of those odd composers who comes from nowhere and leaves no real disciples behind. All the other firebrand revolutionaries, such as Liszt, Wagner and Beethoven (naturally) have composers who attempt to assimilate and emulate their styles, but Berlioz not so much. Is his style that original or is it that it was instead recognised as a dead end? Both?
It is certainly effective, written in vivid colours and using massive forces, but I rarely come away from it believing that I have heard anything profound as opposed to something very noisy indeed. For noisy and profound I always turn to the likes of Mahler or Shostakovich instead.
Berlioz certainly was a fascinating man, though, and lived a thrilling life of giddy highs and the very lowest of lows, and it is his Memoirs that I find the most engaging of all his works. I feel bad for him that I do not have his music on in the background when I read them, but there is enough of his sense of importance even in the first paragraph that I am sure he can live without it.
Then again, what on earth would my Messe Solennelle have looked like had I written it at that age? I am sure I would have wanted it destroyed, and no mistaking.