'Von Herzen – möge es wieder – zu Herzen gehen!' ' From the heart – may it return to the heart!'
These are the immortal words Beethoven inscribed on the title page of the Missa Solemnis.
In February 2019, Crouch End Festival Chorus invited composers to submit their intepretation of these words in a five minute composition for unaccompanied mixed choir to complement a performance of the Missa Solemnis.
The competition judging panel, included Debbie Wiseman, and the choir’s Music Director David Temple.
"It was the judges' unanimous decision to select Ian Lawson as the winner. Ian's work echoes beautifully the simplicity of the words, 'From the heart - may it return to the heart!' and the judges felt that it would sit perfectly as a scene-setter to Beethoven’s monumental Missa Solemnis.”
First performed - Crouch End Festival Chorus, dir. David Temple, Oct 5, 2019, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.
I came across the competition to set these words only a few days before the closing date. Luckily, however, it was a good time for me. The first performance of my first full length Cantata One World had just taken place in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, I had also recently joined a couple of choirs in order to get some personal first-hand experience: I was in choral music mode - fired up with the possibilities and encouraged by the choral worlds’s enthusiasm for performing new music.
The other thing, of course, was the terrific idea behind this competition! Genuinely inspiring - not to mention intimidating!
Starting to think about how to set these words, ending up with a piece that would work programmed before the Beethoven, one thing was patently obvious - it would, itself, have to be ‘From the heart’. Obvious though that might sound, for me, that was the key…
Well, there were a couple of other things: I wanted to use Beethoven’s original German words rather than just the English translation, and, if I could do so without it sticking out as being ‘clever’ and therefore getting in the way, set those actual words to a musical palindrome.
What I eventually ended up with was a piece essentially in two matching halves - the second a only slight variation of the first. The first two thirds of each half consist of a fairly robust sounding polyphonic setting of the English followed by a much softer, more harmonically static (and palindromic!) setting of the German. The main difference between the two main halves is that half way through the second the tonal-centre shifts up a tone so that the piece ends (in that quiet, harmonically static, not particularly final sort of way) on a D major chord -the key of the Missa Solemnis.
One thing that did slightly puzzle me comparing the English translation to the German original was the German seemed to be saying ‘may it return to the heart again’ and I wasn’t quite sure what was meant by that. I later found out from a German friend that the wording implies the meaning: may it return to heart as all my other works have done.
That would have been a bit more of a struggle to set!
Ian Lawson - programme note for the first performance
- number of pages: 12 (7 of music)
- Size: 270 x 190
- duration: 5 mins
- Language: English & German
- ISMN Number: 9790570531288
- Brand: Fieldgate Music
- Product Code: FM128
- Weight: 0.03kg