Mozart’s Mass in C

Mass No. 17 in C Major “Missa Solemnis”, K 337 (1780)

While seldom heard in concert halls and rarely recorded, this Mass composed in 1780 by W.A. Mozart (b.Salzburg1756; d.Vienna1791) nonetheless offers lovely, joyful music appropriate for liturgical use. Although titled, Missa Solemnis, its succinctness would qualify it as a missa brevis.  The Credo, which lasts less than six minutes, is the second Credo Mozart composed for this Mass. He completed about two-thirds of the first Credo, up to non erit finis, and then put the piece aside. Some scholars speculate that Mozart feared the first Credo was too theatrical for liturgical use, others opine that he had forgotten to set the lyrics sub Pontio Pilato to music in the first draft.  In any case, Mozart later that same year recycled the first Credo as a chaconne, a variation on a repeated short harmonic progression, in his opera, Idomeneo. The Missa Solemnis is scored for SATB soloists, SATB choir, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, strings (without violas) and organ, the latter supplying figured bass for most of the duration. The Sanctus recalls features of the Kyrie, and has a violin figure that Mozart also recycled in Idomeneo. The Benedictus is peculiar for Mozart’s Mass settings in that it is an austere fugue in an archaic style. The Agnus Dei, the most recorded movement of the Missa Solemnis, foreshadows Countess Almaviva’s despairing cavatina, Porgi amor (Act 2, No.11), in Le nozze di Figaro, K 492 (1786). This motif, as used by Mozart in the Mass in C and later in Figaro, is itself a reprise of a theme initially composed as a slow and lyrical sonata without development in the second movement, Andante ma adagio, of his Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major, K 191 (1774). The Missa Solemnis was Mozart’s last complete Mass. It was composed for the cathedral where his father Leopold served as Deputy Kapellmeister, and where the younger Mozart himself served as the court organist to Fürsterzbischof Hieronymous Graf Colloredo von Salzburg (r.1771-1803).  This period in Mozart’s musical life also saw the composition of his Mass No. 16 in C Major “Krönung” (Coronation), K 317 (1779) and his two orchestrated vespers – Vesperae solennes de Dominica, K 321 (1779) and Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K 339 (1780).  Following his dismissal from the employment of the Prince-Archbishop, the younger Mozart brushed the dust of Salzburg off his boots and headed to Vienna.  There he embarked on a career of secular orchestral and operatic composition, culminating six years later with Figaro, for which the Imperial Italian Opera paid Mozart 450 florins – three times his annual salary as court organist in Salzburg! (22:59)

(Adapted from a note by Brian Robbins in the “All Music Guide to Classical Music”, published in 2005 by Backbeat Books.)

Mozart’s Missa Solemnis, K 337 is conducted by the Chorale & Orchestra music director Dr. Marc Jaros.  Mary E. LeVoir is the organist. Soloists are Patricia Kent, soprano; Jocelyn Kalajian, contralto; John deCausmeaker, tenor; and Jon Nordstrom, bass. The Schola Cantorum is directed by Paul W. LeVoir.  The Missa Solemnis was first presented by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale & Orchestra as part of its 1979-80 season.

Recommended Listening:

  • Mozart: 5 Masses / Cleobury: King’s College Choir, English Chamber Orchestra / 1997 / London 455032
  • Mozart: Coronation Mass; Missa Solemnis / Neumann: Collegium Cartusianum / 1995 / Virgin 61244
  • Mozart: Missae; Requiem / Kegel: Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra / 1991 / Philips 422519
  • Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro / Gardiner: The Monteverdi Choir / The English Baroque Soloists / 1994 / Arkiv 439871-2
  • Mozart: Coronation Mass; Vesperae Solennes / Hogwood: Academy of Ancient Music / 1993 / L’Oiseau-Lyre 436585
  • Mozart: Bassoon Concerto / Hogwood: Academy of Ancient Music / 1988 / L’Oiseau-Lyre 4176222

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus
(Amadeus, Amade’, Amadeo, Gottlieb) Mozart (c.1780)
Salzburg Court Organist
Johann Nepomuk della Croce (1736–1819)
Mozart House, Salzburg

Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (1765)
Salzburg Court Deputy Kapellmeister
Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni (1721-1782)
Mozart House, Salzburg

Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo (c.1780)
Fürsterzbischof von Salzburg
Johann M. Greiter
Salzburg Museum (Museum Carolino-Augusteum), Salzburg

The Last Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus Joseph Franz de Paula Graf Colloredo von Wallsee und Melz (1732-1812), was enthroned Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1771 and was, as a result of political realignments brought about by the serial wars inflicted upon Europe by the First French Empire, deposed as prince in 1803.  He remained Archbishop “not in residence” of Salzburg until his death in 1812.  Because of his emphasis on “simplicity” in religious liturgical ceremonies, the Prince-Archbishop was known by some as a “secret Lutheran.”

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