The Great Mass - A ballet by Uwe Scholz
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Great Mass in C minor, K427 (1782-83), Adagio and Fugue
in C minor, K546 (1788), Ave verum corpus in D major,
György KURTÁG (b. 1926)
Játékok* (Games) (started in 1973) and Bach Transcriptions
Thomas JAHN (b. 1940)
Orte und Zeiten, Tempi e Luoghi (1985) (excerpts)
Arvo PäRT (b. 1935)
Poems by Paul Celan (1920-1970)
Leipzig Ballet, Kiyoko Kimura, Christoph Böhm, Oksana Kulchytska,
Sibylle Neundorf, Giovanni di Palma (First Soloists)
Choreography by Uwe Scholz (1958-2004)
Eunyee You (soprano), Marie-Claude Chappuis (soprano), Werner Güra
(tenor), Friedemann Röhlig (bass)
Michael Goldhahn (reciter)
Choir of the Leipzig Opera/Stefan Bilz
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Balázs Kocsár
rec. live, Leipzig Opera, Leipzig, Germany, 28 June 2005
Film directed by Hans Hulscher and produced by Günter Atteln and
Picture format: 1080i Full HD/Colour/16:9
Sound formats: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio Surround
Subtitles: English and French
Booklet notes in English, German and French
NOTE: Blu-ray Discs are not compatible with DVD players
In late 2004, following Uwe Scholz’s premature death, Pierre Moutarde said of Scholz and his ballet, The Great Mass: “I think he (Uwe Scholz) regarded it [the ballet The Great Mass] as his testament, the black side with its images of war, portraying the chaos and suffering of mankind, contrasting with movements of great purity, the music ending as abruptly as did his own life.” These words from the then director of the Théatre of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines were quoted in Scholz’s obituary, written by Patricia Boccadoro. I choose to mention them because they contain a lot of truth. Scholz’s choreography of Mozart’s glorious music depicts everything that Moutarde describes most effectively. It is harmonious, subtle and perfectly proportioned. Equally it does not distract from the pure beauty of the music but actually complements and highlights it. That Scholz died too young (only 46) and at the peak of his powers, traces a poignant parallel to Mozart, one of the composers that the choreographer most admired; thus expressing the frailty of life and giving the ballet a more intense human significance.
The Great Mass was not the last ballet that Scholz choreographed but in my personal opinion it was his greatest masterpiece. It is not easy to create a full length ballet to music, which was not specifically written for it. It is even more difficult when such music is of a religious nature, as is the case with Mozart’s Great Mass, set to the words of the traditional Roman Catholic Mass in Latin. Although Scholz’s creation (like Mozart’s music) is supposed to be a work of genuine Christian devotion, one does not need to be religious to be enthralled by it. Whether one is an atheist or of a different faith, it is difficult not to be moved by its human attributes. Strip the Latin words out of Mozart’s music and you will be left with a work of dramatic intensity and emotion. In the same way, forget the liturgy of the Mass, submerge yourself in the beauty of the movements and the music combined, and you will be left with the story of life and humanity’s continuous struggle to comprehend death.
Scholz’s choreography fits the music to perfection and, exactly like it, is pure and subtle, with classic sobriety and harmonious proportions. He was a choreographer with an unusual natural musicality. Critics often compared his understanding of a musical score to that of a conductor rather than a choreographing artist. It is this quality that emerges throughout this ballet and makes it such an admirable and enjoyable piece.
Naturally, as most people will be aware, Mozart never completed his Great Mass, which means that Scholz was faced with a difficult problem: He was going to choreograph a full ballet to an unfinished piece of music. What he did was rather clever, though to me, it does not always work as intended. First, Scholz incorporated other pieces by Mozart that make for an elegant fit, namely the Adagio and Fugue and the Ave verum corpus. Second, he juxtaposed poems by Paul Celan, which work rather effectively and then, in a manner of speaking, filled in the gaps left open by Mozart. For this, he used excerpts from György Kurtág’s Játékok (Games) and Bach Transcriptions, and followed Mozart’s incomplete Credo with Arvo Pärt’s Credo. He also introduced Gregorian chant, again a Credo (from The Mass for the Feast of St Thomas of Canterbury) and excerpts from Thomas Jahn’s Orte und Zeiten – tempi e luoghi. For me, these last two are the elements that do not quite work: While the Gregorian chant increases the impression of visiting a religious service, it rather interrupts the otherwise seamless flow of music and movement. The same can actually be said of Thomas Jahn’s composition, which I personally dislike and that I felt was slightly out of place.
The Great Mass is danced in this recording by the Leipzig Ballet, for which it was originally created by Scholz in 1998. Scholz was their artistic director from 1991 onwards and he did for them what one of his idols, John Cranko, did for the Stuttgart Ballet. He revitalised the group and raised them to a world-class level, definitely placing them on the “International Stage”. Therefore, it seems suitable that the Leipzig Ballet wanted to pay homage to Scholz and nothing better than the choreographer’s undeniable masterpiece: The Great Mass. It was recorded live at the Leipzig Opera on 28 June 2005, approximately seven months after Scholz’s death. This blu-ray disc is dedicated to his memory.
The Leipzig Ballet delivers a beautiful and deeply felt performance. One can sense that they were rather close to the man who created the work. The first soloists, in particular, (Kiyoko Kimura, Christoph Böhm, Oksana Kulchytska, Sibylle Neundorf and Giovanni di Palma) are all exceptional but the same can be said of all of them. Michael Goldhahn, in particular, deserves to be especially mentioned, as he is also very effective as the reciter. The Great Mass is really a powerful, exquisite ensemble piece and the Leipzig Ballet brings it to life remarkably well. The dancers’ movements are understated and there is a purity of line reminiscent of George Balanchine - another choreographer who Scholz much admired. The whole piece effectively depicts the contrast between light and darkness, chaos and harmony, which populate every human life at some stage or other. There is great clarity in the emerging tableaux; there are no exaggerated steps or virtuoso solos; everything is subtle and deceptively simple. These attributes create a seamless flow and give an almost liquid quality to the movements, which perfectly mesh with the music. This is more obvious with Mozart’s music than with the other pieces but is present throughout. It is this characteristic that makes it a grand work of outstanding beauty.
The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, here under the baton of Balázs Kocsár, delivers all the music with typical technical brilliance, particularly excelling in the Mozart. The Choir of the Leipzig Opera is equally fine and the four soloist singers give distinguished performances. Eunyee You’s rich, warm soprano tone offers a delicate contrast to Marie-Claude Chappuis’s lighter, crystalline soprano, creating moments of great beauty. I particularly enjoyed the latter’s delivery of the sublime Gloria: Laudamus Te, which is as beautiful as it is accomplished. Tenor Werner Güra and bass Friedemann Röhlig are exceptionally effective and complement the women’s voices admirably.
What I was most impressed with in this Scholz ballet was the way in which he understands the music. Mozart’s sections in particular are always subtle, deceptively simple and truly luminous. This luminosity is literally stressed by the lighting and the straightforward white costumes, both designed by Scholz himself. What he manages to achieve here is a ballet in perfect harmony with the music whereby movement seems to be a natural extension of the composer’s creation.
It is sad for the world of dance that a choreographer of Scholz’s stature died at only forty-six. He could have given us so many more magnificent works. There is however a positive side to this. We live in an age of technical achievement, which enables us to preserve the work of great artists, both in picture and sound. The innate quality of the blu-ray technique makes it an ideal recording format for this experience. I was captivated by the work, totally absorbed by the congenial combination of music and movement. Fortunately, a couple of Scholz’s creations were recorded for posterity and are also part of the repertoire of various ballet companies. I would recommend his ballets in general and The Great Mass in particular. This blu-ray disc does justice to the work and is definitely one that any ballet lover or Mozart fan should have.
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at http://www.flowingprose.com/)