‘This is a must for any Delius Liebhaber and, with the added bonus of the late Prelude and Idyll, a marvellous starting point for anyone new to Delius’s unique but compelling art.’ – Gramophone
‘In Delius anniversary year it is good to welcome such a stirring and perceptive interpretation of his work.’ – Daily Telegraph (UK)
‘Hill draws some marvellously expressive playing from the BSO, with soloists – chief among them Alan Opie – in magnificent form.’ – The Observer (London)
‘splendid modern sound, a thrilling choir and orchestra, and, in David Hill…a conductor no less devoted to Delius than his more celebrated predecessor’ – The Sunday Times (London)
Long an admirer of Nietzsche’s poetry, Frederick Delius composed A Mass of Life while at the height of his powers, blending passages from Also Sprach Zarathustra into orchestral textures of great expressive depth and striking beauty.
Listen to the exciting conclusion from A Mass of Life:
About A Mass of Life
Watch conductor David Hill talking about A Mass of Life:
Although A Mass of Life in its entirety dates from 1904-5, most of the concluding section was written earlier and performed on its own at an all-Delius concert in London in 1899. After the score’s completion a substantial portion was heard at Munich in 1908, but it was not until the following year that the whole work was given for the first time when Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) conducted it in London at Queen’s Hall on 7 June, 1909.
During that conductor’s lifetime, apart from two performances by Hamilton Harty in the 1930s, three by Malcolm Sargent between 1944 and 1954 and a handful of single performances by others, all the work’s hearings were at Beecham’s hands. Notable among them were those at the Delius festivals he organised in 1929 and 1946 and his last, in 1951, for which he brought from Germany the 23-year old baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to make his English début. Beecham made the first-ever recording of the work in 1952-3.
At all these performances, except for the last and in his recording, the Mass was sung in the English translation of the German which Beecham himself had commissioned for the 1909 première to replace the hopelessly unidiomatic text by John Bernhoff printed in the original score. Beecham said he needed something that could be sung before an English audience ‘without creating either amazement or hilarity’, and he asked the composer and writer on music William Wallace (1860-1940) to provide it. In recent years, A Mass of Life has increasingly come to be sung in the original language. Wallace’s translation is printed here, alongside the German.
At the time he composed the work Delius was at the height of his powers. He had long been in thrall to the writings of the poet and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), but it was when the conductor Fritz Cassirer (a champion of his music who had premièred his operas Koanga and A Village Romeo and Juliet) assembled a selection of passages from Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’) that Delius felt impelled to pour his admiration for its author into music. He had no time for religions or creeds, and scorned Christianity with what he saw as its hopeful promises of ‘life-eternal’; he was as devoted as his hero to the concept of man as superman, energetic, strong, fearless and ultimately capable of domination.
All the same, his instinct was always for Nietzsche the poet rather than the philosopher, and he chose only such passages as suited his musical conception. Four soloists and large choral and orchestral forces are employed in a sequence of eleven movements divided into two parts. The singers share Zarathustra’s words, though he himself is embodied in the baritone soloist, who has by far the largest share of the work. The text, biblical in style and mingling poetry, metaphor and irony declaims, meditates but always blends into the orchestral texture, Delius’s favoured composing style.
About the Artists
A regular guest with the English National Opera and the Welsh National Opera, Janice Watson has sung with the opera houses of Lyon, Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Oviedo, Naples, Turin, Milan, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Chicago, and for Opera Australia, the Vienna State Opera, Theater an der Wien, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and at the Metropolitan Opera.
Catherine Wyn-Rogers has sung for the Scottish Opera, the Welsh National Opera, Opera North, the Netherlands Opera, and at the opera houses of Dresden, Madrid, Valencia, Chicago and Houston. She is a regular guest of English National Opera, the Royal Opera House and the Bavarian State Opera. In concert she has performed with Slatkin, Haitink, Colin Davis, Mackerras, amongst others.
Andrew Kennedy’s extensive concert repertoire includes Mozart’s Requiem (London Symphony Orchestra/Davis), Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality (BBC Symphony Orchestra/Daniel), Bach’s St Matthew Passion (Netherlands Philharmonic/Davis), and Britten’s Les Illuminations (Edinburgh Festival). He gives numerous recitals in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Baritone Alan Opie has been a regular guest at the Metropolitan Opera New York, La Scala, Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera Munich, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Santa Fe Festival, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, English National Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. His extensive concert work ranges from Mendelssohn to Britten, Walton, Vaughan Williams and Elgar.
The Bach Choir has long been established as one of the world’s leading choruses. A succession of eminent musical directors, including Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir David Willcocks and now David Hill, has each ensured that the Choir performs to the highest standards. The Choir’s consistent excellence has resulted in invitations to sing in prestigious venues, and with the very best professional orchestras and soloists. The Bach Choir has some 220 active members, talented singers from all walks of life, all of whom are committed to a challenging schedule of up to twenty concerts in a season, as well as recordings, special engagements and overseas tours.
Founded in 1893, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has worked with many famous composers, conductors and musicians including Elgar, Sibelius, Holst, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams and Thomas Beecham; and more recently with Michael Tippett, John Tavener and Peter Maxwell Davies. Principal conductors since the founder Sir Dan Godfrey have included Charles Groves, Constantin Silvestri, Andrew Litton, Marin Alsop and now the dynamic young Ukrainian, Kirill Karabits. The BSO is known internationally through over three hundred recordings, and continues to release numerous CDs each year with Naxos. Recent critically acclaimed recordings have included CDs of Bernstein, Bartók, Sibelius, Glass, Adams and Elgar.
Renowned for his fine musicianship, David Hill is widely respected as both a choral and an orchestral conductor. He became The Bach Choir’s ninth Musical Director in 1998; he is also Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers, Associate Guest Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Southern Sinfonia and Music Director of the Leeds Philharmonic Society. His other appointments have included Master of the Music at Winchester Cathedral, Master of the Music at Westminster Cathedral and Artistic Director of the Philharmonia Chorus. David Hill has a broad-ranging discography covering repertoire from Thomas Tallis to Judith Bingham. He has achieved prestigious GRAMMY® and Gramophone Awards, and many of his discs have been recommended as Critic’s Choices.