Mass in C minor, K 427
'Great Mass'; Kyrie in D minor, K 341
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of the
violinist and composer Leopold Mozart, a musician employed by the ruling
Archbishop. It was his father who superintended his education and his early
career as a child prodigy, made much of in the major cities of Europe.
Adolescence brought employment in Salzburg, latterly under an unsympathetic
patron, but attempts to find a suitable position elsewhere, whether in Mannheim
or in Paris, came to nothing. In 1781, after success at the court in Munich
with his newly commissioned opera Idomeneo, Mozart was summoned by the
Archbishop to join his entourage in Vienna and it was there that he secured his
dismissal. The last ten years of his life were spent largely in Vienna, without
a patron or the necessary guidance of his careful father, but now with a wife
who had brought him no dowry. Initial success was followed by a period of
severe financial difficulty, although by 1791 it seemed that matters might take
a turn for the better. Anything of this kind was brought to an abrupt end by
his sudden death in December of that year.
In a letter of 4th January 1783 to his father in Salzburg, Mozart refers
to a reproach from his father in a letter now lost, referring to moral
obligation, presumably to his father, to whom he had neglected to send New Year
greetings, as would have been expected. He had married Constanze Weber without
his father's approval a year earlier and it was only during the summer of 1783
that he planned to take his wife to Salzburg to introduce her to his father and
sister. In the same letter he refers to the coming fulfillment of a promise and
to the score of half a Mass waiting to be finished, and it seems that this must
be the Mass in C minor, K 427. The nature of the promise is not clear,
but it may be presumed that the new composition was, in part at least, in
thanksgiving for Constanze's recovery from illness, his marriage or the birth of
their first child.
In the event Mozart and his wife spent from 29th July to 27th October in
Salzburg, so that there is a break in the informative and sometimes misleading
correspondence with his father. It seems from his sister Nannerl's diary,
however, that a Mass by her brother was performed at the Benedictine Abbey
Church of St Peter in Salzburg on 26th October, when her sister-in-law was the
soprano soloist, after a rehearsal on the previous Thursday. It is most
probable that the work in question was the present incomplete Mass,
supplemented, it may be supposed, by movements from other Masses or plainchant.
The date chosen for the performance was the Feast of St Amand, Bishop of
Maastricht, and one of the monastery's patron saints, when the Credo was
generally omitted, although on a Sunday it would have been required.
Nevertheless Mozart never completed his setting of the Creda, and the
parts of the movement that he had written were not performed. The Mass also
lacks a setting of the Agnus Dei. In 1785 he made use of material from
the Mass in C minor for his cantata Davidde penitente, K
469. In later years attempts were made by others to complete the work, as with
other compositions that Mozart left unfinished.
The Mass in C minor reflects Mozart's current
preoccupation with the music of Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach, explored with
the encouragement of Baron van Swieten, an important patron. The work is scored
for pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani, with three
trombones, strings and organ continuo. After a brief orchestral introduction,
the four vocal sections enter in contrapuntal imitation and the movement
continues in the monumental and generally conservative style that the Salzburg Archbishop
would certainly have discouraged. The soprano soloist introduces the florid
Italianate Christe eleison and the contrapuntal choral texture is
resumed with the return of the Kyrie.
The Gloria opens in affirmative C major, leading almost at once
to energetic fugal writing, relaxing momentarily at the words pax hominibus
bonae voluntatis (peace to men of good will). Laudamus te is in F
major, marked Allegro aperto. It is scored for solo soprano, oboes,
horns and strings and is in operatic style. Trombones and bassoons return for
the A minor Adagio of Gratias agimus tibi, now with a five-part
choir. To this the D minor Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, scored for
strings and two soprano soloists, offers an immediate contrast. In Salzburg the
second soprano would presumably have been sung by one of the castrati employed
by the court musical establishment. There is a return to a more traditional
Baroque style in the solid dotted rhythms of the G minor Qui tollis peccata
mundi, for two four-part choirs with the full orchestra. The two soprano
soloists are joined by a solo tenor for the E minor setting of Quoniam tu
solus Dominus, scored without trombones or horns. The solo voices enter in
energetic contrapuntal imitation, over which the spirit of Handel seems to
loom, seen through a Mozartian prism. There is a brief C major choral Adagio
for the words Jesu Christe, before the splendid formal Baroque fugal
setting of Cum Sancto Spiritu, in the same key.
The unfinished Credo starts with a movement for five-part choir,
scored without trombones. The setting continues up to the words descendit de
caelis, although the scoring seems generally incomplete.
It continues, with a change of key from Cto F major, in a
setting of the heart of the creed, Et incarnatus est, scored now for
solo flute, oboe and bassoon, with strings, organ continuo and solo soprano.
Again the instrumental parts are incomplete, although their nature may be
inferred from the given bass-line and indicated harmonies. It moves forward to
a cadenza for the soprano and solo instruments.
The completed C major Sanctus, scored for double choir and full
orchestra, follows its opening Largo with a fugal Allegro comodo setting
of the Hosanna for four-part choir. The Hosanna returns after the
A minor Benedictus in which the three solo singers are now joined by a
bass, entering in formal imitation one of the other.
The Kyrie in D minor, K 341, at one time supposed, in the absence
of the autograph copy, to have been written in Munich in late 1780 or early
1781, has now been dated to Mozart's final years in Vienna, between 1787 and
1791. For the first and last time in his church music, the work is scored also
for clarinets, although two basset horns are included in the scoring of the
unfinished Requiem of 1791. It has been suggested that the single
movement may have been completed or at the least edited by Maximilian Stadler
or by the composer and publisher Johann Anton Andre and it is largely on the
latter's edition of about 1825 that subsequent editors have relied.
The Kyrie appears to have been intended as the first movement of
a major church composition, in its grandeur of conception prefiguring the Requiem.