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Beethoven couldn't write for the voice

It’s a widely held view that ‘Beethoven couldn’t write for the voice’ but I think its his strong affiliation with the development of the symphony rather than a comment on his vocal writing.

Harry Bradford conducting

Having said that, in his Mass in C we encounter some real extremes in terms of vocal tessitura, often with very high soprano parts and low bass parts, alongside some rather odd changes of dynamic which can alter the sense of legato in the singing. On the whole, however, the writing is largely idiomatic for the voice with even the more angular phrases working cohesively within the choral texture.

It is interesting to note that the Mass was initially shunned by Prince Esterhàzy (for whom it was written), Haydn's former employer. Prince Nicolaus Esterhàzy was not too pleased with the result, probably in part due to his unfamiliarity with Beethoven's slightly darker richer harmonic and melodic language. Yet the vocal demands are actually very similar in nature to those of the late Haydn masses.

At our March concert, the Mass in C will be complemented by Mozart's Solemn Vespers of 1780 which depicts a simpler and characteristically vivacious emotional palette combining Mozartian wit and flair with sumptuous melodic lines, demonstrated most notably in the famous soprano aria “Laudate Dominum”. In this piece, the challenges come in the form of properly realising the rhetoric of the text, creating light and shade in even the simplest of phrases and making sure the singing remains suitably buoyant throughout.

I’m incredibly excited to be making my Cadogan Hall debut. The first time I performed there was as a treble with the Choir of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal where I was made to wear a rather stupid hat when doing a silly Christmas solo – don’t ask! I’ve since returned to Cadogan Hall to play the viola and to watch concerts galore but I’ve yet to stand on the podium which I’m sure will be a great thrill!

Harry Bradford

Thames Philharmonic Choir will perform Beethoven's Mass in C and Mozart's Solemn Vespers of 1780 at Cadogan Hall on 28 March 2020. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Cadogan Hall website.

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