Petite Messe Solennelle, Rossini’s last masterpiece. Monday at 8.30 pm at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo with great performers. Four solo voices, the choir, two pianos and a harmonium.

This is Giacchino Rossini’s artistic testament: his last great composition, composed in 1863 and first performed in 1864 in the chapel of Countess Louise Pillet-Will’s palace. The Petite Messe Solennelle is scheduled at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo on Monday 11 April at 8.30 pm for the symphonic season. It features an ensemble of four soloists, a choir, two pianos and a harmonium. Rossini also made a version for orchestra, which was first performed after his death. The version for orchestra is the best known, but Rossini’s favourite was the chamber version, with the two pianos and the harmonium. A choice that prefigures the 20th century taste for reduced ensembles: Schoenberg will resort several times to the piano and harmonium ensemble, and Stravinsky for Les Noces will use a chamber formation centred precisely on the piano.

On the podium Pietro Monti, who is conductor of the Chorus of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, soprano Mariangela Sicilia, contralto Teresa Iervolino, tenor Giorgio Misseri, bass Gianluca Margheri, first piano Giuseppe Cinà, second piano Giacomo Gati, harmonum Salvatore Punturo, chorus of the Teatro Massimo. In 1829, Rossini had stopped writing for the theatre, voluntarily escaping a world full of rivalry and backbiting. But from 1857 until shortly before his death in 1868, he would give birth to fourteen albums of Péchés de vieillesse, sins of old age: compositions for piano solo or for voice and piano. No longer the Rossini of the orchestral symphonies, but a new Rossini, who is also that of the Petite Messe Solennelle.

It is curious to recall that when Rossini wrote the mass, women were still forbidden to perform in Catholic churches. The composer on the one hand tried to make church performances possible by including castrati among the performers, by then anachronistic, and on the other tried various interventions with the Pope, even involving Liszt, to get the prohibition lifted. The Petite Messe Solennelle is a work full of contradictions right from its title. Small but solemn: small precisely because of the small number of instruments it uses, solemn because it sets to music not only the five essential parts of the ordinary Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) but also the Offertory and the O Salutaris, which Rossini took from the eleventh album of Péchés de vieillesse. But solemnity is also provided by the musical style, rich in references to the great masters of the past, from Palestrina to Bach and Händel, to Mendelssohn.