1926 was a particularly successful and productive year for Leoš Janá?ek, who composed the opera The Makropulos Case, as well as Sinfonietta and the Glagolitic Mass, among other works.
Janá?ek wrote his Glagolitic Mass in just two and a half months, and it became one of the most important mass compositions. Distancing himself from all of the well trodden paths of the traditional genre, Janá?ek created a piece of sacred music that is so unique, it begs the question of whether it can be categorised as such at all. It can best be compared to Zoltán Kodály’s powerful Psalmus hungaricus. Instead of using Latin, Janá?ek based his piece on a ninth century text written in Glagolitic (Cyrillic) script – Old Church Slavonic. When committing his work to paper, Janá?ek said: “I want to show people how to talk to our dear Lord.” And he did so with a self-assurance that is a far cry from Catholic humility and contrition. His aim was to write a “joyful mass” because all of the masses composed thus far were so sad.
The composer was apparently forced to make major revisions during rehearsals for the mass’s première (5 Dec 1927) owing to a lack of instrumental resources and the limited rehearsal time available, and some additional questionable changes seem to have been made prior to the second performance in Prague (8 Apr 1928). Some of these revisions actually constitute cuts of music that ranks amongst the most arresting that Janá?ek ever wrote. To make matters worse, the composer died before the full score could be published. As a result, the edition of the work published after his death promulgated a score that is far less exciting and ambitious than the one Janá?ek originally composed.
After years of consulting various sources, the musicologist Paul Wingfield succeeded in reconstructing the original version. Sir Charles Mackerras then added valuable performance suggestions, after which this hitherto unknown version was presented to the public. The original final version was then subsequently revised, taking musicological and practical performance aspects into account. Performance material is available for both versions. Directors can choose their preferred version, each of which has its own merits. The Glagolitic Mass has also been published as part of the UE study score series (UE34298); an informative preface sets out the differences and similarities between the two versions, which can both be found in the study score.