Leos Janaček Glagolitic MassLeoš Janaček – Glagolitic Mass (Mša Glagolskaja)
SOLOISTS: Elisabeth Söderström, soprano; Drahomíra Drobková, alto; František Livora, tenor; Richard Novák, bass
Jan Hora, organ
Pražský Filharmoniký Sbor
Chorus Master: Lubomír Mátl
Česká Filharmonie
Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor
Supraphon, 1987 (2010)

Janaček’s Glagolitic Mass: Composition

The term “Glagolitic” merely refers to the script (predecessor of the modern Cyrillic alphabet) created by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius in the 9th century to provide the analphabetic West Slavs with a form of writing and it is not suitable to connote the Old Church Slavonic used for the text of Leoš Janaček’s Glagolitic Mass. However, this consideration did not prevent the composer to entitle his work in this way. At least, this definition reminds of the ancient days of Slavic people and suits to the severe and direct religiousness that expresses itself plainly and without any ornament in the work.

Janaček was not a deeply religious person and his wife remembers that he was not concerned with the traditional forms of prayer. The reasons why he composed the Glagolitic Mass are the fascination that pan-Slavonic themes and tunes exerted upon him and, on a personal level, the desire to compose a nuptial mass for himself and his wife.

The story of the composition dates to 1907-8, when Janaček drafted a Latin Mass for chorus and organ of which he completed only the Kyrie, the Agnus Dei and two-thirds of the Credo. He went back to his work in 1926 and reused it for the new, more ambitious Mass on a text in the old church language and following the Catholic Ordinary of the Mass, with the only omission of the Dona nobis pacem in the Agnus Dei. The composition was completed in December 1926, but Janaček revised the Mass after the premiere, which took place in Brno under the conduction of Jaroslav Kvapil in 1927.

Janaček’s Glagolitic Mass: the Performance

The Glagolitic Mass in the reading of conductor Charles Mackerras is a sound work that finds its inspiration in chthonian rather than celestial forces. Extraneous to tenderness and, in a certain sense, to the mysticism of traditional adoration, Mackerras achieves perfection in this terse, almost crude representation of a bare spirituality, valuable exactly for the immediateness with which its sober, dry style stands out, especially in the long orchestral commentary on the Incarnation and Crucifixion.

The wonderful Pražský Filharmoniký Sbor and a handful of remarkable soloists (the most memorable name being that of Elisabeth Söderström) are led by Mackerras with precision and firmness to reinforce the previous suggestions. A mention of honor must be added to soprano Elisabeth Söderström, who is perfectly at ease with the high tessitura required for her part (a feature that made her perfect also in the recording of Sibelius’s Lounnotar), so that her presence seems nothing but natural in this context.

This Glagolitic Mass is a recording that is worth listening for an immersion in a not idealized Slavic world with a concrete character.