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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is perhaps the most well known of classical composers. In fact, his music is so recognizable that it’s sometimes used to describe other composer’s works. The term Mozartean signifies a composition incorporating the melodious and elegant style reminiscent of the master’s music. Mozart excelled in every medium he wrote for, from opera to symphonies, and was known for churning out music at a remarkable rate.
Mozart’s relationship with music begins as a child prodigy; he and his family traveled the courts of Europe from his toddler years throughout his adolescence. He then began employment with his father’s patron, the Prince-Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. Mozart had a tumultuous relationship with the Prince-Archbishop, and was eventually permanently released literally “with a kick in the ass.” He then settled in Vienna to spend the rest of his life working as a freelance musician. In Vienna he was unencumbered by a patron, but also deprived of a consistent income.
The ‘Coronation Mass’ was the first major composition Mozart completed after resigning his post in Salzburg to spend an unsuccessful year and a half searching for a new job. It was only by the influence of his father (who remained employed in Salzburg by the Prince-Archbishop) that the holy monarch agreed to take him back. He did so by appointing 23 year old Mozart to the position of court organist and concertmaster. The official decree betrays a certain tone. Mozart was to, “unbegrudgingly and with great diligence discharge his duties both in the cathedral and at court and in the chapel house, and as occasion presents, to provide the court and church with new compositions of his own creation.”
The Prince-Archbishop requested a mass for Easter service with two contrasting regulations. First, it was to be grand enough for Salzburg’s Cathedral and also appropriate to the joy of Easter morning. Secondly, it was under no circumstances to go over 45 minutes. The Prince-Archbishop insisted his church music not draw attention from the celebration of Mass itself, and felt that long pieces were pretentious. The time constraint Mozart needed to work under greatly influenced the construction of the mass, as did the practical considerations of the liturgical structure itself.
This short movement opens with stately dotted rhythms. The orchestra then leads to the soprano soloist who introduces a lyrical melody which contrasts the bravado just provided by orchestra and chorus. Oboe and tenor soloist answer. The choir then resumes with massive sustained chords as the orchestra restates its dotted rhythms. The movement closes with final tempered recitations of kyrie eleison.
With the Gloria, Easter morning has indeed arrived! The movement kicks off at a brisk tempo which persists throughout. Mozart uses the soloists as a quartet; a technique which helps to keep the length of the movement under control. Traditionally, the Gloria would end in a fugue, but Mozart omits this repeating form to ensure the entire work comes in under the duration specified by the Prince-Archbishop. Listen for the restatement of the original gloria figure near the end of the movement, but this time beginning with the text quoniam.
The credo is a textural mouthful encompassing the entire Nicene Creed. It takes off at a quick allegro tempo and blasts along until the soloists initiate the text which speaks to the incarnation of Christ. Here, the Catholic Mass service would dictate that parishioners move from a standing to a kneeling position in reverence of the incarnation. The tempo and mood remain somber as the events of the crucifixion are related. The tempo and original forceful character resume with Christ’s resurrection. The entire movement is written in rondo form, which is a theme with many variations. You can identify the reoccurring material most easily by listening for the sforzandos, which are notes initially sounded loudly, but immediately followed by a soft dynamic. Here too Mozart omits the traditional fugue at the end, and instead uses the brass of the orchestra to bring the movement to a dramatic close.
Sanctus & Benedictus
The Sanctus and Benedictus are really one thematic idea. They appear as two separate movements because there is a pause between the Sanctus and Benedictus sections as the bread and wine are held up during their consecration at Eucharist. The Sanctus is presented slow and majestically until the joyful hosanna. In the Benedictus, the soloists sing most of the text with the choir joining in using the same joyful hosanna presented in the Sanctus. Then, unexpectedly, the soloists restate the whole Benedictus one more time, followed by a new and final proclamation of hosanna.
Soprano solo begins the Agnus Dei. This melody sounds remarkably similar to the aria known as the “countess’s lament” in the opera The Marriage of Figaro Mozart would write seven years later. The movement then switches meter, and the soprano/tenor duet presented in the Kyrie is restated with new text. The choir joins in for the final declarations of dona nobis pacem (grant us peace) as the piece concludes.
~Notes by Jason Gottsacker