Classic Albums: Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Mass

If you enjoyed Schnittke’s wild ride, fasten your seat belts.

Back in 1988, while riffling through the contemporary classical racks on the 2nd floor of Tower Records, I happened upon Wolfgang von Schweinitz’s Mass, which I knew nothing about. When I got back to my loft, I sat and listened and was immediately struck by this oh-so-striking work. “Holy crap!” I remember thinking.

Here’s Wolfgang from the liner notes:

Even though the liturgy, as form and meaning, has long since ceased to a ‘self-evident’ part of our collective experience, a musical setting is still possible in the form of a personal enquiry, and one that is hesitantly hopeful. With our rationality firmly fixed on the ‘logic’ of our present situation we are prepared to surrender the earth. Thus the search for a higher reason is at once utopian and essential for continued existence.

Yes, this is some serious stuff. He continues:

…The Gloria opens with the proclamation of the angels, sung by the soprano, mezzo-soprano, and women’s chorus, surrounded by an isorhythmic,  polyphonic texture, with the strings playing at the very top of their harmonics: music of the spheres, or the still audible resonance of the Big Bang, a continuing allegory of our existence.

And here’s something I wrote about this work waaay back in 2005:

Like the film Devils by Ken Russell, this Mass is way over the top yet it floats my boat. And make no mistake about it, this is big stuff. Big orchestration, chorus, dynamic range, mood, tempo, a real heaven-and-hell test disk.

I couldn’t find a snippet or streaming version so here’s the entire thing. You only need to give it some seconds to get a taste of the angles and devils at play.

I was being understated, wasn’t I.

now that’s liner notes!

As far as I know, this work is not available from the stream so I recommend getting the CD from Amazon or eBay and ripping away. I would also recommend waiting until you are feeling fully fortified before digging in for the full 57 minutes. That said, it’s worth the (wild) ride.