The Full Works Concert - Friday 17 January 2014

Beethoven's deeply felt Missa Solemnis joins works from Grieg and Pachelbel in tonight's Hall of Fame concert.

How, you wonder, would Grieg - pictured - feel about the fact that many of us associate his Piano Concerto in A minor with Morecambe and Wise? Eric’s version of the piece, conducted by ‘Andrew Preview’ is one of the most memorable TV sketches of all time. The concerto itself was no laughing matter for Grieg, though. Instead, it was a pretty weighty, serious affair. At the age of 25, the young Norwegian was determined to make his mark on the world with this, his first work to employ an orchestra. From the thunderous roll of the timpani in the opening bars, Grieg sounds totally assured and in command of his orchestral writing – and yet, he was far from experienced in composing for such large forces. The driving, anthemic outer movements, sandwiched either side of the most beautiful Adagio, combine to create a stunning work that’s hard to beat.

It’s hard to imagine a time when Pachelbel's Canon wasn’t a firm favourite at weddings, but in reality, not very much is known about his most famous piece. We don’t even know exactly when it was composed, although it’s thought it was around 1680. The Canon’s popularity snowballed in the 1970s. Since then, the music has been recorded hundreds of times, and the iconic harmony has made its way into pop songs, films, and adverts. But even before the public got hold of the piece, classical composers knew Pachelbel was on to a good thing – Handel, Haydn, and Mozart all used the iconic bass line in some of their compositions in the following years.

Beethoven composed his Missa Solemnis for the enthronement of his great friend and pupil Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmütz – completing it three years after the enthronement ceremony. Beethoven was not a religious man – there is no anecdotal evidence of his ever having chosen to attend a church service – but in his final years he did become deeply spiritual. This work – one of only three overtly religious works in his entire output, along with the oratorio Christus am Ölberge [Christ on the Mount of Olives] and an earlier setting of the Mass – is the most representative of that spirituality. It is therefore a deeply personal expression. It was on the manuscript of this work that Beethoven wrote the words which I have used as a quotation at the front of this book:From the heart – may it return to the heart.


Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor Opus 16
Piano: Howard Shelley
Orchestra of Opera North

Johann Pachelbel: Canon in D major
Andrew Watkinson conducts City of London Sinfonia

Ludwig van Beethoven: Missa Solemnis Opus 123 
Soloists: Lucy Crowe, Jennifer Johnston, James Gilchrist and Matthew Rose
John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique