Musings from the Artistic Director

More on upcoming Jongen Mass

St. Martin’s Chamber Choir wraps up its 23rd Season in regal style this weekend, collaborating with the Denver Brass and Richard Robertson, organist, on “Sound the Trumpet!”  Works in the first half are Anton Bruckner’s (1824-1896) motets with brass; and the second half is Joseph Jongen’s (1873-1953) incredibly powerful Mass, Op. 130, for 10 brass instruments, organ, and chorus.

Thanks to Sue L., one of my altos, I learned something new about the Jongen Mass today.  Written in 1944-6, it was Jongen’s first composition completed following news that his son Jacques had been liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp.  Jongen lived in Liege during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, 1940-45, and when news came in early 1944 that his son had been arrested by the Gestapo and transported to Buchenwald, he stopped composing altogether for an entire year – including a mass that he had begun, commissioned by the church of St. Martin in Liege to celebrate its 700th anniversary in 1946.  When, in the spring of 1945, Buchenwald was liberated and his son was found alive, he immediately resumed composition on this mass, and completed it in short order.  This story lends added poignancy to both the mournful and somber parts of the Mass – including the growling and ominous Crucifixus – as well as the triumphant portions, knowing that they expressed the father’s anxiety and jubilation over the fate of his son in difficult and menacing times. (It’s stories like this that made me a musicologist!!)

In the recent and final rehearsal with brass and organ, with the choir sounding magnificent, I have been incredibly moved by this work, and PLEAD with you to come and hear it.  It’s live performance in Denver is a rare event (I wonder whether it has ever happened?  Plus, we paid almost $700 to rent the instrumental parts, and another $2000 to purchase the choral scores, so you’re not likely to hear it again live soon…), and you will not want to miss it.  If you’re on Facebook, a singer recorded a brief (1’10”) portion of the beginning of the Sanctus with brass an organ in a rehearsal at St. Andrew’s last week, and you can hear the magnificence of the piece even on a phone-recorded video – search for posts from St. Martin’s Chamber Choir (or John Bosick).  Both venues will provide fantastic performances, and I do not prefer one over the other in this case:

  • Friday, May 19, 7:30pm – St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, 1400 Washington St., Denver
  • Sunday, May 21, 3:00pm – St. Paul Community of Faith, 1600 Grant St., Denver

For tickets, visit our concerts page or call the office at (303) 298-1970 for assistance.