Beethoven Missa Solemnis


I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I cannot recall ever having had a musical experience anything like that of singing in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in the Sarah Baartman Hall at the University of Cape Town last night under the inspired direction of our conductor Alexander Fokkens whose spiritual approach to the work undergirded all the preparation for and performance of this musical masterpiece.

There was something so transcendental about it. And it had the profound effect of reaffirming my belief that there is only one progressive song in the Universe – The Creator/Spirit/God Song. And that Beethoven, by using the text of the Christian faith community’s Mass, embraced the heartbeat of all humanity in his inspired score.

The words of the liturgical Christian Mass happen, for me, to capture the unifying spiritual dimension of all humanity. And, whereas the words on their own might speak meaningfully to those, like myself, of the Christian faith tradition, Beethoven’s score lifts them into another realm that is  all-encompassing and all-embracing – resonating with those who subscribe to a particular religious tradition or to none.

From my own personal perspective the whole performance and all the preparation leading up to it  was riveting: from the opening Kyrie – simply in my Harryness to know the reality of forgiveness and forgiving. Then, from that liberty and liberating, the Gloria – an ever-increasing wonder at life, at the splendour of a sunset, the marvel of an ant; leading quite naturally to the Credo outburst – I cannot help but believe that there is a purposeful belonging, a purposeful creation of which I am a part as is every other human being. I believe! Whether I find satisfactory words to express that belief or don’t find words to do so. Then the amazing Sanctus moments when I suddenly feel awe-struck by some beauty or riveting happening – listening to music or viewing an inspired work of art. Then the Sanctus resolving into the Benedictus – the wonder and joy of others coming into my life, like my wife Jean, and making all the difference. The whole then blossoming into the Agnus Dei holding all the circumstances of each individual life in a peace that passes understanding, an active peace abiding within the circumstances of our lives at any given moment.

Thus my own experience in being part of last night’s music-making and at the same time being a listener, a receiver of the tsunami of inspired sound, has enlivened and affirmed my realisation that the unity of humankind is not a pipe-dream but an ongoing progressive reality that music has the power to achieve, and that Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis  is a divinely-inspired part of the one song of the Universe – the Creator/Spirit/God Song.

And so I was able to fall into bed last night with a very deep sense of gratitude to Alex and his committee and all the members of the choir and all present in the audience for a most unforgettable and life-enhancing experience.


Fish Hoek.

16 October 2019

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