Mozart’s Spatzenmesse

Mass No. 10, Missa Brevis No. 5 in C Major “Spatzenmesse” (Sparrow Mass), K 220 (1776)

The Spatzenmesse (Sparrow Mass) was composed in Salzburg by W. A. Mozart (b.Salzburg1756; d.Vienna1791) in 1776. The Mass is sometimes termed a Missa brevis et solemnis, because it is as short and simple in structure as a Missa brevis, but festively scored like a Missa solemnis with brass and timpani in addition to soloists, strings and organ. It was first presented on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1776 at the Salzburg Cathedral. According to a letter by Mozart, a copy of the Mass was loaned to the Heiligen Kreuz Monastery the following year. The nickname Sparrow Mass is derived from reoccurring violin figures in the Sanctus and Benedictus, which resemble birds chirping – possibly a response by Mozart to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg’s constant “chirping” at Mozart to shorten the length of his Masses. The Spatzenmesse is one of a series of five masses Mozart composed between 1775 and 1777, all of them with clarini (valveless) trumpets, and therefore in the “trumpet key” of C major. The composition is as short in duration as a Missa brevis – Mozart does not even include the fugal conclusions to the Gloria and the Credo normally expected. But, It is as richly orchestrated as a Missa solemnis, for four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), a four-part choir (SATB), two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings and organ, with the organ supplying figured bass for most of the duration. So the Mass, as discussed above, could correctly be termed a Missa brevis et solemnis, or even a Missa longa – a shorter orchestrated Mass with solo arias for major solemnities such as Easter. Musicologist Karl Geiringer notes that the Spatzenmesse was one of the models Franz Xaver Süssmayr used when completing Mozart’s Requiem (Mass No. 19 in D Minor, K 626 (1791)). Following the example of Joseph Haydn (as in the Nikolaimesse [Mass No. 6 in G Major, Missa Sancti Nicolai, Hob.XXII:6 (1772)], which is also in the Chorale & Orchestra’s repertory), Mozart in the Sparrow Mass recapitulates the music of the Kyrie in the Dona nobis pacem, a method that Süssmayr used in his completion of Mozart’s Requiem. The Mozart Requiem also contains a quotation from the Sparrow Mass in its first movement, IntroitRequiem aeternam.   (17:00)

Mozart’s Spatzenmesse is conducted by the Chorale & Orchestra music director Dr. Robert L. Peterson. 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 Spatzenmesse was first presented by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale & Orchestra on May 8, 2016, as part of the Chorale & Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season. The Chorale & Orchestra last presented this Mass on April 1, 2018.                                                             

Recommended Listening:

  • Mozart: Krönungsmesse; Spatzenmesse / Kubelik: Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks / 1973 / DGG 419 060-2
  • Mozart: Mass in C; Inter Natos / Harrer: Vienna Symphony Orchestra; Vienna Boys Choir / 1984 / Philips 411139
  • Mozart: Dominicusmesse; Spatzenmesse / Pixner: Chorvereinigung St. Augustin-Wien & Orchestra / 2006 /



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