Messe solennelle (Berlioz)

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Messe solennelle is a setting of the Catholic Solemn Mass by the French composer Hector Berlioz. It was written in 1824, when the composer was twenty, and first performed at the church of Saint-Roch, Paris on 25 July 1825, and again at the church of Saint-Eustache in 1827. After this, Berlioz claimed to have destroyed the entire score, except for the "Resurrexit", but in 1991 a Belgian schoolteacher, Frans Moors, came across a copy of the work in an organ gallery in Antwerp, and it has since been revived.

Those familiar with Berlioz's Requiem and Symphonie fantastique will recognize elements of each of those compositions in the Messe solennelle, although somewhat altered. Likewise, themes from the Messe solennelle occur in the first half of his first opera Benvenuto Cellini.

Forces and structure[edit]

Scored for soprano, tenor, (prominent) bass, mixed chorus, and large orchestra, its movements are:

  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Gratias
  • Quoniam
  • Credo
  • Incarnatus
  • Crucifixus
  • Resurrexit
  • Motet pour l'Offertoire
  • Sanctus
  • O salutaris hostia
  • Agnus Dei
  • Domine salvum fac


The first modern performance was given by the conductor John Eliot Gardiner at the church of St. Petri in Bremen on 3 October 1993. Recent performances include three given at the 2012 Salzburg Festival, with the Vienna Philharmonic under Riccardo Muti.


The first recording was made by conductor Jean-Paul Penin on 5 October 1993 in the Vézelay Basilica. Other recordings include:

  • Christa Pfeiler (soprano), Ruben Velasquez (tenor), Jacques Perroni (bass), National Kraków Choir and Philharmony, conducted by Jean-Paul Penin, live on October 5, 1993, at Vézelay Basilica (France-Télévision, France-Musique, Accord Universal Music Group). First recording.
  • Donna Brown (soprano), Jean-Luc Viala (tenor), Gilles Cachemaille (bass), Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (Philips, 1994).
  • Genia Kühmeier (soprano), Giuseppe Sabbatini (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, conducted by Riccardo Muti, live in December 2004 (RAI-TV).
  • Julia Kleiter (soprano), Saimir Pirgu (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti, live in Salzburg in August 2012 (ORF).


  • Booklet notes to the Penin recording listed above
  • Berlioz: Mémoires, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1969.
  • Booklet notes to the Gardiner recording listed above
  • David Cairns: Berlioz: The Making of an Artist (the first volume of his biography of the composer) (André Deutsch, 1989)
  • Hugh Macdonald: Berlioz ("The Master Musicians", J.M.Dent, 1982)
  • Berlioz: Memoirs (Dover, 1960)
  • Association Nationale Hector Berlioz, Bulletin de liaison n°44, jan. 2010.

External links[edit]