In 1932, Jopseph Messner, choirmaster of Salzburg Cathedral, commissioned him to compose a Mass: the Missa Salisburgensis was born, an opera that will become important not only within Gnecchi creative harvest, but for the same scene of Italian sacred music and for Salzburg musical tradition history same. Performed for the first time in Salzburg Cathedral on the 23rd of July 1933, under the conduction of Messner same (solo voice was Vienna soprano, Erika Rokita) and dedicated to the town Prince Archbishop, the Missa renewed so the line of an old tradition, which entrusted with Italian composers the composition of sacred operas for the Cathedral. The success was unanimous, and the international press greeted the Mass as one of the most interesting modern works of sacred music. The “Salzburger Chronik” even announced the birth of a “new style”, almost the appearance of a “Palestrina in modern form”.
A part from enthusiasms, the Missa Salisburgensis actually attracted attention for a new style, a mix of German drama and Italian opera, always devoted to the sacred text.
Deep humanity and paramount magnificence combine in an always careful musical balance, expression of the harmony between “divine” and “earthly”. Gnecchi starts, almost as a leitmotiv, from some beats of Paulus Hofheimer (1495-1537) chorale, whose notes resound every day from the height of Salzburg Fortress. Notes that found the Prelude and open the “Kyrie”, opening a polyphonic game between Choir and Soprano, until they raise in the ecstatic momentum of the “Christe Eleison”. It is hard not to sense, in the uncontrollable warmth of the chant that arises here and in other places (as in the “Sanctus” or “Agnus”), the passionate confession of a man disenchanted by the world and by men who have excluded him. A pure and religious feeling that is kept away from any emphasis, even in the “Gloria”, that announces itself in its plea for peace, as a fugato that bends to the severe form of classic polyphony. Mystic is the élan of the solo soprano, but calm is the lyricism that unwinds in slow movements reaching the explosion of the magnificent final hymn. , and in the “Amen” the notes of Hofheimer Chorale resound.
Then Tenors and Bassos begin to sing the “Credo”, and the Mystery of Incarnation is dealt with the attitude of both a great maestro and a humble believer , who engraves almost in a verist manner the words of a prayer that touch the heart in the image of resurrection. With the “Sanctus” the opera apex is reached: it is a masterly page, in fugato style, where the unforgettable emotion of the solo soprano alternates, with the marvellous logic which underpins the whole construction. Then the “Benedictus”, not casually infused with shy softness, almost Mozartian; and at last the pure and almost romantic “Agnus”; enveloped in an aura of dramatic (human) lyricism, which softens in the quivering and melodious theme of the final “Dona Pacem”.