Expanded notes for the Trinity Cathedral Good Friday Concert 2017
The heightening of the season of Lent during Holy Week provides opportunities for composers to treat highly charged texts in intensely personal ways. In this evening’s concert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is at the lynchpin of the selections, either by reference through the work of another composer or by virtue of Mozart’s own music.
“Miserere”, by Gregorio Allegri
Gregorio Allegri (1582-1662) spent the bulk of his life as a chorister, music director, composer, and priest in Rome. The most important part of his career came after 1629 when he served as a singer in the papal choir. During this time he created a number of motets, the most famous of which is his “Miserere”, a setting for nine voice parts of the first twenty verses of the penitential Psalm 51. The work became a customary component of the Tenebrae service and was performed on Wednesday and Friday in Holy Week in the Papal (Sistine) Chapel.
It is worth remembering that in the Papal Chapel only male singers performed (with no instrumental accompaniment). From the mid-17th century on, the motet’s fame enticed editors and composers to introduce changes into the motet’s performing forces and content, eventually scoring the work for women as well as men. John Rutter’s edition for this evening’s performance derives from Allegri’s time but can be sung by male and female singers.
The musical forces in the “Miserere” are organized into two choirs. Choir I is a full ensemble comprised of two soprano parts, altos, tenors, and basses presenting simple, fairly static melodies harmonized in chords, with brief moments in chant style and occasional very limited counterpoint. Choir II is a solo ensemble of two sopranos, alto, and bass, who introduce more active, typical early Baroque rhythms as well as extreme ranges—up to a high C for the top soprano. Choir I and Choir II alternate in the presentation of harmonized psalm verses; between the ensemble verses, men chant a verse in unison. Thus, as the motet progresses, there are three sonorities in regular rotation: Choir I’s multi-voice ensemble in harmony, followed by unison chanting by men, then Choir II’s four soloists singing more actively in harmony; then plainchant again, then the large ensemble, and so on. This pattern continues till the middle of the psalm’s 20th verse, at which point the two choirs join into a nine-part ensemble to complete that verse and end the motet. The simple harmonic beauty, the fascinating alternation of performing sonorities, the breathtaking ornamental working of the soloists’ ensemble, and the magnificent nine-voice conclusion combine with the passionate psalm text to form an extraordinary experience for those who hear this motet.
So striking was the impact of Allegri’s “Miserere” that it was kept in strictest security for many decades. The 18th –century historian Charles Burney reported that no one could copy or take parts out of the chapel under pain of excommunication! (It turns out that several copies were made and given out with official imprimatur; one even reached London, where it was printed in 1771.) As Otto Jahn tells us, no less a figure than the 14-year-old Mozart, in Rome with his father for Holy Week, heard the work at the Wednesday service and afterward wrote it down from memory, then made a few corrections at the Friday performance. Although papa Leopold was at pains to keep Mozart’s feat a secret, word got out, and Wolfgang was obliged to perform the “Miserere” for the astounded Papal singer Christofori. Mercifully, he was never chastised for his offence to the church; Jahn reports that he was honored for his feat of memory.
“Ave Verum Corpus”, K. 618, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In early summer of 1791 Mozart’s attention was divided between his work and some pressing family matters. He was in the midst of composing an opera (The Magic Flute) and a series of commissioned German dances, both of which were anticipated to assist with his flagging financial situation, and applying to secure the position of Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna as the elderly incumbent was ill. On the other front, his wife, Constanze, was in the last two months of her difficult sixth pregnancy and needing the benefits of the mineral springs at Baden, near Vienna; their six-year-old son Karl, went with her. Fortunately, there was a friend, Anton Stoll, living there. Stoll, a teacher and the choirmaster at the parish church in Baden, had in the previous year led a performance of one of Mozart’s masses. In May of 1791 Wolfgang asked his help in finding appropriate lodgings for Constanze and Karl, then went several times during the summer to visit his wife and son. Wolfgang wrote the motet “Ave verum corpus” in Baden on June 17. Peter Clive reports that Stoll conducted its premiere on June 23 at the Baden parish church, and H.C. Robins Landon refers to the premiere on the Feast of Corpus Christi, for which the work was intended. June 23 may be the date on which the Feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated in 1791.
Ave verum corpus” is a Communion motet on a 14th-century text attributed often to Pope Innocent VI. Robbins Landon describes Austria’s elaborate celebration of the feast, which features a procession invoking “a good harvest” and “uniting Mother Church with Mother Earth”. Mozart’s music is ethereal, translucent, and seemingly simple. A mixed choir and strings present a new style which he was usinging increasingly often in 1790 and 1791—serene, homophonic (chordal), and devoid of virtuosic flash. The great Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein referred to this as Mozart’s “humanistic” style. Whether it was intended by the composer to be accessible to Stoll’s parish musicians, or whether it was rooted in the Emperor Joseph’s reforms, or connected to the body of Masonic works flowing from Mozart’s avid participation in the brotherhood, or even a display of what he might produce were he to become the new Kapellmeister in Vienna, this is an ineffable work of exquisite beauty, yet only 46 measures long. Its unhurried D-major homophony has moments of chromatic motion and a brief canonic passage, yet for all its simplicity it challenges performers to achieve luminosity through perfect balance, precision, and restraint.
“Evocation de la Sistine Chapel”, by Franz Liszt
At the height of his career, Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was an international super-star, arguably the premier piano virtuoso of his day. Born in a small town near Sopron, Hungary, he very early began piano studies with his amateur-musician father, and by 9 was being supported in his musical education by Hungarian gentry. He then quickly moved on to study in Vienna with major teachers such as Czerny and Salieri in both piano and composition. He was a success in the rarest of circles, meeting aristocrats and major figures such as Beethoven and Schubert, and beginning to see his own compositions published. By age 22 he was concertizing across Europe and settled in Paris where his performing created a sensation. Further travels to England and the continent cemented his place as an incomparable performer; meanwhile he was turning out brilliant new piano works and transcriptions of other composers’ orchestral and vocal works.
Liszt’s attention expanded to include religion and church music about the same time he fell in love and began an affair with Countess Marie d’Agoult, who left her husband to live with Liszt. They had two daughters and a son over a five-year period, and then, in 1839, when their relationship cooled, Liszt left the countess to begin even more extensive touring and concertizing. His composition expanded to the orchestral sphere, and he was engaged as a composer and conductor of orchestral works and operas in Weimar. Here he began his final liaison (of about 40 years) with Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, sister of the Russian Tsar and the wife of a Russian military officer. As an adherent of the Wagnerian “Music of the Future” Liszt faced opposition, and the princess’s unfavorable status made life in Weimar increasingly untenable for them. In 1861 the two moved to Rome, living separately because the princess was unable to receive a divorce from the Pope. Liszt took minor orders in the Catholic Church, meanwhile focusing on religious compositions. From 1869 till his death, except for a final brief tour, he primarily divided his life between Rome, Weimar, and Budapest to give master classes.
Until about 1836, remarkably, Liszt had had very little connection with the other keyboard of his time—the organ. According to Zoltán Gárdony (“The Organ Music of Liszt” in The New Hungarian Quarterly, 1985), while visiting the Cathedral of St. Nicholaus in Fribourg that year, he improvised on the cathedral’s organ, which had very recently been built. The organ maker was in attendance and assisted with his registration. Liszt, familiar of course with the keyboard, created a complex work on the manuals but added little in the pedals. Then in 1840 he heard Mendelssohn perform Bach’s organ music and began to study the Baroque master’s organ works, primarily by transcribing them for piano. In 1845, inspired by Schumann’s compositions for pedal-piano, Liszt had a “piano-organ” made for himself and installed in his Weimar home. This led to his incorporating the organ as an accessory to choral works. By 1850, he was composing independent works on the instrument. It was not until about 1862, a year or so after his move to Rome, that he composed the “Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine”. Gárdony terms the piece a “fantasia and free paraphrase”. It was inspired by both Mozart’s “Ave verum corpus” and Allegri’s “Miserere”, which Liszt had heard in the Sistine Chapel. Liszt dedicated the work to A. W Gottschalg, an organ composer and teacher, who helped Liszt with his transcriptions for organ and who ultimately became curator of Liszt’s organ music in Weimar.
Requiem, K. 626, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s well-known Requiem of 1791 begins in and works around the key of D minor, associated in his music with ominous moods and dark supernatural forces. Nevertheless, it contains a variety of styles: passages of contrapuntal intricacy that Mozart learned from Bach’s and Handel’s music; utterly moving homophony in the “humanistic” style; and gracious lyrical melodies. The work is scored for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists, mixed chorus, 2 bassett horns, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, strings, timpani, and organ. Myths still associated with the genesis and authenticity of the Requiem have been debunked in recent scholarship, especially that of Christoph Wolff in Mozart’s Requiem (1994). It is comforting to know now that neither his rival Salieri nor demonic forces were at play in the creation of the work. No mysterious stranger, but rather an agent with whom Mozart was actually acquainted, brought him the commission from Count Walsegg, who, following his usual practice, intended to pass the music off as his own for a Mass commemorating his late wife. As he worked on the Requiem from October to early December 1791, Mozart became increasingly ill and was aware that he was failing; according to witnesses, he thought he was composing the work for his own funeral. He did in fact die, of unusual but natural causes, on December 5. He had finished writing out the final fair copy of the vocal and most of the instrumental parts of the Requiem up to the end of the eighth measure of the “Lacrymosa”, the last movement in the funeral Sequence, “Dies irae”. (String and woodwind parts for the Kyrie were written out by his student Franz Joseph Freystädler.) Vocal portions, basso continuo, and parts of some instrumental interludes of the Offertory (“Domine Jesu Christe”) are also in his hand.
According to his widow Constanze, Mozart had given verbal instructions and made sketches and notes for the work’s completion. We now think his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr, ten years Mozart’s junior and of merely conventional talent, hid the tangible information in order to use it to write out the rest of the work and then claim (as he later did) that he had created it all on his own. (Curious that a very gifted composer, Mozart’s friend Joseph Eybler, could manage only a portion of the completion without those notes.) Today scholars think that after measure eight of the “Lacrymosa” movement, the vocal material and a good portion of the accompaniment in the Requiem are just Süssmayr’s working-out of Mozart’s sketches and ideas, and that Süssmayr’s original work consists of the less refined passages of the orchestral accompaniment, interludes, and orchestration. Modern alternative editions to the one attributed to Süssmayr are available today, but these seem to drift farther away from the Mozart original than even Süssmayr did, by often radically changing or by eliminating what the editors think is not authentic to Mozart. Yet in spite of flaws, Süssmayr’s Mozart still survives and continues to be the touchstone for our experience of the Requiem.
Many details throughout the Requiem proclaim Mozart’s authorship of the whole. We should remember that although Mozart was only almost 36 when he wrote it, the Requiem represents a mature, evolved style for the composer and shows aspects of transition toward even more sophisticated and subtle techniques. For example, thematic relationships link movements accepted as authentic to Mozart with those supposedly by Süssmayr. Mozart had employed this unifying practice some years earlier (consider the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, of 1785) but it was likely not embraced by his student in 1791. For instance, note the scale-based opening motif of the “Dies irae”, “Sanctus”, “Confutatis”, and the more subtle “bones” of the opening of the “Agnus Dei”; and listen for the relationship of subject of the “Quam olim Abrahae” fugue to the subject of the “Osanna” fugues and the opening of the “Recordare”. And Mozart inhabits the astonishing enharmonic chromatic modulations in the “Hostias” and “Agnus Dei” (supposedly by Süssmayr), which recall but exceed the ingenious opening of the “Dissonant” string quartet in C, K. 465 (1785).
Among the most surprising features in the Requiem may be Mozart’s references to other works—other composers’ and his own. His enormous affinity to late Baroque composers was a legacy of his association with Baron Gottfried van Swieten from 1782 onward; van Swieten’s Sunday gatherings made available to Mozart numerous works of the Bach family and Handel. It is not so surprising, then, to find allusions to one of his favorite Baroque models, Handel, for themes of the “Introit” and the “Kyrie” fugue. Another model, a sinfonia in D-minor by W. F. Bach, is recast in F major in the beautiful “Recordare”. A remarkable confirmation of Mozart’s hand is a moment of self-reference, which occurs in the accompaniment of the “Lacrymosa”: ironically, this music served earlier in 1791 to underlay Papageno’s frantic thoughts of committing suicide in the Finale of The Magic Flute. (Have you remembered that Mozart thought the Requiem was for himself?)
But Mozart, a Catholic, was also a Freemason. Are there any Masonic elements in Mozart’s Requiem? To answer this in part, we turn to French musicologist Jacques Henry, a Mason, whose work on the subject is not widely known in many circles in this country. In his 1991 book Mozart the Freemason, translated into English by Jack Cain in 2006, Henry explains that the purpose of “Masonic assembly” is to conduct a ritual whereby a sacredness is conferred on those participating. The participants commonly understand both the spirit of the ritual and the symbols contained in it, or through which it is enacted. Importantly, the ritual activities of the Masonic Lodge are among those symbols. The experience of the initiate is necessary to understanding those symbols. Mozart, through his music, drew on these symbols, including the experiential ones, when he wrote works that conveyed or expressed his belief in Masonic ideals and thought.
Henry lays out a number of characteristics of true Masonic works; these go beyond the symbols frequently assumed by the non-initiate, such as the obvious appearance of threes—groupings of three instruments or accidentals in a key signature. Features which do signify genuinely Masonic music are less overt, inspired by both the physical arrangement of the Lodge and the procedures of the ceremonies. Henry cites the placement of lamp stands and columns; various kinds of steps—in procession or ascending to the Grand Master’s chair; auditory events like knocking, clapping, or the strokes of a mallet; and progressions from chaos to order, darkness to light, or raw/unformed to precisely shaped. Henry believes that Mozart did not finish his Requiem—not because of lack of time or illness, but rather because the material missing from the torso that we have in his own writing is the same length as his Masonic cantata, “Laut verkünde unssre Freude”, K. 623, completed in mid-November 1791. He argues that “for the freemasons of the eighteenth century, these two sets of beliefs (Christianity and Masonry) were perfectly reconcilable”. In his opinion, whether writing a mass or a Masonic cantata, Mozart “presented an identical vision of his conception of divinity” (p. 118).
Perhaps more to the point, can a non-Mason such as myself (prohibited by my gender from the fraternity) perceive Masonic significance in the Requiem? I believe that once Masonic ideals and practices available to the uninitiated are identified, such symbolism in the Requiem’s musical landscape is indeed evident and recognizable by the diligent listener. Some of it relates to the Mason’s search for “greater light”, and some of it is established on a central Masonic ritual, that of the Third Degree, in which the candidate is “raised” to the status of Master Mason. Within that degree work, the candidate is at one point blindfolded and undergoes the re-enactment of the legendary death of Hiram Abiff, the Grand Master Mason whom King Solomon had hired to direct the building of the great Temple in Jerusalem. According to the legend, Hiram was murdered by treacherous workers who tried to extract from him the master password that would give them access to building jobs anywhere in the world; these villains then buried Hiram’s body in an unidentified grave. After much searching, Hiram’s grave was finally discovered by faithful “Fellow Craft” masons, trusted workers, and his decomposed body was raised up from that grave by Solomon himself. In reenacting that moment in the Third Degree ritual, the candidate is lifted by a special grip, and the blindfold is ripped away from his eyes so that after the period of darkness (reenacting Hiram’s burial) he suddenly sees light. He is also given the “substitute Masonic word”, the lost original of which Hiram’s murderers tried to extract from him with violence. The candidate is thus a Master Mason, an accepted member of the craft. It is to this ritual that Mozart alluded in a letter to his father in 1787, when Leopold had become quite ill and was facing death; Leopold, too, was a Mason, and knew the lesson of the Third Degree. And Mozart, writing the Requiem four years later, was undoubtedly remembering not to fear death, for it “is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness” (Mozart’s letter translated by Emily Anderson).
The core of the Hiram legend is in the progression from the trauma of death, through burial, to the re-emergence of the corpse from the grave (by the action of human beings rather than with divine aid). This core encompasses a moment of transition, dramatically enacted in the Third Degree ritual. I believe that Mozart actually envisions that process in the Introit of the Requiem. To recognize how this occurs, we must first remember that the Introit is in three textual sections—an antiphon, then a psalm, and a return of the antiphon; the music replicates this textual structure. The antiphon is the opening material that gives the Requiem Mass its name: Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetual luceat eis (Rest eternal grant them, Lord, and may eternal light illumine them). The following psalm, though, is a little-remarked feature of the Introit. It is the first two verses of Psalm 64/65: 1. Te decet hymnus Deus in Sion, et Tibi redetur votum in Jerusalem. 2. Exaudi orationem meam, ad te omnis caro veniet (A hymn is owed to you, God, in Zion, and a vow to you will be fulfilled in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer, to you all flesh shall come).
Now, it’s important to focus for a moment on the psalm within the Introit. Remember that a psalm verse is laid out in two distinct “halves”. Typically in Mozart’s time this text in a requiem was set to Psalm Tone I, an ancient chant rising on the first three notes of a major scale to a repeated chanting note, and keeping the same chanting note through both halves of verse. Mozart, however, chose a different Psalm Tone, the “Tonus peregrinus”, or “wandering tone”. Unlike Psalm Tone I, the Tonus peregrinus begins with a scale step upward and then returns to the chanting note; but the chanting note changes, dropping one pitch level in the second half of each verse. This Psalm Tone, called the “wandering tone”, is strongly associated with Psalm 113/114, “In exitu Israel de Aegypto”, recalling the deliverance of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt:
When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
It is highly significant that Mozart’s version of this chant conforms not to the Catholic liturgical form, as given above, but rather to the modified version used for the German Lutheran chorale (hymn), “Meine Seele erhebet den Herrn”, the translation of “Magnificat anima mea” (My soul magnifies the Lord). In this chorale, the melody taken from the chant begins not with a scale step but rather by an upward leap of a minor third, and then returns to the original pitch, which then serves as the chanting note for the first half of the verse. It is this melody to which Mozart set the psalm in the Introit of the Requiem. I view Mozart’s use of this Lutheran form of the chant as not at all accidental or coincidental but rather a deliberate choice because of a layering of meanings associated with the German form of the Tonus peregrinus. In using the Lutheran form of this special chant, Mozart appears to be alluding to or recalling J. S. Bach’s “Magnificat”, BWV 243, which he very likely saw or even heard in Leipzig two years before he wrote the Requiem.
Bach’s grand work, in D major, is set in movements, the tenth of which is the only one in which the Lutheran “Magnificat” melody occurs. Here, it is not part of the vocal milieu but rather a solo oboe obbligato riding above a contrapuntal trio of treble voices and instruments. The Latin text that Bach was setting is Suscepit Israel puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae (He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy). I think that in Mozart’s mind this Magnificat verse commemorating deliverance called to mind the Masonic view of death as deliverance, the beginning of a transition to “greater light…hope and joy…eternity”, as goes the lesson to the newly raised Mason (Duncan’s Ritual). Identifying the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their crossing both the Red Sea and the Jordan River to arrive at the Promised Land, Psalm 113/114 and the tenth movement of the Magnificat and Psalm 64/65 all capture the meaning of transition, of tribulation and release from suffering, of attaining “home” because of God’s saving actions. Bach wordlessly made the connection in his Magnificat. Mozart later overlaid the Psalm in his Requiem’s Introit with this message. The correlation to the Masonic view of death as transition from earthly life to eternity is evident. Moreover, the correspondence of Mozart’s usage with Bach’s for the same purpose suggests that Mozart likely knew Bach’s application of the Psalm tone in the Magnificat, and appropriated it, exactly in the Lutheran form of the great canticle of praise, at the point in his Requiem where a “hymn” is “due to God in Jerusalem”.
So, knowing how the Psalm functions in the Introit of Mozart’s Requiem, we can perceive the whole Introit in a new way. First of all, notice that the entire Introit is set as a stately, solemn march. Jacques Henry notes that such marches are integral to Masonic ceremony. Then, note that in Mozart’s Introit the Psalm forms a bridge between two treatments of the Antiphon, Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. The first antiphon statement begins as a tightly formed series of imitative entrances in D minor carrying the first phrase of the text. After another seven measures, the contrapuntal texture gives way a clear chordal presentation of the text “et lux perpetua” (and eternal light), in the brighter F major, without the orchestral accompaniment, so as to be completely unobscured, totally obvious. The orchestra’s subtle return in the middle of “perpetua” drives toward a second statement of et lux perpetua, again unaccompanied, at a higher pitch in the soprano, driving toward an even higher “luceat”, which is reinforced in the woodwinds and strings. “…Eternal light illumine them” would be a strongly Masonic vision.
Following this text passage, the orchestra begins a contrapuntal interlude that forms the basis for the accompaniment to the Psalm tone and to the later return of the Antiphon text. Then, in measure 21, the Psalm tone enters as a soprano solo floating over the contrapuntal working of the orchestra, very like the oboe’s high placement over contrapuntal voices in Bach’s Magnificat. The psalm’s second verse, exaudi orationem… (hear my prayer), is presented by the chorus; here the Psalm tone in the soprano is a cantus firmus over a contrapuntal accompaniment set in antiphonal style—call and response—in the lower three voices. The style of these three voices suggests a calling out, a seeking for a response, as the text requests.
After the psalm, the setting of the returning Antiphon is quite transformed. The contrapuntal texture continues, but its structure has changed. I is no longer the confined, tightly spaced series of imitative entrances and very close contrapuntal weaving that it was at the beginning of the Introit but rather a more active counterpoint with two melodic ideas. This second statement of the Antiphon encompasses a significantly greater pitch span between the highest and lowest voices, ultimately proceeding to a highly energized double fugue (the Kyrie). The imagery of this return of the Introit is of an opening up, an emergence or liberation from a limited space—a grave?—to a place of light and vigorous liveliness. Following the expansion of the Requiem aeternam section, we meet once again the text et lux perpetua. As before, it is highlighted, but this time (mm. 43 and 44) the choral sopranos are accompanied by a special “masonic” sound of four chords of wind instruments—bassett horns and bassoon, with trumpet and timpani—instead of the lower three voices, as in the first Antiphon setting. Jacques Henry states that the Masonic music of Mozart that uses this kind of instrumentation forms “what, in Lodges, are still called ‘columns of harmony’” (p. 19), an ideal of Masonic brotherhood. The sonic environment is a solemn, ceremonial one, and the rhythm of these wind chords possibly evokes or mimics knocking in the Masonic ritual. In any case, with the setting of et lux perpetua luceat eis Mozart calms the music and brings it to a half cadence, preparing for the beginning of the next section of the liturgy, “Kyrie eleison”.
Echoing the Introit’s imagery, Mozart designed the Communion toward the conclusion of the Requiem to further reflect the Masonic message and symbolism. Here the text is Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es (May light eternal shine on them, Lord, with your saints for ever, for you are gracious). This is not a genuine Psalm verse, in spite of its two-part structure, yet Mozart again set it to the Tonus peregrinus; in fact, this text marks the place where the music of the Introit is brought back with virtually no change except for necessary accommodations for setting the new text. And once more, Masonic symbolism is at play. As in the Introit, the soprano solo carries the melody above the orchestra, ensuring the greatest ease of recognition. The luminosity of the soprano’s range suggests the light to which the text alludes and corresponds with the Masonic search for “more light”.
Certainly these remarks are far from a complete exploration of the Masonic connection in Mozart’s Requiem. For those who are Masons, though, this famous work should arouse considerable curiosity and engender much further study!