Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

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Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 14, 2018 6:01 am

Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

By Anthony Tommasini

July 13, 2018

The controversy over Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” began with its premiere in 1971. In his review for The New York Times on Sept. 9 that year, Harold C. Schonberg dismissed the piece as “fashionable kitsch,” “cheap and vulgar.” The same morning, Paul Hume in The Washington Post hailed the work as a “rich amalgamation of the theatrical arts” and “the greatest music Bernstein has ever written.”

I loved it when it was new. Nearly 50 years later, I still do, though I understand why it provokes exasperation.

An opportunity to hear Bernstein’s “theater piece for singers, players and dancers,” as he called it, comes next Tuesday and Wednesday when, in honor of this composer’s centennial, Louis Langrée conducts the forces of the Mostly Mozart Festival in a production directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer at David Geffen Hall.

As in many Bernstein works, the subject is a crisis of faith. The text alternates passages of the Latin mass liturgy with English lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, whose musical “Godspell” had opened in 1970. The piece was composed when America was bitterly polarized by the Vietnam War and protests raged on college campuses. (Sound familiar?)

At the time, Bernstein was pilloried for daring to draw from myriad serious and popular styles in fashioning this two-hour score — a “wild mélange of everything,” as Schonberg put it. Today, when it’s the norm for composers to blend traditions, his approach seems ahead of its time.

“Mass” begins with an intentionally grating Antiphon: “Kyrie eleison,” with solo voices singing the Latin words entwined with percussion instruments; the complexity increases over two fidgety minutes, with prerecorded elements played through speakers placed around the hall.

Just when the jumble becomes aggressive, a grounded tonal chord on electric guitar breaks through and brings calm. “Sing God a simple song,” our guide, the Celebrant, says. The sudden shift may seem heavy-handed and the message a little obvious, but the music is beguiling, not so much simple as transparent and generous.

Then the Celebrant sings, softly, “For God is the simplest of all.” At that moment the strings in the orchestra enter, tentatively supporting his tender melodic line with cushioning harmonies. In my favorite recording, Marin Alsop — with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant — does this beautifully.

When the Celebrant sings “Blessed is the man who praises Him,” a pop-style accompaniment pattern begins. Some find it cloying. I think it’s stylish, especially as subtly folded into the overall textures by Ms. Alsop, who never overemphasizes the pop and rock elements. (A Bernstein protégé, Ms. Alsop considers “Mass” a masterpiece.)


Bernstein juxtaposes a Street Chorus of disaffected people (the jeans and T-shirt crowd) with a formal chorus in robes and a boys’ choir. The Street Chorus first appears in a Prefatory Prayers section, singing Latin words to music driven by marching band flourishes. For all the thumping energy, the music has a touch of stiff irony reminiscent of Shostakovich. There’s a striking passage where a tangle of counterpoint breaks into a rhythmically fractured stretch that recalls, for me, the frenzied auto-da-fé choral ensemble of “Candide,” complete with “wrong-note” injections of band instruments.
A rhythmically fractured stretch
From Marin Alsop’s recording with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

A striking passage in this extended number comes when the boys’ choir enters singing “Kyrie eleison,” sounding angelic but a little out of it. Then a boy soloist sings “Here I go up to the altar of God” on a phrase that spirals higher. But his voice is backed by questioning, almost needling, high sustained instrumental sonorities that suggest this innocent is, at best, naïve.
The boys’ choir enters
From Marin Alsop’s recording with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Another remarkable number is the chorale “Almighty Father.” Bernstein’s music balances wistful contemplation with skilled handling of voice leading and harmony. It lasts less than two minutes, and it’s remarkable music. I love the moment when Bernstein sets the words “And fill with grace” to widely spaced chords: a frequent trope in Copland, but taken to a daring extreme here.


The presence of Copland, whom Bernstein revered, is felt in another of my favorite sections, the Trope: “Thank You,” for soprano and Street Chorus. “There once were days so bright,” the soloist sings to wistful music that could be outtakes from Copland’s opera “The Tender Land,” but with a more astringent harmonic language. Listen to the way Ms. Alsop highlights the piercing woodwinds behind the pleading melody when the soprano sings “The bend of a willow.”


The episodes when the ragtag, war-protesting Rock Singers enter have long been the most cringe-inducing for many listeners. For me, Bernstein’s evocations of rock are only glancing, tinged with jazz and blues. And he rattles the driving rhythms by introducing slight metrical dislocations — for example, during “I Don’t Know,” sung by the First Rock Singer, which, starting around a minute in, makes him sound like a member of the Jets who has wandered in from “West Side Story.”


As Mass progresses, the Celebrant tries to bless the sacraments, but the anarchic Street Chorus, fed up with the “heavenly silence” from a God who has clearly abandoned them, pummels the Celebrant with battering, rock-driven, deafening repetitions of “Dona nobis,” provoking the work’s dramatic climax: The shattered Celebrant throws the chalice to the ground, which stuns the crowd. The Celebrant has a breakdown. “Isn’t that odd,” he sings, almost to himself, as pizzicato basses play fragments of 12-tone riffs.

It’s Bernstein’s contribution to the legacy of operatic mad scenes, and it’s riveting, a 14-minute tour de force for the Celebrant. The most powerful stretch, for me, comes when the Celebrant, unable to rouse the shocked crowd, sings “How easily things get quiet,” then observes “God is very ill.” His phrases try to coalesce into an aching lullaby (“Don’t you cry”) over an undulant riff, but to no avail. Song is impossible, the music suggests.


The Celebrant’s fury and anguish erupt again in fractured phrases — until, finally, a boy soprano, singing atop diaphanous string sonorities, offers advice: “Sing God a secret song.” This begins the final extended episode, when voices, one by one, join together in harmony, in canon. Finally the entire company reprises the “Almighty Father” chorale.

But this time the supportive harmonies are thick with intensifying intervals and pungent bits. The mood is comforting, but uncertain, more quizzical. The crisis of faith has been overcome. For now.
A version of this article appears in print on July 14, 2018, on Page C2 of the New York edition with the headline: Is ‘Mass’ His Best Work, or His Worst?. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/arts ... ctionfront

John F
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Sat Jul 14, 2018 7:09 am

Definitely his worst "classical" piece, though I suppose the dismal musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" sank even lower.
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by maestrob » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:11 am

John F wrote:
Sat Jul 14, 2018 7:09 am
Definitely his worst "classical" piece, though I suppose the dismal musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" sank even lower.
Agree. The piece only survives because it has Bernstein's name attached to it.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:36 pm

I have posted on this recently. It is clearly awful. Again I am at a loss as to why it was covered by a major newspaper as though it had any redeeming features.

BTW, to add to my credentials, my college organ teacher James Litton prepared the boy choir for the NYC performance of the piece. Also, as a matter of general interest, the celebrant in the original production was the son of Paul Hume, the Washington Post journalist who wrote the famous review criticizing Margaret Truman's singing, which led to an uninhibited riposte by her father.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by Wallingford » Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:47 pm

Let's just say it was a grand experiment that didn't work out.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 15, 2018 6:10 am

Wallingford wrote:
Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:47 pm
Let's just say it was a grand experiment that didn't work out.
It's mass as a messe. Highbrow camp. So bad it's good. My favorite Bernstein would be Candide. If I require true devotional theatrical music from the past century, that would be Poulenc's Dialogues. But I kept several copies of the original Columbia LP set and put it on the turntable every once in a while, play it loud and try to decipher the anti-Vietnam War messages hidden in the text. So far I find NO COLLUSION: the FBI had apparently embarked on one of their many witch hunts.
Wikipedia wrote:FBI warning: The FBI kept a file on Bernstein because of his leftist views. In the summer of 1971, the Bureau warned the White House that the Latin text of Mass might contain anti-war messages, which could cause embarrassment to President Nixon should he attend the premiere and applaud politely. Rumors of such a plot by Bernstein were leaked to the press. According to Gordon Liddy, White House counsel John Dean stated that the work was "definitely anti-war and anti-establishment, etc." Nixon did not ultimately attend the premiere; Nixon had this decision described in the press as an act of courtesy to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, because he felt the formal opening "should really be her night".

Image

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 3:26 pm

I have the old Latin Mass essentially memorized from childhood, and I am by no means the best or only Latinist in the United States. (Until recently, and maybe even now, the chief Latinist of the Vatican who prepares all papal documents was an American.) There are no subversive lyrics in there, not to mention the fact that very little of the work uses Latin words, which I have no doubt Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz (as my father unkindly remarked at the time two Jews writing a Mass) did not understand to begin with. Most of it is in English, and then there is the Kadosh movement, in Hebrew, one of the few points that shows a glimmer of musical interest. BTW you will forgive me for harping on my recently deceased father again, but as an altar boy from the 1930s he had the Mass more memorized than even I do. He even served at his mother's funeral when he was but 12 years old.

P.S. to jserraglio: In German, Messe (which you misspelled) means "fair." To distinguish it from the religious service, Germans always say "heilige Messe" meaning Holy Mass. :wink:

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 15, 2018 3:57 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 3:26 pm
I have the old Latin Mass essentially memorized from childhood, and I am by no means the best or only Latinist in the United States. (Until recently, and maybe even now, the chief Latinist of the Vatican who prepares all papal documents was an American.) There are no subversive lyrics in there, not to mention the fact that very little of the work uses Latin words, which I have no doubt Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz (as my father unkindly remarked at the time two Jews writing a Mass) did not understand to begin with. Most of it is in English, and then there is the Kadosh movement, in Hebrew, one of the few points that shows a glimmer of musical interest. BTW you will forgive me for harping on my recently deceased father again, but as an altar boy from the 1930s he had the Mass more memorized than even I do. He even served at his mother's funeral when he was but 12 years old.

P.S. to jserraglio: In German, Messe (which you misspelled) means "fair." To distinguish it from the religious service, Germans always say "heilige Messe" meaning Holy Mass. 😉
The sole basis for my pun mass/mess was not a show of polygloterie (I leave that to others) but the LP album cover. Look underneath the word Mass and tell me, please, what word is it you see there in parentheses?

That said, it is comforting to learn that though Dame Pedantry may have received the Last Anointing, the Lady is not yet dead.
Last edited by jserraglio on Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:04 pm

Surely Bernstein, a graduate of Boston Latin School and Harvard, and a conductor of composed masses by Haydn and Beethoven, understood the Latin words of the Catholic mass, though from what you say he didn't use them in his so-called "Mass."
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:08 pm

Didn't LB conduct Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex?

Here is the complete text of Bernstein's Messe. And quite a late-60s, early 70s mess it was. You can judge for yrselfs how much Latin is in there, quite macaronic, I would say. I found some incantatory phrases in the Secret Songs mvmt that the FBI of that era might have seen as political hocus pocus:

Lauda, lauda, laude.
Lauda, lauda, laudate.
This was clearly a magic charm as well as a secret chant of praise for 'Uncle' Ho Chi Minh.

Pax tecum.
Doubtless a coded call for another violent D.C. Peace March to protest Nixon's bombing of Cambodia.

https://www.chandos.net/chanimages/Booklets/NA9622.pdf
Last edited by jserraglio on Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:05 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:55 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:08 pm
Didn't LB conduct Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex?

Here is the complete text of Bernstein's Messe. And quite a late-60s mess it was. You can judge for yrselfs how much Latin is in there, quite macaronic, I would say. I found some incantatory phrases in the Secret Songs mvmt that the FBI might have seen as political hocus pocus.

https://www.chandos.net/chanimages/Booklets/NA9622.pdf
You have no idea how elementary this is for me. In the first place, Kyrie Eleison is Greek, not Latin, and I refuse to go through the whole text picking it apart that way. It is not "Secret Songs" but "Simple Song," which is entirely in English. (Lauda laude is fabricated Latin from the verb laudare, to praise.) I used to think that the text of Oedipus Rex was really by Jean Cocteau until I learned that a Catholic priest was actually hired to render it in perfect Latin.

It is possible that Bernstein had some elementary knowledge of Latin, but I would not set too much store by his formal educational record. Boston Latin School may have required classes in that language at the time, but I once had a teacher who could not interpret the phrase "fiat voluntas tua" (thy will be done, from the Lord's prayer), even though he had had seven years of formal Latin instruction. John F, do you know much Latin just because you went to Harvard? For Bernstein's FL expertise, which I doubt except that it was important to him to get it right at the time, I would turn rather to this:


Edit
Last edited by jbuck919 on Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:08 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:55 pm
You have no idea how elementary this is for me.
You're telling me.

Cf. XVII. Pax: Communion ('Secret Songs'). Maybe it's not so elementary?

Greek, Latin, English and Hebrew. OMG, might it be macaronic?

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:49 pm

My point is not that Bernstein was fluent in Latin - he didn't need to be in order to get the English sense of the Latin mass, he could read it on any number of record jackets - but in response to your guess that he didn't understand Latin at all.

Such Latin as I know, I learned in four years at three different high schools, two American and one English, none of them elite institutions like Boston Latin. We read Caesar's Gallic Wars, Catullus, and Carmina Burana, other stuff as well. By the time I got to Harvard one could meet their foreign language requirement by passing a test, which I did. (By the time my brother went to grad school there, the foreign language requirement was no more.) I don't know what the story was at Harvard in the 1930s nor which courses Bernstein took there and what his grades were, and won't bother trying to find out, but I doubt the curriculum and requirements were less rigorous than when I was there about 25 years later.
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:58 pm

Right, you don't have to be a Latinist to make out liturgical Latin. Lucretius it surely ain't.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jul 15, 2018 6:21 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:58 pm
Right, you don't have to be a Latinist to make out liturgical Latin. Lucretius it surely ain't.
No, it's not, but the difficulties should not be minimized. Liturgical Latin is as all over the place as is English literature. There are many styles and differences. The hymn that gave us the solmization syllables, for instance, is very difficult. It is written in the style of a Horatian ode. I doubt that even the excellent monks singing this in Italy got the gist of it.


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-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sun Jul 15, 2018 6:31 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 6:21 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:58 pm
Right, you don't have to be a Latinist to make out liturgical Latin. Lucretius it surely ain't.
No, it's not, but the difficulties should not be minimized. Liturgical Latin is as all over the place as is English literature. There are many styles and differences. The hymn that gave us the solmization syllables, for instance, is very difficult. It is written in the style of a Horatian ode. I doubt that even the excellent monks singing this in Italy got the gist of it.
Yes, but on the whole it is straightforward and easy to comprehend by anybody with a solid foundation in Latin. One need not be a classicist. An ordinary high-school kid who has had good teachers could handle it. We have had lots of such fledgling Latinists at our school. Example — there is a long untranslated liturgical Latin passage in the final act of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: the mass and burial service for the dead. A student volunteered to sight-read it and translate it for the rest of us on the fly, no prep. He told us this was about the easiest Latin he had ever seen and declaimed and translated it perfectly. Age 16. Less than 3 years of Latin.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by SONNET CLV » Sun Jul 15, 2018 9:50 pm

The next time I listen to the Bach B Minor Mass, if it finishes early and there's some time left, I'll put on the Bernstein Mass and give it a listen, to see what all this hubbub is about. I've had a copy of this in my disc collection for years and never opened it. I guess I've been too busy listening to one of the many B Minor Masses in the collection.

Heck. It is the man's centennial.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:47 am

SONNET CLV wrote:
Sun Jul 15, 2018 9:50 pm
The next time I listen to the Bach B Minor Mass, if it finishes early and there's some time left, I'll put on the Bernstein Mass and give it a listen, to see what all this hubbub is about. I've had a copy of this in my disc collection for years and never opened it. I guess I've been too busy listening to one of the many B Minor Masses in the collection.

Heck. It is the man's centennial.
Mass (Messe) presents as a vulgar hodgepodge but holds a mirror up to its era, mixing the mostly ridiculous with the occasional sublime (Poulenc does the opposite in his devotional music). The work reeks of Lenny, yet at the same time of Catholicism. It unveils the two faces of the Mass many experienced then and some do even now: "Sing God a simple song" (English) versus "Sing God a secret song", (Latin - for centuries a privileged secret language). The Mass as a cacophony of conflicting, incoherent voices often celebrated by unworthy vessels, or even broken vessels:

Come on!
Come on and join me,
Come join in the fun:
Shatter and splatter,
Pitcher and platter,
What do we care?
We won’t be there!
What does it matter?
What does it… matter…
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Haven’t you ever seen an accident before?


Mass's quite a tour de force in its own way. I'll bet it outlasts his symphonies.
Last edited by jserraglio on Mon Jul 16, 2018 12:01 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:45 am

By the way, the orchestration of "Mass" is not by Bernstein but by Hershy Kay, who also orchestrated "On the Town" and "Candide." (What about "West Side Story"? It was orchestrated by Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal.) Many other musicals by other composers have been orchestrated by Hershy Kay, among them John Latouche's ''The Golden Apple'' (1954), Mary Rodgers's ''Once Upon a Mattress'' (1958), Marc Blitzstein's ''Juno'' (1958), ''Happiest Girl in the World'' (1961, based on Offenbach), Jerry Herman's ''Milk and Honey'' (1961), Harvey Schmidt's ''110 in the Shade'' (1963), Cy Coleman's ''On the Twentieth Century'' (1977), "A Chorus Line," "Barnum," "Evita," and others.

So what about Richard Rodgers? Did he score his own musicals? No, he had that done by Robert Russell Bennett, who also did orchestrations for Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter.

Bernstein orchestrated his operas and was perfectly capable of doing his musicals too. Delegating that work to somebody else says something about his and other competent Broadway composers' attitude toward Broadway and the musical. Just what it does say, I don't know.
John Francis

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:51 am

Bernstein knew both how to write for voice and what the Latin said.

Bernstein: Missa brevis (1989)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEzR5uLhe-Q


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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:41 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:51 am
Bernstein knew both how to write for voice and what the Latin said.

Bernstein: Missa brevis (1989)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEzR5uLhe-Q

He did? BTW I like the piece, which is a revelation for me. But in the Sanctus I hear "gloria tuae" when "gloria tua" (ablative for "thy glory") is correct. No big problem. The current pope, even though he has a Jesuit education, can't get his cases right either.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:57 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:41 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:51 am
Bernstein knew both how to write for voice and what the Latin said.
He did?
Seek and ye shall find. The sung text of Missa brevis in its first complete commercial recording would satisfy even the tetchiest of Latinists:

https://www.chandos.net/chanimages/Booklets/CH10172.pdf

Once you accept that the ablative is not Pope Francis's forte, you might get off his case. Ablation is often confused with oblation, sometimes even with ablution or absolution: three things Francis excels at.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:24 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:57 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:41 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:51 am
Bernstein knew both how to write for voice and what the Latin said.
He did?
Seek and ye shall find. The sung text of Missa brevis in its first complete commercial recording would satisfy even the tetchiest of Latinists:

https://www.chandos.net/chanimages/Booklets/CH10172.pdf

You will be pleased to learn that the ablative case is not Pope Francis's forte. Ablation is often confused with oblation, sometimes even with ablution or absolution: those three Francis excels at.
I cannot get that link to work, but I'll take your word for it. What do those Swedish Lutherans know about Latin pronunciation anyway? :) (Actually, I am fully aware that the Stockholmer Kammerchor is or was one of the great adult choirs of the world, who put out an LP set many years ago in which they performed with perfect enunciation everything from Debussy to Reger.)

There is no such word as ablation, unless you are in the business of coining words. Ablution, for those who do not know, refers to the cleansing of the vessels after communion, and I doubt that Pope Francis has had to do so for himself in many years. Case is important. In the sign of the cross, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus belong to three different cases. For a pope to mess up something like that is a painful embarrassment. I could almost see the cardinals in attendance cringing, especially considering that the previous pope was a superb latinist.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:48 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:41 pm
There is no such word as ablation, unless you are in the business of coining words. Ablution, for those who do not know, refers to the cleansing of the vessels after communion, and I doubt that Pope Francis has had to do so for himself in many years.
Trust me once, so trust me twice. Ablation is a word. Look it up for yourself.

As for ablutions the pope or any priest would do, the main one is the 'lavabo' of the hands ritual after the Offertory of the Mass as well as the priest's washing hands before Mass after vesting. More extraordinary is the moving ritual of the Washing of the Feet on Maundy Thursday which calls for washing the feet of 12 laypersons; the Holy Father performs those ablutions during the solemn Mass he celebrates on that day.

And while the trust window is ajar, "Lauda, Laude" is not 'fabricated Latin' any more than "ablation" is a made-up word.
Case is important. In the sign of the cross, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus belong to three different cases.
Say what? As the Latin invocation is worded (in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti) all three nouns are in the same case—genitive case. Now what was that nasty crack about 'cardinals cringing' when the Pope messed up?

As you say, case is important in Latin. So is observing the difference between cases and declensions. Maybe LB didn't need to brush up on such matters, but some of us here do lest we lapse into trinitarian heresy.
Last edited by jserraglio on Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:59 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:26 pm

Pooh-Bah in "The Mikado"

Yum-Yum the fair
You must not woo.
It will not do,
I'm sorry for you,
You very imperfect ablutioner...

She'll wend her way
And homeward come
With beat of drum
And rum-tum-tum
To wed the Lord High Executioner.
John Francis

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:52 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:48 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:41 pm
There is no such word as ablation, unless you are in the business of coining words. Ablution, for those who do not know, refers to the cleansing of the vessels after communion, and I doubt that Pope Francis has had to do so for himself in many years.
Trust me once, so trust me twice. Ablation is a word. Look it up for yourself.

As for ablutions the pope or any priest would do, the main one is the hand 'lavabo' ritual after the Offertory of the Mass as well as the priest's hand ablution before Mass after vesting. More extraordinary is the moving ritual of the Washing of the Feet on Maundy Thursday which calls for the ablution of the feet of 12 laypersons; the Holy Father performs those ablutions during the solemn Mass he celebrates on that day.

And while the trust window is ajar, "Lauda, Laude" is not 'fabricated Latin' any more than "ablation" is a made-up word.
Case is important. In the sign of the cross, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus belong to three different cases.
Say what? All three are in the same case—genitive case. Now what was that nasty crack about 'cardinals cringing' as the Pope made an laughable gaffe? As you say, case is important. As is the difference between cases and declensions. Maybe LB didn't need to brush up on such matters, but some of us here do lest we lapse into trinitarian heresy.
You are right, ablation is a word, though it has nothing to do with using the ablative case. Then of course I meant three different declensions, not cases, because the genitive of the three persons of the Trinity is formed differently for each one. Neither the washing of the hands (the lavabo, meaning I wash and quoting from a psalm) nor the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday (from Mandatum novum do vobis, a new commandment I give you, from the Gospel of John) are ablutions. Now can we stop this? And John F, W.S. Gilbert also gave Poo-bah the title of Archbishop of Titipu, and that should be that.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:04 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:52 pm
You are right, ablation is a word, though it has nothing to do with using the ablative case. Then of course I meant three different declensions, not cases, because the genitive of the three persons of the Trinity is formed differently for each one. Neither the washing of the hands (the lavabo, meaning I wash and quoting from a psalm) nor the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday (from Mandatum novum do vobis, a new commandment I give you, from the Gospel of John) are ablutions. Now can we stop this? And John F, W.S. Gilbert also gave Poo-bah the title of Archbishop of Titipu, and that should be that.
You and I have very different notions about what constitutes ritual cleansing, thank goodness. But I reckon if your own Latin gaffes are to be viewed as trivial, so too should the inconsequential slipups committed by our very human, and lovable Pope, Francis. If we can agree on that, I'll gladly stop responding.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:53 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:04 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:52 pm
You are right, ablation is a word, though it has nothing to do with using the ablative case. Then of course I meant three different declensions, not cases, because the genitive of the three persons of the Trinity is formed differently for each one. Neither the washing of the hands (the lavabo, meaning I wash and quoting from a psalm) nor the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday (from Mandatum novum do vobis, a new commandment I give you, from the Gospel of John) are ablutions. Now can we stop this? And John F, W.S. Gilbert also gave Poo-bah the title of Archbishop of Titipu, and that should be that.
You and I have very different notions about what constitutes ritual cleansing, thank goodness. But I reckon if your own Latin gaffes are to be viewed as trivial, so too should the inconsequential slipups committed by our very human, and lovable Pope, Francis. If we can agree on that, I'll gladly stop responding.
Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:03 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:53 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:04 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:52 pm
You are right, ablation is a word, though it has nothing to do with using the ablative case. Then of course I meant three different declensions, not cases, because the genitive of the three persons of the Trinity is formed differently for each one. Neither the washing of the hands (the lavabo, meaning I wash and quoting from a psalm) nor the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday (from Mandatum novum do vobis, a new commandment I give you, from the Gospel of John) are ablutions. Now can we stop this? And John F, W.S. Gilbert also gave Poo-bah the title of Archbishop of Titipu, and that should be that.
You and I have very different notions about what constitutes ritual cleansing, thank goodness. But I reckon if your own Latin gaffes are to be viewed as trivial, so too should the inconsequential slipups committed by our very human, and lovable Pope, Francis. If we can agree on that, I'll gladly stop responding.
Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
Translation, if you please?

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 17, 2018 12:11 am

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:03 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:53 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:04 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:52 pm
You are right, ablation is a word, though it has nothing to do with using the ablative case. Then of course I meant three different declensions, not cases, because the genitive of the three persons of the Trinity is formed differently for each one. Neither the washing of the hands (the lavabo, meaning I wash and quoting from a psalm) nor the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday (from Mandatum novum do vobis, a new commandment I give you, from the Gospel of John) are ablutions. Now can we stop this? And John F, W.S. Gilbert also gave Poo-bah the title of Archbishop of Titipu, and that should be that.
You and I have very different notions about what constitutes ritual cleansing, thank goodness. But I reckon if your own Latin gaffes are to be viewed as trivial, so too should the inconsequential slipups committed by our very human, and lovable Pope, Francis. If we can agree on that, I'll gladly stop responding.
Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
Translation, if you please?
LOL, I never thought you'd have to ask. Those are the words of absolution in the old rite of confession/penance. I absolve you, in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Now let's hope that I never have to present to you the most beautiful old rite of all, which in English used to be called Extreme Unction. Per istam sanctam unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid deliquisti. (Through this holy annointing and his most blessed mercy, may the Lord forgive you all in which you have transgressed.)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 17, 2018 3:05 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Jul 17, 2018 12:11 am
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:03 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:53 pm
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:04 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:52 pm
You are right, ablation is a word, though it has nothing to do with using the ablative case. Then of course I meant three different declensions, not cases, because the genitive of the three persons of the Trinity is formed differently for each one. Neither the washing of the hands (the lavabo, meaning I wash and quoting from a psalm) nor the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday (from Mandatum novum do vobis, a new commandment I give you, from the Gospel of John) are ablutions. Now can we stop this? And John F, W.S. Gilbert also gave Poo-bah the title of Archbishop of Titipu, and that should be that.
You and I have very different notions about what constitutes ritual cleansing, thank goodness. But I reckon if your own Latin gaffes are to be viewed as trivial, so too should the inconsequential slipups committed by our very human, and lovable Pope, Francis. If we can agree on that, I'll gladly stop responding.
Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
Translation, if you please?
LOL, I never thought you'd have to ask. Those are the words of absolution in the old rite of confession/penance. I absolve you, in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Now let's hope that I never have to present to you the most beautiful old rite of all, which in English used to be called Extreme Unction. Per istam sanctam unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid deliquisti. (Through this holy annointing and his most blessed mercy, may the Lord forgive you all in which you have transgressed.)

And by the way, the error that the pope made was in the general blessing Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus (all nominative, correctly). He said "patris" (genitive) as though he were making the sign of the cross. It is a glaring error that no other pope in recorded history would have made.

I am no great fan of JP II, but when he visited Baltimore (at the behest of Cardinal Keeler who had clearly been lobbying for years to be given the red hat), he was asked by the seminarians at St. Mary's seminary to bestow the apostolic benediction. Dubiously, he asked in English if they knew the Latin for the responses (they did). That is what things have come to.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by lennygoran » Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:05 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:53 pm

Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
I've been following this thread as best I can-glad to get a translation! Regards, Len

Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 17, 2018 7:11 am


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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by barney » Thu Jul 19, 2018 3:03 am

lennygoran wrote:
Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:05 am
jbuck919 wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:53 pm

Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
I've been following this thread as best I can-glad to get a translation! Regards, Len

Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require.
I don't want to sound patronising, but surely that famous phrase shouldn't need translating because all the Latin words have devolved into English words. Absolve, nominal, patriarch, filial, spirit and sanctified, for example. Ego might be a bit misleading, thanks to Freud.
(I speak as the highly undistinguished scholar of four years of high school Latin, including - as above - the Gallic Wars.)

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:58 am

Now another NYTimes critic has weighed in with a pretty negative review. Len

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/arts ... ozart.html

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:59 am

Here at the 2012 Proms, the celebrant can't hit a lot of the notes. Perfect imperfect! That's how I remember many if not most sung Masses I attended: grace flows thru the performance to the audience, not so much via the performer.

I am starting to think Mass is right up there with Candide, West Side Story and his other great musical-theater works. Only this time, Lenny transsubstantiates himself into a 1970s-style cafeteria catholic. Wonderful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tjsKzhpSwE&t=4534s

Last edited by jserraglio on Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:42 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:32 am

Liner Notes from the 2009 Alsop recording on Naxos:

After his outrageously dynamic 11-year tenure at the New York Philharmonic, during which time he danced from the podium into the telesphere as America’s most beloved music teacher, Leonard Bernstein was anxious to get back to the business of composing. Best known for his Broadway masterpiece West Side Story, he had only produced two works during his legendary leadership from 1958 to 1969: the “Kaddish” Symphony and Chichester Psalms.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis gave Bernstein an opportunity to get back on the creative track, big time, with an irresistible commission: to compose the inaugural piece for the opening of the newly constructed Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. This was right up his alley. Bernstein wrote: “I’ve always wanted to compose a service of one sort or another, and I toyed with ecumenical services that would combine elements from various religions and sects, of ancient or tribal beliefs, but it never all came together in my mind until Jacqueline Onassis asked me to write a piece dedicated to her late husband... The Mass is also an extremely dramatic event in itself— it even suggests a theater work.” Bernstein was the quintessential theatrical composer—he even admitted once that even his concert works had a “theatrical core”—and ran with the idea like no other could.

So he took the centuries-old, musico-religious ritual, the Roman Catholic liturgy, and dragged it, kicking and screaming into the 20th century, transforming it into a battleground about the contemporary crisis in faith. He called it Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers. It had its premiere on September 8, 1971. It is a visionary period piece that gains more relevance as time goes on. Born of the same Zeitgeist that produced Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, Bernstein’s singularly explosive work, featuring everything from bongos to kazoos, outdid the eclecticism of West Side Story and Candide, while continuing the religious outcries expressed in his “Jeremiah” Symphony and the “Kaddish.”

He was thinking bigger than ever. His zany Mass, mixing sacred and secular texts in wacky and original ways, would be a kind of “Symphony of a Thousand” of the Vietnam Era—to invoke the great piece of his hero, Gustav Mahler. It was also his War Requiem, his Carmina Burana, his Symphony of Psalms. He had about three years to put it together. But six months before the scheduled premiere, Bernstein was in a slight panic because he was in no way close to finished. The born performer in him had not given up his globe-trotting baton, and he was also spending precious creative time working on a film score for Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a “flower power” retelling of the life of St Francis.

Desperate for a collaborator, he tapped his sister Shirley, a playwright agent, who suggested one of her clients, the young, hip Stephen Schwartz, freshly famous for the hit musical based on the life of Christ, Godspell. He was, literally, a godsend, and the two hit it off, working at a delirious pace to make the deadline. What they concocted was a riveting drama within the framework of the religious service that reflected the cultural malaise going on in America, if not the world, in the early 1970s. The spine of the piece was the standard Roman Catholic liturgical sequence: the Kyrie–Gloria–Credo–Sanctus/Benedictus–Agnus Dei. They amplified and complicated the form by inserting daring “tropes” and serious “meditations” which provided a kind of Talmudic commentary, questioning and challenging the handed-down passages of the service, usually recited without reflection.

Mass weaves within this structure the story of the Celebrant and his “congregation”—which Bernstein calls “street people” made up of singer-dancers—who grow increasingly disillusioned, cynical and exasperated with authority, divine and human. The Celebrant, also plagued with doubt and unable to play an authority figure, has a nervous/spiritual breakdown and commits a blasphemous act by hurling down the holy chalice. Yet this apparent sacrilege leads him back to the simple faith expressed at the beginning of this piece in the glorious A Simple Song.

What is remarkable about this most catholic of Catholic Masses is that despite the kaleidoscopic jumble of styles—blues, rock, pop, Broadway, Middle Eastern dance, symphonic, marching band, contemporary avant-garde atonality, brutism, solemn hymn, dissonant counterpoint, quasi-medieval melismas—Mass holds together as a unified composition. It is not a messy mish-mash, even with the bongos and kazoos. The opening, three-note Kyrie motif, for instance, reappears in different guises throughout the piece, from haunting oboe and flute “epiphany” solos, to electric guitar riffs. The tritone interval (the augmented fourth), known as the “devil in music,” also runs throughout the piece (as it does in West Side Story). On one hand, it can signify doubt, as in the “I Don’t Know” trope; the tritone is also manifested prominently in the Lydian church mode, which Bernstein cleverly employs in his most tender passages to signify innocence, sung by the boys choir, as in the Sanctus. There is plenty of Bernstein’s signature bouncy lilt of alternating meters.

Mass also features Bernstein’s first use of the rock idiom. Anytime there is some sort of protest, the composer pulls out the electric guitars and “rock” organ (as opposed to the church organ, also used in the piece), appropriately given rock’s association with rage and revolution. And there is plenty of protest and unrest in the piece. For instance, in the Credo—which means “I believe” in Latin, and is the central tenet expressing belief in one God—the Latin text is dutifully sung in dispassionate, almost machine-like, automatic fashion by a choir on a pre-recorded tape. Right after, a “live” rock band kicks in singing lyrics such as “and then a plaster god like you has the gall to tell me what to do.” That is followed by the trope, “I believe in God / but does God believe in me? I’ll believe in any god / If any god there be.” The crisis comes to a crescendo in Dona nobis pacem, when the street people defiantly demand peace. Even more in-your-face lyrics are spewed forth, “We’re not down on our knees / We’re not praying,” and later, “We’re fed up with your heavenly silence.” At the time of the original performance this also resonated politically with the anti-war movement in Vietnam. (Remember, Bernstein was a diehard liberal who threw a fund-raising party for the Black Panthers in his Park Avenue apartment in 1970.)

Famous pop icon Paul Simon donated a brilliant quatrain, “Half the people are stoned / and the other half are waiting for the next election / Half the people are drowned / and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction” which sums up the lethargy and confusion of a generation. In the mocking “God Said” section, there are lyrics such as “God said that sex should repulse / unless it leads to results / and so we crowd the world / full of consenting adults / And it was good…” But his Mass is not all groovy counterculture and atheistic rage. Quite the opposite, in spite of the disarming honesty, doubt and indignation.

If you listen more carefully, Bernstein is constructing a kind of musical theology. He is making a deeply personal statement about getting lost and finding faith again—the Gospel According to Lenny, you might say. The fantastic, unforgettable opening of Mass establishes Bernstein’s method and way of thinking. The Kyrie is prerecorded and played in a darkened auditorium, during which different voices and percussion slam up against each other in different keys and tempi. The cacophony is brought to an abrupt, surprising halt with simple open fifths in G major.

Thus begins A Simple Song (which is not so simple, and was transplanted from the cancelled score for Zeffirelli’s St Francis film) that introduces the central figure of the Celebrant with guitar in hand. His joyous and uplifting “laudas” soar to the heavens. That simple song comes back at the end of Mass, against all odds. The mounting chaos of Dona nobis pacem, which finishes with a kind of volcanic jam session, drives the once-content Celebrant to frustration if not madness. He impulsively smashes the holy chalice, but notices that the spilled wine resembles real blood. “Look, isn’t that odd” he sings in this riveting “Fraction” stretch.

His agitated, atonal melody is actually quoting and recontextualizing the quasitwelve tone row found in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The first time the Beethoven is heard is way back in the first half during Meditation No. 2. Here, Bernstein creates a menacing theme and variations out of Beethoven’s remarkable 11-note sequence. It is important to the overall structure and meaning of Bernstein’s conception. The clue to this might be found in what Bernstein wrote two years after the premiere of Mass as part of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University, which were televised: “And what about the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth—that sudden awestruck moment of recognizing the Divine Presence? … Beethoven suspends all tonal harmony, leaving only harmonic implications; that’s what makes it so suddenly awesome, unrooted in earth, extra-terrestrial—so that when earthly harmony does return the incandescent A major triad does indeed cry ‘Brüder!’—Universal brothers, all emerging together from that non-earthly Divinity.” That startling, enlightening juxtaposition is certainly the model for the opening of Mass, reborn near the end of the searing, soul-searching journey.

After the Celebrant’s tormented, tour de force aria during which bits and pieces of what has preceded is recalled (just like those memory quotes in Beethoven’s finale), he is led back to the opening simple song (redubbed “secret song”), intoned by a solo boy soprano, whose angelic voice is the sound of innocence. The Celebrant, a broken man, finds his faith again through this untarnished simplicity, singing in moving unison with the boy. This is key. That is why Bernstein refused to cut Meditation No. 2, strongly suggested by the show’s original director, Gordon Davidson, and his advisor, Schuyler Chapin, because they thought the show was too long. Bernstein did not budge in the end because that long-range connection had to be maintained.

But even more fundamental than Bernstein’s inspired appropriation of Beethoven is the subtle argument made in Mass that belief in music is a kind of proof of the soul, which strongly suggests a divine presence. In the Credo, the angry rocker gives up on a seemingly absent God, so redirects his belief to the one thing he knows exists: “I believe in F Sharp / I believe in G.” What seems like cutesy self-referentiality actually has deeper implications for Bernstein.

In the Sanctus, the Celebrant picks up on this idea, by drawing clever if goofy connections between solfege syllables and their more meaningful homonyms: “Mi alone is only me. But me with sol. Me with soul. Means a song is beginning. Is beginning to grow / Take wing and rise up singing / From me and my soul.” The music has that wistful yearning that is the hallmark of Bernstein’s style. In the end, if music originates in the soul and the soul originates with God, then music is as close a proof as we are going to get. Thus Bernstein and his theatrical double, the Celebrant, are led back to God through their belief in music, great mystery and miracle at the center of this radical, revelatory liturgy.

--Robert Hilferty

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:47 am

lennygoran wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:58 am
Now another NYTimes critic has weighed in with a pretty negative review. Len

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/arts ... ozart.html
Hi Lenny, Would you have a second to post the whole article? I ran out of free ones today. Thanks in advance.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:38 am

jserraglio wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:47 am
lennygoran wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:58 am
Now another NYTimes critic has weighed in with a pretty negative review. Len

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/arts ... ozart.html
Hi Lenny, Would you have a second to post the whole article? I ran out of free ones today. Thanks in advance.
Joe normally with my pc I do but working only with the tablet editing out all the unneccessay items is too difficult-when I get back I'll send it like I usually do if no one else posts it here. Len

Tonight it's the mostly mozart Creation-I'm joping for a big visual spectacle and it has surtitles!

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:47 am

lennygoran wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:38 am
jserraglio wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:47 am
lennygoran wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:58 am
Now another NYTimes critic has weighed in with a pretty negative review. Len

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/arts ... ozart.html
Hi Lenny, Would you have a second to post the whole article? I ran out of free ones today. Thanks in advance.
Joe normally with my pc I do but working only with the tablet editing out all the unneccessay items is too difficult-when I get back I'll send it like I usually do if no one else posts it here. Len

Tonight it's the mostly mozart Creation-I'm joping for a big visual spectacle and it has surtitles!
I hear you. I post most of my stuff on an 4 1/2" screen iPhone which takes forever. That, plus dyslexia's why I have so many edits. Thanks No hurry. I am listening to the entire Bernstein Mass again today.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:12 am

Joe it's on my to/do list-I wish you tube had a live version with surtitles but I guess I can survive without the surtitles. Len

John F
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:29 am

I hadn't read that review, and now that I am, I might as well post it and save Lenny the trouble. Woolfe's last sentence is contrarian and really surprised me. And I hadn't seen the relation, in intent if not success, between "Mass" and "Godspell."

Review: ‘Mass’ Brings Out the Worst in Leonard Bernstein
By Zachary Woolfe
July 18, 2018

“Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?” a recent headline asked. Well, after revisiting this two-hour extravaganza on Tuesday, when it was presented by Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, I think that if it’s not his worst, it surely reflects his worst tendencies: his allergy to self-editing, his saccharine streak, his embarrassing wordplay, his obsession with (and tone-deafness toward) youth culture, his weak counterfeits of pop styles.

Bloated, bombastic, cloying, quaint and smug — and occasionally, it must be said, very pretty — “Mass” (1971) now exists mainly as a stale memento of the aftermath of the liberalizations in Catholic ritual inspired by the Second Vatican Council. A strained union of high and low culture written for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, it was Bernstein’s grand effort to match the counterculture-fueled energy of recent hits like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell” and “Hair.”

Indeed, he enlisted Stephen Schwartz, the creator of “Godspell,” to collaborate with him on a text that crowds the traditional Catholic liturgy with hippie-era nostrums. (“I believe in God,” goes one passage that does resonate in our equally self-absorbed times, “but does God believe in me?”)

They gave the old-fashioned Mass a theatrical spin, grafting a loose plot onto the Kyrie, Confession, Agnus Dei and so on. Our main character is the Celebrant, a priestlike figure with an acoustic-guitar-carrying, youth-group-leader vibe. The church fills; there’s a chorus, dancers, a children’s choir, another choir, a marching band, pretaped sounds.

Blues and rock (or, more accurately, “blues” and “rock”) singers enter the picture. Looking, in Elkhanah Pulitzer’s game but dull staging, like a touring company of “Rent” in their faux-bohemian street clothes, these folks gradually express their frustration with God, and with old rituals and maxims.

“We’re fed up with your heavenly silence,” they cry — promising, if they can’t have the world they desire, to “set this one on fire.” Their rebellion prompts the Celebrant to collapse in a 15-minute paroxysm of doubt, though, even when depicting a breakdown, Bernstein was unable to resist jarringly cute rhymes. (“Praying” and “Kyrie-ing”? Really?)

For a more interesting reflection on the late 1960s, and a musical idiom that matches that period’s explosiveness with a trippy stylistic mélange, try Luciano Berio’s “Sinfonia.” Bernstein’s “Mass,” by contrast, is fully convincing only in its moments of serene prayer. Elsewhere, the rock and blues are wan, the whispers of Middle Eastern twang or Indian raga unnecessary. Sprightly beats are ransacked from Bernstein’s own “West Side Story” and “Trouble in Tahiti,” losing their spring in the process.

The performance at David Geffen Hall, led by Louis Langrée, Mostly Mozart’s music director, felt rushed, cramped and vague. (The work comes off better — tighter and more confident — in recordings conducted by Marin Alsop and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.) Calm and collected, Nmon Ford, as the Celebrant, made a sweet sound; a boy soprano soloist, Tenzin Gund-Morrow, was particularly fine.

If the staging’s vigor seemed too strenuously achieved, that may be Bernstein’s fault more than Ms. Pulitzer’s or the performers’. Overall, it is simply hard to discern what “Mass” can mean to us in 2018 — why we should perform it at all — other than as a relic.

Perhaps, sneered to a gala audience at the Kennedy Center in 1971, there was something arrestingly rude in the line “Oh, you people of power, your hour is now; you may plan to rule forever, but you never do, somehow.” Now it comes off as a passing cloud of adolescent dyspepsia, forgotten by the end of the work, when the Celebrant, after glumly mourning “how easily things get broken,” snaps out of his funk and, all the performers by his side, once again praises God.

The moral? Radicals should submit to the system; peace is more important than change. For all its counterculture trappings, then, “Mass” is fundamentally, boringly conservative.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/arts ... ozart.html
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 11:50 am

Thanks for posting it, JohnF.

I am a fan of Berio's Sinfonia. I bought the Columbia LP the day it was released. But it captured little of the flashy vulgarity of late 60s America. Mass has that in abundance. I think Woolfe mistakes its parody of the 60s for straightforward 60's sermonizing. Its musical language though is conservative--I don't think LB went in for atonalism or serialism: as I recall, the intentionally boring El Dorado music in Candide is twelve-tone style. And among many other great things Candide is a great parody of the era in which it was set.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Thu Jul 19, 2018 2:28 pm

jserraglio wrote:I don't think LB went in for atonalism or serialism
Indeed, his Harvard lectures "The Unanswered Question" sought to prove, by analogy with linguistics, that atonal/serial music is wrong.
jserraglio wrote:as I recall, the intentionally boring El Dorado music in Candide is twelve-tone style.
Surely not. It's as tonal as anything in "Candide," and for me it isn't boring at all - actually quite lovely.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocGHkZhALns
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 3:01 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 2:28 pm

Surely not. It's as tonal as anything in "Candide," and for me it isn't boring at all - actually quite lovely.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocGHkZhALns
Yes, that's tonal but that's not the one I was thinking of. I misled by citing the wrong title. It's the trio with the Governor, Cunegonde, and the Old Lady. It was in the TV show with Patty Lupone and Kristin Chenoweth (Alsop/NYP).

Purposely boring. I didn't think it was boring after I got that LB was joking around (if in fact he was) by parodying a musical style he didn't like to show how boring utopia would be for humans.

He does this in Mass too, I can't recall exactly where right now.

BTW, I agree with you Candide is the finest theater piece he ever wrote. Having Richard Wilbur do some of the lyrics didn't hurt. Great poet.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Thu Jul 19, 2018 3:44 pm

That's "Quiet!"


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCdT44A_oZo

The introduction is certainly atonal but the song is sour but tonal.

Bernstein could adopt any style he wanted to, with greater or less success (as in "Mass"). But I really don't think "Mass" is a parody; to the contrary, its sermonizing is embarrassingly sincere. As with those pretentious but shallow Harvard lectures, Bernstein's reach far exceeded his grasp. That's how I remember it from many years ago, haven't listened to it since and won't subject myself to it for the sake of discussion.
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jul 19, 2018 4:16 pm

QUIET! That's the song (Candide). Thanks.

I am going to subject myself to Mass again. Rather than parody I should have said mimicry.

What I remember of it since I last played my LPs is that Mass mirrors the self-righteous tone of the 60s era. But it provides a heightened rendition of real Catholic church masses I went to in those days. It is cringingly overdone in parts but it had to be to capture the temper of the times: Jesus Christ Superstar embarrassing. Parts of WSS are cloying too though the earnestness of first love takes the edge off; Candide is close to perfect. By contrast with Mass, Missa brevis almost two decades later (1989) is stripped down and sparely medieval, but with an identifiable Lenny sound world.

I can't believe Jackie Onassis in 1971 would have felt anything but contempt for this vulgar display, but I could be wrong.

I watched LB's Norton talks and again I would use the word mimicry. Playacting what he thought a Harvard professor (maybe one of his own era?) would behave like. The guy was nothing if not theatrical. Truth to tell I could give a damn what he said, that voice could say nothing and never be boring.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by John F » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:01 am

jserraglio wrote:I am going to subject myself to Mass again.
I won't ask if you stayed with it to the very end. :)

What might Bernstein have been mimicking? Surely not church music. What comes to mind is a Mahler symphony - same dimensions and scale, same extramusical dimension, same incorporation of banal musical material and verses, It took 2-3 generations before Mahler's symphonies gained broad critical respect and large audiences; "Mass" has at least another generation to go.

As for Jackie Kennedy, I don't know that her musical taste was so sophisticated, but if for no other reason, the Kennedy Center opening would have made it impolitic not to praise the major work commissioned for the occasion, if that's what she did.
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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:26 am

John F wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:01 am
I won't ask if you stayed with it to the very end. :)

What might Bernstein have been mimicking? Surely not church music. What comes to mind is a Mahler symphony - same dimensions and scale, same extramusical dimension, same incorporation of banal musical material and verses, It took 2-3 generations before Mahler's symphonies gained broad critical respect and large audiences; "Mass" has at least another generation to go.
Haven't re-listened to Mass yet. It's on my bucket list.

I don't mean he was mimicking church music per se but the Roman Catholic liturgy, specifically what is called the Paul VI vernacular Mass that replaced the old Tridentine Latin Mass in the 60s. As performed back then, the reformed liturgy was quite a hodgepodge of old and new, with celebrants who sometimes became very theatrically self-indulgent, not unlike the celebrant in the LB Mass. To the point that one wanted to remind them: "Its not about you." Bernstein to my ear and eye captures that atmosphere and heightens it for artistic effect. WSS mirrors the Fifties, Mass the Sixties.

I never thought of Mahler before in regard to Mass. The liner notes I posted above bring up the Mahler 8. Please don't ask if I stayed with that one to the end.
Last edited by jserraglio on Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is ‘Mass’ Leonard Bernstein’s Best Work, or His Worst?

Post by jserraglio » Sat Jul 21, 2018 4:38 am

From the Naxos recording liner notes:

Bernstein's Mass & the Mahler 8th:
His zany Mass, mixing sacred and secular texts in wacky and original ways, would be a kind of “Symphony of a Thousand” of the Vietnam Era—to invoke the great piece of his hero, Gustav Mahler. It was also his War Requiem, his Carmina Burana, his Symphony of Psalms.
Bernstein's Mass, atonalism & the Beethoven 9th:
The mounting chaos of Dona nobis pacem, which finishes with a kind of volcanic jam session, drives the once-content Celebrant to frustration if not madness. He impulsively smashes the holy chalice, but notices that the spilled wine resembles real blood. “Look, isn’t that odd” he sings in this riveting “Fraction” stretch. His agitated, atonal melody is actually quoting and recontextualizing the quasi-twelve tone row found in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The first time the Beethoven is heard is way back in the first half during Meditation No. 2. Here, Bernstein creates a menacing theme and variations out of Beethoven’s remarkable 11-note sequence. It is important to the overall structure and meaning of Bernstein’s conception. The clue to this might be found in what Bernstein wrote two years after the premiere of Mass as part of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University, which were televised: “And what about the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth—that sudden awestruck moment of recognizing the Divine Presence? … Beethoven suspends all tonal harmony, leaving only harmonic implications; that’s what makes it so suddenly awesome, unrooted in earth, extra-terrestrial—so that when earthly harmony does return the incandescent A major triad does indeed cry ‘Brüder!’—Universal brothers, all emerging together from that non-earthly Divinity.” That startling, enlightening juxtaposition is certainly the model for the opening of Mass, reborn near the end of the searing, soul-searching journey.
. . . Reminding me that the grand use of allusion here is also found on a much smaller scale in the first five notes of "Somewhere (There's a Place for Us)" (WSS) which mimic a theme from one of Beethoven's piano concertos.

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