October 3-7, 2018
By Bruce Lamott
Our understanding of the significance of Salzburg to Mozart’s musical development has been tainted by his correspondence and criticism of his birthplace while a headstrong and disgruntled employee. To hear him tell it, Salzburg was a provincial backwater governed by an arbitrary clerical tyrant who disrespected both his person and his music, until his final dismissal with a literal kick in the pants by the archbishop’s chamberlain in 1781.
However, as this program will prove, Salzburg was an incubator of his creativity while under the security of parental protection, particularly that of his father/mentor/manager and superego Leopold, the court Vice-Kapellmeister. The principality of Salzburg was governed by an elected archbishop who ruled over both governmental and ecclesiastical domains as a reigning prince in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and as archbishop Primas Germaniae, the highest ranking archbishop of the whole empire. While the child prodigy Wolfgang enjoyed the generous indulgence and patronage of Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach, the adolescent and proto-adult Mozart faced almost immediate conflict with his successor.
The new archbishop, Hieronymus Count Colloredo, a Viennese blue-blood, brought with him the Enlightenment and anti-clerical reforms of Emperor Joseph II, , including the streamlining and simplification of church music, as you will hear in the opening and concluding works on this program. Mozart complains in a letter to the venerable Padre Martini, his mentor in Bologna, that “our church music is very different from that of Italy, since a Mass with the whole Kyrie, the Gloria, The Credo, the Epistle sonata, the Offertory or Motet, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei must not last longer than three-quarters of an hour.” Though Colloredo was an accomplished violinist who sometimes played chamber music with court musicians, it’s apparent that he preferred playing music rather than listening to it.
LITANIAE LAURENTANAE BMV in D Major, K. 195
The Loretan Litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Beatae Maria Virginis) are a sequence of prayers with choral responses. Though proper to no specific holiday, the litanies accompanied church processions for churches and monasteries–one of several practices curtailed by Colloredo. The title refers to the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy, believed to be site where angels relocated the Nazareth house of the Virgin Mary to save it from the Muslim reconquest of Palestine. The text was set numerous times by South German and Austrian composers, including Leopold Mozart, this being the second of two settings by Wolfgang. It was scored for the largest orchestra available to him–two oboes, two horns, with trombones doubling the lower three choral parts, strings (without violas), and organ continuo–likely for performance in the Salzburg Cathedral In May of 1774.
Unlike the five movements of the typical Mass cycle, which are interspersed with readings, prayers, and other music such as motets pertinent to the occasion in the liturgical year, the five movements of the Litanies were performed in succession. In this setting the third movement, Salus infirmorum, becomes a slow introduction to the fourth, Regina Angelorum.
Mozart’s Litanies are a sampler of the prevailing musical styles of the period, ranging from the antique “ecclesiastical” or “learned style,” in which overlapping voices enter in turn as in a round (canon) or fugue, to the “brilliant style” of the opera aria and concerto. Formally, the Kyrie, Sancta Maria, and Regina angelorum all show evidence of the three-part (A-B-A) sonata form, in which the middle section (development) of shorter phrases and changing keys (modulation) is framed by the initial melodic material (exposition) and its restatement at the end (recapitulation). This one-size-fits-all organization (comparable to the introduction-body-conclusion of the essay) can be heard in all three works on this program.
Instead of the grand gesture that opens the Kyrie of the Coronation Mass, the Kyrie of the Litanies begins slowly and softly, with voices entering in “ecclesiastical” imitation, but rising in intensity to create an introduction to the Allegro which bursts forth in the “brilliant,” concerted style. The overlapping polyphonic lines thus give way to shorter, clearly delineated phrases. Both here and in the closing phrase of the Agnus Dei, Mozart underscores the literal meaning of both the Greek: eleison and its Latin equivalent miserere (have mercy) with unexpected plunges into hushed phrases of penitence.
The complexity of the Kyrie contrasts with the gentle simplicity of the Sancta Maria. The tuneful soprano melody reveals the balanced phrases of the galant minuet, reflecting the maternal graciousness of the text. The sunny G major of the Sancta Maria is clouded by the Salus infirmorum in B minor, with deep choral chords underscored by restless dotted rhythms in the orchestra. This powerful movement with its Sturm und Drang, however, evaporates inconclusively and becomes an introduction to the brilliant fireworks ahead.
Mozart sets the Regina Angelorum with the ebullience of an opera finale. Young Mozart’s penchant for gymnastic leaps to the extremities of the vocal range creates a tortuous tenor line that spans nearly two octaves, leading us to question this complaint four years later: “Salzburg is no place for my talent. In the first place, professional musicians there are not held in much consideration; and , second, one hears nothing, there is no theater, no opera, and even if they really wanted one, who is there to sing?” Did he write this for an extraordinary–now unknown–singer, or was he deliberately setting the bar too high?
The same can be said about the solo soprano line in the concluding Agnus Dei.
Mozart especially delights in the change of tone color between the registers of the soprano voice (sometimes called “head” and “chest” voice), writing a line that leaps down an octave to A below the treble staff, then up to G above it. The hushed closing of the Litany show Mozart’s careful reading of the penitential text, miserere nobis, as the choir descends chromatically as in a musical genuflection.
EXSULTATE JUBILATE, K. 165
Many listeners may not realize that this, the most often-performed of Mozart’s solo motets, was written for a castrato, the Italian virtuoso Venanzio Rauzzini.
Young Mozart was very familiar with the castrato voice, which sang the heroic leading roles in the serious opera (opera seria) of the type he was composing for Milan. It’s clear that he considered their presence as evidence of musical sophistication, as he sarcastically quips in a letter: “As for the theater [in Salzburg], we are in a bad way for lack of singers. We have no castrati, and we shall never have them, because they insist on being handsomely paid; and generosity is not one of our faults.”
No sacred work of Mozart better typifies the liturgical extravagance abhorred by Archbishop Colloredo than this three-movement solo motet with connecting recitatives. But it was written for Milan–beyond his jurisdiction–where Mozart had been commissioned by the Royal Ducal Theater to write Lucio Silla, in which Rauzzini was singing the role of Cecilio.
In playful garbled German, the sixteen-year-old Wolfgang writes to his sister Nannerl: “”I for have the primo a uomo [Rauzzini] motet compose which to tomorrow at Church the Theatine performed be will.” Its first performance on Sunday January 17, 1773 was presumably sung during Mass as a fifteen-minute musical interlude between the Epistle and Gospel reading or in lieu of the Offertory. In addition, the service would have included works not by Mozart: the five choral movements of the Mass of the day as well as other music (Introit, Gradual, etc.).
Motet is a general term for such a work, applied to vocal music–choral or solo–performed somewhere within the liturgy of a church service that is often pertinent (therefore called the Proper) to the specific occasion of the liturgical calendar as opposed to the five-movement Ordinary cycle of Kyrie-Gloria-Credo-Sanctus/Benedictus-Agnus Dei, as in the Coronation Mass. The author of the psalm-like hymn of praise in the first movement and the prayer to the Virgin Mary in the second is unknown, but together with the concluding “Alleluia,” the text is sufficiently un-seasonal enough that it could be suitable for many festive occasions.
Exsultate jubilate is essentially a three-movement “soprano concerto” accompanied by strings with horns and oboes, tailor-made for Raunzzini’s agile voice and wide range, with extended virtuosic running passages (coloraturas) in the outer movements. Just as leading operatic characters received a variety of arias to exploit both their technique and expressivity, the second movement is written in the sensitive (Empfindsamer) style. A lyrical melody inflected with expressive chromaticism soars over a gently throbbing bass, with two-note sigh figures in the strings depicting the sighing heart (unde suspirat cor) consoled by the Virgin.
Sonata form (A-B-A) is used in the first two movements, while the final Alleluia begins with a tuneful melody recurring in the pattern A-B-A-C-A, as the rondo-finale of a concerto. If the final repeated phrases seem familiar, it’s because they also appear at the end of Haydn’s famous Emperor’s Hymn, written in 1797, six years after his dear friend Mozart’s death.
MASS IN C MAJOR, K. 317 “Coronation”
The Mass in C Major is generally regarded as Mozart’s greatest complete Mass setting, one of fifteen he wrote in Salzburg. Those which he started in Vienna after leaving the employ of Archbishop Colloredo remained incomplete. Although his C-minor Mass (1782) and Requiem (1791) are indisputably his finest achievements in sacred music, both were left unfinished–the former for unknown reasons, and the latter, interrupted at first by the commission of the opera La clemenza di Tito for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II in Prague, and thereafter by his untimely death in 1791. It is likely that it was this coronation, whose festivities included a performance of the C Major Mass conducted by Salieri, that attached “Coronation” to its name.
The Mass was first performed in the Salzburg Cathedral on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1779, composed in Mozart’s new capacity as salaried court organist for the archbishop. It is appropriately grand, with pairs of oboes, horns, trumpet, timpani, and three trombones doubling the alto, tenor, bass parts of the chorus. It is a masterpiece of concise and vigorous expression. Notably sparing of passages in the imitative “ecclesiastical style,” Mozart avoids writing time-consuming fugues where they traditionally occur, such as the Cum Sancto Spirito at the end of the Gloria.
Mozart’s recent visits to Mannheim had brought him in contact with one of the greatest orchestras in Europe. The Mannheimers were noted not only for their virtuoso wind players, but for emphatic dynamic contrasts of forte and piano. (Its crescendos were said to cause the audience to rise up in their seats.) The Mannheim style here is evident from the very first note, as the woodwinds, punctuated by trumpets and timpani, play forte/piano/crescendo, while the chorus declaims “Ky-(rie).”
Mozart takes advantage of symmetries in the text to create variants of sonata form. The music of Gloria in excelsis is recapitulated in Quoniam tu solus, and the bustling Credo in unum Deum returns as Et resurrexit, framing a muted episode in minor that focuses the central mystery of faith, Et incarnatus est.
The soprano solo in the Agnus Dei is an unmistakable precursor to the aria “Dove sono” from The Marriage of Figaro (1786). The composer creates an even larger symmetry when he concludes the movement (Dona nobis pacem )with the music of the opening Kyrie, but this time sung on the double. This certainly creates a theatrical finale, but also raises the possibility that His Excellency the Archbishop was looking at his watch.