Years ago, the immortal David Warren admitted to the guilty pleasure of enjoying the Christmas Mass of Jakub Jan Ryba (1765 – 1815), amidst the austerities of Lent.
The occasion serves to illustrate the true value of asceticism, the purpose of which is not so much to have us forego what is good, as to teach us to make room for what is better.
Whilst he was clearing his library of vainly acquired discs, replete with the grandiose monstrosities of ascendant modernity, Warren bumped into the post-baroque Czech masterpiece, and could not help listening all the way through.
“Ryba’s Kyrie sounds like a Gloria. The Gloria sounds like a Gloria. The Gradual sounds like a Gloria. The Credo, Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnes Dei, — all sound like Glorias. And there is a recessional attached, a final choral exposition, which sounds very much like a Gloria.”
Not the most Lenten fare, to be sure. But within these glorious days of Christmas, just the thing to remind us that even the darkest of nights may herald the brightest of dawns.
If Dear Reader is unfamiliar with the “Mass” (really more of a cantata)—or even if he is blessedly acquainted with it—he may take special pleasure in observing its performance by these hearty souls, in an apparently unheated cathedral:
The text, along with further information about Ryba and his works, can be found in the notes to the Naxos edition (a truly superb recording).
“A characteristic feature of [this Mass] is the bright mood of joy and the feeling of happiness radiating from every note.”
May that joy radiate from every note we play in the coming year!
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