Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Grosse Messe” or “Great Mass” was a prominent part of the soundtrack for the 1988 miniseries on England’s Channel Four, A Very British Coup. The three-episode program starred the iconic (and now late) British actor Ray McAnally as the Labour Party leader, and member of Parliament for a northern England constituency suddenly thrust into the role of Prime Minister.
I think that regardless of one’s political affiliations, it’s a masterful program though it is not easy to find a copy of it. I remember being enthralled by the program, with McAnally’s brilliant acting, and of course all the backroom politics, much of it aimed at discrediting the PM as he was “upsetting the apple cart.” As politicians do, he marked his territory and he predictably did so with a working-class flair. Some of his first acts were to dissolve newspaper monopolies (yes, please) and to establish real “open government” (a concept then hobbled, or at least slowed, by the lack of an Internet, but nowadays still not wholly embraced by governments, nearly 30 years later). One of the PM’s more controversial moves was the removal of American military bases from UK soil. There were many establishment conservatives in the bureaucracy watching his moves, and working hard behind the scenes to undermine him and his government.
But the scene I remember vividly, all these years later, is his act of televising the government-sanctioned disarming of a nuclear weapon for all of Britain to see. The start of the “Gloria: Qui Tollis” is the powerful music that underscores the scene: the music, the video imagery, and the PM’s speech combine to create quite a dramatic (and obviously unforgettable) moment.
The version of the work that I own is a Deutsche Grammophon CD with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerrischen Rundfunks, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and soloists, Arleen Auger (Soprano), Frederica von Stade (Mezzosoprano), Frank Lopardo (Tenor), Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass).
The “Great Mass” is also a central piece, if I remember correctly, in the film, Amadeus. With its 15 movements, the mass is a remarkable composition with many different sections from pastoral to chaotic, joyful to mournful. There are many movements I find to be calming and contemplative, and I recommend setting aside an hour sometime to hear the whole piece. I’m just about to settle into that, now. Here’s an unofficial link to the same collection of folks performing the whole work.)
In addition to the movement featured here today, the miniseries producers used the “Kyrie” from the mass. Another stunning and perhaps more recognizable piece of music. (I have an element of nagging doubt saying that it is the music for the disarmament scene, but I am quite sure today’s piece is the one… its opening is more consequential.)
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here’s the audio for the piece: