Abstractly, one may characterise orchestral musical history in terms of the forces required to perform it. The first ensembles were made up of a mere handful of instruments. Over centuries, the orchestra swelled, accumulating players until it arrived at the gargantuan dimensions employed by the likes of Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss. But, like all generalisations, there are exceptions, as this very rare opportunity to hear Heinrich Johan Franz Biber's Great Salzburg Mass, composed in 1682, should prove.
The work comes to St Paul's to help mark another significant ecclesiastical anniversary - the tercentenary of that great building's reopening in 1697 after the Fire of London. Appropriately, Biber's Mass is certainly lavish and large scale; the composer employs such massive instrumental and choral forces that his Mass could almost be given the Mahlerian epithet of the Symphony of a Thousand of its day. A host of period instruments will be scattered far and wide across St Paul's amphitheatre and galleries, including 10 trumpets and four organs.
Responsible for marshalling the forces is Paul McCreesh. "The work has been variously attributed to three different composers," said the eminent conductor and early music specialist. "Recent scholarship has suggested that it's probably by Biber, but we still can't be sure. But whoever it's by, it's an impressive, awesome edifice, comprising the largest piece of polychordal music ever written.
"Potential pitfalls are everywhere," McCreesh adds. "I have to know exactly where everybody is. Moreover, can they see my baton? If they can't, all hell could easily break loose. But I'm thrilled to be doing what should be an exciting and very special event."
EYE ON THE NEW
Ninety seconds of 111 humming, hooting and whistling cyclists riding by. That's what eccentric Argentine-born composer Maurico Kagell's Eine Brise calls for. Catch the British premiere - part of the Islington International Festival - by assembling in Upper Street, London N1 this afternoon for two performances, at 2.15 and 4.30pm. Composer (and cyclist) Stephen Montague leads the other 110 performers in formation, humming, whistling and hooting merrily as they go!Reuse content