Jan Dismas Zelenka: Missa Dei Fili [ZWV 20] – Freiburger Barockorchester & Collegium Vocale Ghent – Christina Landshammer – Damien Guillon – Thomas Hobbs – Peter Kooij – Marcus Creed

Collegium Vocale Ghent and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, each firmly established as world-class early music interpreters within their respective fields, last December joined forces during an unforgettably successful concert program with the title Bach & Dresden. Concerts were held in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Live recording from Freiburg, Germany, on 16 December 2011.

Christina Landshammer (soprano)
Damien Guillon (alto)
Thomas Hobbs (tenor)
Peter Kooij (bass)

Collegium Vocale Ghent
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Marcus Creed (conductor).

1) Kyrie eleison (Choir)
2) Christe eleison (Aria: Soprano)
3) Kyrie eleison (Choir, da capo)

4) Gloria in excelsis Deo (Choir: Soprano, alto, tenor, bass)
5) Qui tollis peccata mundi (Soli: Soprano, tenor, bass)
6) Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (Choir)
7) Quoniam tu solus Sanctus I (Choir)
8) Quoniam tu solus Sanctus II (Aria: Alto)
9) Cum Sancto Spiritu I (Choir)
10) Cum Sancto Spiritu II (Choir)
Zelenkas Masses until 1733/ ZWV 16 were composed on commission, which means they were ordered for performance on a specific occasion, had usually solemn settings including wind- and brass instruments (flutes, timpani trumpets, horns), and they were comparatively short.
These three characteristics, on the contrary, are absent from his subsequent Masses . Missa Dei Fili, translated as “Mass for God’s Son/ Mass for God the Son” (ZWV 20) shares exactly the same chamber-like and apparently simple instrumentation with the Masses ZWV 18-21:
SATB soli, choir; first & second violin; 2 oboes; viola; basso continuo (violoncello, violone, bassoon, organ & theorbo).
Despite their apparent modesty these last Masses, due to their lenght, their high technical demands and sophisticated, innovative musical features, make a monumental impression on the listener. Manuscript sources make clear that the Mass settings from 1739-41 were an act of personal devotion, made for God’s glory alone, and thus in a sense works of art independent from liturgical restrictions. Finally, we know that the musical components during religious services at Dresden’s Court Chapel were strictly limited to 40-45 minutes. And Zelenkas late Masses, requiring a performance time of 50-70 min, didn’t fulfill this demand.
Missa Dei Fili from 1740-41, also composed on a grand scale, is a partial exception simply because it is a “Missa brevis” with only the two initial Mass sections Kyrie and Gloria. The other late works were full 5-section Masses completed with Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
Because Zelenka’s plan for his Missae ultimae was so ambitious, and because there are references to other Masses in the project that are possibly lost, but most probably were never composed, some have suggested that this Missa Dei Fili was left unfinished. However, Masses consisting of the Kyrie and Gloria only, a tradition imported from Naples, were fashionable at the time. For example, all of Bach’s Masses except his last have this form. (For the relationship between Bach and Zelenka: See my uploads of Zelenka’s “Te Deum” (ZWV 146) and Bach’s “Tönet, ihr Pauken!” (BWV 214)).

Although nothing can be proved, Zelenka’s exceptional focus on the Gloria-section of the Mass as it now stands, supports the idea of its completeness. During the whole baroque only Bach’s b-minor Mass Gloria has a comparable lenght. Gloria in excelsis Deo, according to the Gospel of Luke sung by a choir of angels on the fields of Betlehem after having announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds, is of course the world’s oldest Christmas carol. By adding a Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, Zelenka would inevitably have weakened this effect. A Mass dedicated to God the Son (Fili) could in principle refer to countless New Testament episodes, but the link between the title and the musical resources spent on the Gloria here seem to make the compositional intentions clearer. Based on this interpretation of ZWV 20, implicitly shared by the various ensembles that choose to perform it during Christmas, I chose the Nativity paintings in the video to illustrate it:

1) Caravaggio: Adoration of the Shepherds (detail) (1609)
2) Govert Flinck: Announciation to the Shepherds (1639)
3) Mathias Grünewald: Gloria with Mary & Child (the Isenheim altar) (1515)
4) and 5) Details from 3).
6) Geertken Toot Sins Jans: Noctorcal Nativity Scene (detail) (c.1490)
7) Filippo Lippi: Nativity (detail) (1455)
8) Giorgione: Adoration of the Shepherds (detail) (c.1510)
9) Abraham Hondius: Annunciation to the Shepherds (1663)
10) Detail of 9)
11) Mathias Stomer: Adoration of the Shepherds (c.1640)
12) Same as 10)
13) Piero della Francesca: Nativity (c.1475)
14) Same as 3)
+ images of the performers and a Zelenka autograph page (ZWV 126).

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