Sunday, December 25, 2011

Midnight Mass in Brussels

window in the Cathedral

St Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral

Whenever I end up in Calgary for Christmas, I end up going off to Midnight Mass with my mother-in-law Verlaine.  Steve usually wimps out and stays back at her place, lounging out by the fireplace and christmas tree.  So... the ritual of Midnight Mass is one that belongs to Verlaine and me  Though my roots are not Catholic, a person can't do an undergraduate degree in music without ending up with a pretty solid grasp of at least the forms of music associated with the mass!  :-)   I am something of a sucker for ritual, and the rituals of Christmas are good ones for me.  I love getting a chance to sing a few of the old carols, and if the mass is sung in the old ways, so much the better!  (i keep hoping for a bit of latin!)

Detail - above the front door
 Even though we did not head home to Calgary this year, it seemed to me that Verlaine might still want me to follow up on our regular-annual ritual, and head off to midnight mass.  Indeed, I know if she were here with us, she would have been pressing the two of us into a taxi to get to the top of the hill, where St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral looks down towards the Grand Place.   Remember that Steve was living in Brussels in 1993 (when I was at the Court). That summer, Verlaine came for an extended visit.  She and I played at tourists, while Steve worked on him MBA.  Amongst other things, we would go off to the Cathedral for "Music on Sundays", and a sung mass.

There is very little in the world that beats listening to music in the space of a cathedral (Bonnie and I had heard Leonard Bernstein conduct Mozart's Requiem in St. Michael's when we lived there back in 1985/86... now THAT was a piece of magic!) Verlaine and I were in Brussels when King Baudoin died (July 31, 1993).  We got to stand on the streets with other mourners as the funeral procession moved through the streets up to the Cathedral for the funeral mass.  That was an unreal experience.

Cathedral on Christmas Eve

 In short, how could I NOT go off to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve?!  I knew Verlaine would be there with me in spirit!  :-)  My brood (as usual in this context) were not feeling inclined to venture out.  Alex (who has been knocked out by the worst cold/flu of his life) was still totally sick and in bed.  Duncan was happily plugged into his new Star Wars game (free internet connection in the hotel lobby).  Steve agreed to stay back and watch the kids, so I headed off to the Cathedral.

the Cathedral Organ

I arrived shortly after 11pm for the Veillée de Noel:  an hour of organ music before the Mass at midnight. You can see the organ against the left hand side of the cathedral in this photo. Great stuff (Bach, Franck, Buxtehude, etc).  

Baroque Pulpit

I was glad I got there early enough to get a seat: the cathedral was full to the rafters by the time midnight rolled around. I would have liked to sit a bit closer to the amazing carved wooden baroque pulpit there. Ah well. You can click on this link if you want to see a closeup shot of the pulpit that shows Adam and Eve being chased out of the garden of Eden.

under the feet of the Saints...
My chair was right by one of the pillars near the back, with a sculpture of one of the saints right above me.  From where I was sitting, i couldn't tell which saint it was, but each time I lifted my eyes to the heavens, i was treated with a lovely sculpture of a nude woman supporting the pedestal.  That made me smile. 

As for the Mass itself, the music, "Missa in Nativaitate Domini", was by a relatively young composer (ie. MY age) named Kurt Bikkembergs.  The music was hauntingly beautiful.  I can't find a recording of it on the internet, but there is another piece of his (De Profundis Clamavi) you can find on youtube;It gives some sense of the dischordant harmonies that marked the piece.  It was both edgy and amazing in the space of the cathedral.  Great way to spend Christmas Eve.  Wish you had of been there with me, Verlaine!

1 comment:

  1. Hey!

    What about me?

    I would have been there too, with you and Verlaine, if the chance had been mine. Now that would have been fun -- all three of us in the cathedral ... and probably all of us staying awake with music like that in the air.

    Ta dum. Ta dee.



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