Fair solennelle en l'honneur de Sainte-Cécile

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The mass solennelle en l'honneur de Sainte-Cécile in G major, in German usually called Cäcilienmesse for short , is a mass by Charles Gounod for three solo voices , four-part choir , orchestra and organ . It is dedicated to St. Cecilia , the patron saint of church music .

Significance and origin

The Cecilia Mass is probably the best-known church music work by Charles Gounod. He composed it at the age of 37. It stands out from his other masses because of its extremely lavish orchestral accompaniment, while most of Gounod's other masses require at most one organ in addition to the singers.

The Cecilia Mass was premiered in St-Eustache de Paris on November 22nd, 1855, the anniversary of Saint Cecilia . The composer Camille Saint-Saëns , who was also present at the time , later wrote:

“The performance of the Cecilia Mass caused a kind of drowsiness. This simplicity, this size, this pure light that spread over the music world like a twilight astonished people very much: you felt that a genius had worked here ... brilliant rays emanated from this mass ... at first one was blinded, then intoxicated and finally overwhelmed. "

Numerous editions and adaptations of the mass were published during Gounod's lifetime, which is an indication of the great popularity of the work.


Gounod writes his mass solennelle for a large symphony orchestra . Special features of the instrumentation can be found in the harp part, for the performance of which Gounod requires six harps. In prominent places in Gloria and Sanctus he uses two pistons typical of the French romantic orchestra , wide-bore trumpets that correspond to the German flugelhorn . In the Benedictus and Agnus Dei , Gounod is the first composer to use the octobass newly developed in Paris in 1850 , an oversized string instrument from the violon family. Gounod mostly uses the large cathedral organ in the Grand Jeu , i.e. H. with all available registers. It thus achieves the typical effect of a sacred sound.

The vocal part is divided between three soloists (soprano, tenor and bass) and a four- to six-part mixed choir, with the soloists in many places - and throughout the Kyrie - treated as an ensemble.

Textual peculiarities

The Cecilia Mass deviates from the usual Latin ordinarium in four places , namely in the Gloria , in the Agnus Dei and because of the intercession that is not included in other masses . In addition, the mass also contains a purely orchestral offertory , which was not uncommon at the time.


In the Gloria, the words miserere nobis are followed by the invocation of Domine Jesu to underline the urgency of the request.

Agnus Dei

In the Agnus Dei , the words miserere nobis also follow the two sections

Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea (in German: Lord, I am not worthy of you entering under my roof, but just speak one word, so my soul will be healthy ) .

These sections are sung by the tenor soloist the first time and the soprano soloist the second time.

In addition, Gounod added the word Amen three times at the very end of the Agnus Dei .


The intercession originally had the following text:

Domine, salvum fac Imperatorem nostrum Napoleonem, et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus te (in German: Lord, bless our Emperor Napoleon and answer us on the day we call to you ).

Since this intercession (which is dedicated to Napoléon III and not Napoléon Bonaparte ) is no longer up to date, a modified text is mostly used today. Depending on the form of government, either Domine, salvum fac regem nostrum (Lord, bless our King) ... or Domine, salvam fac rem publicam (Lord, bless the state) ... is sung .

This text is sung three times, each repetition being titled Prière de l'Eglise (Prayer of the Church), Prière de l'Armée (Prayer of the Army) and Prière de la Nation (Prayer of the Nation). The first passage is sung by the entire choir, whereby the orchestra is only used for the introduction and the choir passage itself is a cappella . The men's voices sing the army's prayer in unison and are accompanied by the wind and percussion. This gives the whole thing a military sound, since wind instruments and percussion are used in military music . In the final repetition, the entire choir and orchestra come into play.

Musical peculiarities


In the Gloria , Gounod draws a gentle, calm picture of the Holy Night in the first 36 bars. After 10 cycles slow melodic horn solo as an introduction announced an angelic soprano Gloria in excelsis Deo ... . In contrast to some other Gloria , which starts right away with full power, you can hear a reserved, sedate, but all the more impressive mood here. Only at the Laudamus te ... do the orchestra and choir begin to loudly proclaim God's praise.

Orchestral line-up

Gounod was the first composer to use the newly developed octobass at this mass . Gounod often uses the great Ducroquet / Gonzalez organ from St-Eustache in the grand jeu , with all registers.


The Sanctus of this mass was used as film music in Werner Herzog's Dracula film Nosferatu - Phantom of the Night (1978).


Well-known recordings

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Information on the Cäcilienmesse on capriccio-kulturforum.de, accessed on November 11, 2016