In mid-January, 1779, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) reunited with his father and sister in Salzburg after a separation of a year and three months. The reunion was flawed, however. First, Wolfgang’s mother, who had made the long journey with him, died the previous summer in Paris, and her absence was a bitter pill for the family to swallow. But also, Wolfgang was returning to take a job he detested in a musical environment that had in every way been superseded in other cities he had visited. Now, as of February 25, he was to be the Court Organist to Archbishop Hieronimous Colloredo and also compose new works for services at the cathedral. And herein lay a good part of the problem: Colloredo, in an effort toward “enlightened” practice, insisted that church music be straight-forward and without musical elaboration that would obscure the text, and that Masses be completed within 45 minutes. Very limited, then, were opportunities for Mozart to try his hand at exploring in works for the church all the new sonic and expressive devices to which he had been exposed, in Mannheim, particularly.
What were these novelties from the Mannheimers, whose symphonies were so startlingly different? First, they employed a new single-reed instrument—the clarinet—a Bohemian form of which they brought with them to the court of the Palatinate Elector. Its distinctive sound would become a critical ingredient in Mozart’s operas, serenades, Masonic music, and symphonies in the 1780s. Second, the Mannheim orchestra’s legendary precision and unity of ensemble made effective a new kind of theme—a fast, unison, upward arpeggio known as the “Mannheim rocket” (like the opening of the last movement of the 40th symphony). Third, and especially important, the Mannheimers relished dynamic effects. Sudden changes from loud to soft were bold and arresting. String tremolos (fast repeated notes) that crescendo from piano to fortissimocreated hair-raising excitement and were called the “Mannheim steamroller” (the original use of the term!); equally effective long decrescendos created great suspense. These and other devices in the use of thematic material would find their way into Mozart’s compositions, notably after he moved to Vienna.
However, now in Salzburg and dealing with his appointment under Colloredo, Mozart threw himself into compositing. Although he wrote some secular instrumental music over the next several months, he almost immediately created several major pieces for the church. Among these were two Masses, K. 317 and 337, two Vespers services, K. 321 and 339, and two church sonatas, K. 328 and 329, along with some shorter sacred works.
MOZART’S CHURCH SONATAS
Mozart began writing church sonatas when he was sixteen and employed by the new Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymous Colloredo. Over the course of his Salzburg career he composed seventeen of these single-movement works. Most of them are for two violins and organ, which were used as interludes in place of sung music after the reading of the epistle, and thus also called “Epistle Sonatas”.
Mozart composed the sonata in F, K. 244, in April 1776; it is more the norm than others on this program in that it employs only two violins, organ and string bass—a traditional string trio format.
The sonata in C, K. 278, from Lent (March or April) of 1777 is expanded beyond the trio format to include oboe, trumpet in C, and timpani; the organ is written as strictly an accompanying instrument with figured bass and no music written out for the manuals.
The sonata in C, K. 329, probably from March 1779, right after Mozart’s return from his European trip, is even more expanded with the addition of two horns to the violins, oboe, trumpet and timpani, and a cello is added to the foundation with the string bass. It was probably used within the celebration of the Mass for which Mozart wrote the music known as the “Coronation” Mass, K. 317, after the reading of the Epistle; it will appear at this point in the Mass in our performance tonight. This sonata has a significant organ part, with written-out music for the manuals that goes well beyond mere chord construction by actually presenting thematic material. The pedal part, too, is not just harmonic foundation but presents high-profile thematic material. The string bass is separated out from the organ bass and occasionally functions in duet with the cello, apart from the organ pedal part.
The sonata in C, K. 336, from March 1780, is the last in this genre that Mozart wrote. This is closer to a quartet in the manner in which the instruments are used: along with the two violins the organ has music written out for manuals and pedals as well as figured bass in places The string bass collaborates at times with the organ, but when there is thematic information for the organ and the violins are providing accompanying figures, the string bass supports them instead. The organ part in this sonata is the most elaborate of all the church sonatas. In it, Mozart approaches some of the style of his keyboard sonatas, with much scale passagework and ornamentation; one might think of this being as close as he would get to an organ concerto.
MAGNIFICAT FROM MOZART’S VESPERAE DE DOMINICA, K. 321
Vespers is one of the eight liturgical offices of the Catholic Church. Like the other offices, it consists of psalms, hymns, and prayers, but includes more extended music in the setting of the Magnificat and the Benedicamus Domino. The Anglican version of this office is called evensong and includes the Nunc Dimittus, which is a part of the office of compline in the Catholic tradition. Mozart wrote two settings of the psalms and canticles comprising vespers, both of them in Salzburg after his return from his long European trip. The Vesperae de Dominica, in C, K. 321, which is represented in part on this concert, dates from 1779; the Vesperae solennes de confessore is from 1780.
The Vesperae de Dominica, literally Vespers for Sunday, coordinates with the “Coronation” Mass in key, instrumentation, vocal forces, and even details of the opening Psalm, Dixit Dominus, and thus may have intended for use the evening in which the “Coronation” Mass was performed. There are five psalm settings followed by the Magnificat, each concluding with the Gloria Patri.
The Magnificat opens at an Adagio maestoso tempo with an arresting upward sweep. The chorus’s first phrase, like the Kyrie in the Coronation Mass, is full of the dotted rhythms of the majestic French Overture and the forte-piano dynamics of the Mannheim school. At “Et exultavit”, the tempo changes radically to Allegro. A theme of successive unison arpeggios in men then women suggests the “Mannheim rocket”; the theme returns several times in various keys through the rest of the work. The quartet of soloists begins at “Quia respexit…” with elaborating violins in accompaniment. The choir returns at “Quia fecit mihi magna” in a strong, march-like rhythm. A sudden pianissimo, on a unison B-flat, surprises us at “et sanctum nomen”, then explodes into a loud proclamation of the phrase. Thereafter, solo quartet and choir alternate phrases, bringing also varied dynamic levels through the remainder of the canticle. An extended Lesser Doxology with highly energized Amens concludes the work.
MOZART’S MASS IN C, K. 317, “CORONATION”
The Mass in C, K. 317, featured in this concert, is nicknamed the “Coronation” Mass. Mozart completed it probably on March 23, 1779, for use on Easter Sunday, April 4. The nickname for this mass was a puzzle for over a century until in 1907 Johann Evangelist Engl proposed that Mozart had composed it for the ceremony of the crowning of the image of the Virgin Mary at the pilgrimage church at Maria Plain, just outside Salzburg. However, after further research published in 1963, this explanation has been discounted, and many solid reasons have been cited then and since to indicate that the mass received its nickname from the fact that it was performed under the direction of Antonio Salieri at the coronation of Leopold II as the new Holy Roman Emperor in 1790 and King of Bohemia in 1791, and again, after his unexpected early death, for the coronation of his successor, Francis II, as Holy Roman Emperor in 1792. Dennis Pajot points out that the title “Mass in C for the Coronation Celebration of His Majesty Francis I as Emperor of Austria” was applied to a copy of the performance parts at the Austrian National Library in 1820, and apparently the name became attached to it thereafter.
Mozart planned a festive work in the “Coronation” Mass. It requires two each of oboes, horns, and trumpets, two violin parts, string basses, timpani, and organ; soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists; and a four-part choir. (Three trombones also in the score are used to support the lower three choral voices.) In setting the five “ordinary” sections of the Mass, however, Mozart achieved not only Archbishop Colloredo’s required brevity but also a unity and relatedness between the sections. For instance, the opening of the Kyrie, Gloria, and Credo are alike in their strongly uneven rhythms, in spite of tempo and metrical differences. In an even stronger link between movements, the soloists’ material of the Kyrie movement reappears in the fifth section, at the words “Dona nobis pacem”. And throughout the Mass, melodic gestures of similar construction resonate as from one general concept.
A few words about each of the sections may serve to bring the listener’s attention to Mozart’s special treatment of the text.
Kyrieeleison: Although the full text of the section is present, Mozart concentrates on the Kyrie eleison, relegating the Christe eleison to a few brief phrases in the middle of the movement. The slow, dotted opening (Andante maestoso) by the choir suggests a French Overture and royal ceremony. The arresting opening forte and sudden drop to piano on the word “Kyrie” occurs against a crescendo marked for the orchestra—a miniature moment of drama thanks to the Mannheimers’ dynamic devices. Soloists continue the Kyrie with a new theme (which will reappear in the last movement), and in the midst of this more extended section the brief Christe occurs. The chorus completes the movement with the return of the slow theme that opened the movement.
Gloria: The long text is shared between choral and soloists’ statements at a vigorous pace. Primarily in C major, the movement has occasional minor-key moments at key phrases: “qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere nobis”, and “suscipe deprecationem nostram”. One hopes the Archbishop forgave the few passages of contrapuntal working, as the text is still clear in the well-separated soprano line. A few instances of word-painting can be detected, for example at “tu solus altissimus”.
[Church Sonata in C, K. 329] Credo: A very march-like attitude pervades the movement, beginning with a decisive and forceful rhythm on one note in the unison voices against an energy-filled orchestra accompaniment. (This theme returns several times, forming a rondo structure.) Mozart explores the dramatic potential of the text by using the Mannheim dynamics and surprising off-beat rhythms which drive the music forward, and there is plenty of word-painting. At the words “Et incarnatus est” the movement’s energy changes radically, as a new tempo, greater harmonic intensity, and more delicate accompanying figure change the atmosphere. Soloists present this most intimate text quite tenderly, and the subsequent chorus outburst at “Crucifixus” begins a section of increasing tension that is released only at “sepultus est.” Mozart uses those Mannheim dynamics to great effect here. Note the word-painting as Christ is entombed. (One might put this passionate section into the context of Mozart’s very recent experience of losing the woman from whom he was born, and who was buried in Paris, far away from her family.) The fast tempo returns at “Et resurrexit”. The extended Amen passage at the end of the movement seems to be a sly trick on the Archbishop, for it isn’t really the end: Mozart begins the Credo text again briefly before coming around again to two really terse amens.
Sanctus: This is another Andante maestoso movement, in triple meter, with the regal dotted rhythms of the French Overture, leading to the quite fast and dance-like Osanna.
Benedictus: Although the Benedictus is usually subsumed under the Sanctus in enumerating the “ordinary” sections of the mass, traditionally in Mozart’s time the Benedictus and its Osanna were separated from the Sanctus to be presented after the consecration of the Host. The tempo is a moderate Allegretto duple meter, and the heavier instruments of the orchestra are silent here, leaving only a delicate staccato Alberti-bass accompaniment in the violins and a simple bass line to introduce the solo quartet, where the oboes and horns also gently enter. The chorus returns at its fast triple meter to repeat the Osanna. But—perhaps to surprise the Archbishop—this Osanna is not the end! Once again the solo quartet brings a reprise of their Benedictus, and only after this does the chorus provide a closing Osanna.
AgnusDei: Mozart rebalances the normal three part structure of the Agnus Dei section so that the first two statements “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis” fall to the soprano soloist alone, and the third statement, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem” is presented first by the soprano then shared by the soloists and the choir. The soprano soloist’s Agnus Dei is one of the major marvels of Mozart’s pre-Vienna career. Her melody, beginning so like the Countess’s “Dove sono” of some seven years later, is infinitely expressive in the current “sensitive” style, yet beautifully rococo with tasteful ornaments and flowing lines. The orchestra’s violins are muted over the pizzicato bass. Subtle but expressive dynamics of Mannheim origin support exquisite harmonic changes. The remarkable bubble bursts with the shift into the faster and more cheerful segment, “dona nobis pacem”, introduced by the soloists and extended with interplay between choir and solo ensembles; the orchestra returns to full brilliance for this section. Far from a perfunctory statement, the “dona nobis pacem” is full of lively rhythms and surprises at almost every turn—Mozart stretching the boundaries.