On March 16, the world premiere of Missa Solemnis ad Honorem Sancti Joannis Pauli II by Marta Ptaszyńska took place in Warsaw, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Warsaw University (now called the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music). The composition, as indicated in the title, was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s book entitled Meditations. Ptaszyńska masterfully incorporated specific texts in particular movements of the piece to augment the meaning of liturgical texts in a recitative manner as well as a rhythmical and fresh fashion. The large construction is written for two choirs, chamber orchestra, and soloists, and was performed by Marta Boberska, Anna Radziejewska, Jarosław Bręk and the UMFC Mixed Choir and Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ryszard Zimak.
Below are excerpts from an interview with the composer regarding her new work, as conducted by PWM Editor-in-Chief Daniel Cichy in January 2016.
DC: Missa Solemnis is a form with deeply rooted traditions in the history of music. It brings to mind many great names, a big formal construction, and everything that goes with it – a great challenge for any composer.
MP: I have been thinking for a long time to compose a mass like that, but have lacked inspiration. It is a very difficult form… In this case, I was inspired by the wonderful texts of John Paul II…
DC: So are the Meditations a sort of commentary for liturgical text?
MP: Meditations are not only an addition to liturgical texts, but also their commentary. Moreover, they refer directly to particular movements of the mass. For example, after Gloria I used words by John Paul II that refer to the meaning of the word Gloria or even contain it.
DC: There is quite a specific situation for these texts, because they were not meant to be published.
MP: The words which I used in my Missa Solemnis I found in a book with texts by John Paul II, published by Znak. The Pope did not want anybody to have access to them, and commanded to have them destroyed after he died. However Cardinal Dziwisz saved them, and in my opinion he did the right thing, because these texts became the foundation of my piece.
Mediation V has a particular meaning. Yes, in all of the Meditations the soloists sing. However, in Meditation V the choir is also present, which in part is treated like recitative—the lyrics are spoken. That idea originated in me when I heard (quite long ago) Bernstein’s mass. I liked his rhythmical approach to the lyrics and using them like that brings a lot of freshness to a piece. Between my Benedictus and Agnus Dei we have a Meditation, which is a kind of rhythmical fresh breath, giving a lot of positive energy. It is worth mentioning that the words by John Paul II, which were chosen for this part of the piece, are also very happy.