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Sharon Bill Music Tutor & Author

Riotous Rossini


It was such a treat to revisit Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle after an absence of several years. It certainly isn’t petite and it most definitely isn’t solemn!

It’s so great to be part of such a large choir. Ceramic City Choir is a good hundred members strong and we get to tackle some real ‘meaty’ works, alongside other slightly lighter fare. Of course I love singing the music - the reason for being in a choir, of course, but the icing on the cake are the bits and bobs that our amazing musical director tells us about the composers and the music we sing as we go along.

Rossini is primarily an opera composer, and he only wrote two sacred works in his entire life - Messe Solennelle being written quite late in his life. The operatic nature of Rossini’s creativity leaps out at you through out the whole work, from the very first page. It’s a very solo heavy work, which makes quite a treat for the chorus as we sit through the various solo items. The rhythms and melodic lines of the accompaniment are far from solemn - so much so that Rossini felt trepidation in offering it to God.

Although the composition of this setting of the mass is vibrant and rich from the very first bar, the listener shouldn’t presume that the composer was audacious in the manner in which he first presented this work. The story is that Rossini was so humbled to be daring to offer a sacred work that he only allowed the debut to be performed in an intimate, domestic setting. His intention for such an audience is reflected in the unusual combination of piano and harmonium - both readily available domestic instruments. As ever, the piano, provides everything that is required in terms of harmony and rhythms but Rossini adds a nod towards orchestral timbres by the subtle addition if carefully placed harmonium accompaniment. It was a new experience for me to sing alongside a harmonium. However, that’s the beauty of belonging to such a choir as Ceramic City Choir; we are constantly presented with the opportunity to experience different instruments, different genres - even different venues. The opportunities are without limit.