Under the baton of the German conductor Markus Stenz, the soloists Lenneke Ruiten (soprano), Sophie Harmsen (mezzo-soprano), Attilio Glaser (tenor) and Morgan Pearse (baritone), the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, K.427. The concert was recorded on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, during The Sunday Morning Concert in Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam.
By the time he arrived in Vienna in 1781, having moved from his hometown of Salzburg against the wishes of his father, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had composed 16 mass settings and an assortment of sacred choral music. In the following ten years until his death, he would produce just a handful of sacred works – among them the unfinished Requiem and incomplete Mass in C minor K.427.
The first mention of the Mass comes in a letter to his father dated 4 January 1783, in which Mozart refers to a promise he made to write a Mass in honour of his marriage to Constanze Weber. Mozart hadn't received a commission for the work, which may be one of the reasons his promise was never realised. The Kyrie, Gloria and Benedictus were fully completed, while the Credo was set only as far as the "Et incarnatus est" in draft score – the Sanctus was also reconstructed from drafts. The absence of the rest of the Credo and entire Agnus Dei meant that the work was left incomplete.
Mozart and his wife visited Salzburg towards the end of 1783 and it was here that the Mass received its first and only performance during Mozart's life, in St Peter's Abbey on Sunday 26 October, 1783. Mozart almost always had a particular voice in mind when writing vocal music – in this instance, it was Constanze who sang the soprano arias, a tribute to his newly-beloved wife.
In the midst of the Enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II's religious reforms and distrust of over-elaborate vocal music saw the decline of church music from its pre-eminent position in Viennese society. Most of Mozart's Salzburg masses were concise missa brevis settings, yet the grandeur of the Mass in C minor tells a different story: lavishly scored for four soloists, chorus and orchestra containing three trombones, it is on a scale comparable to Bach's immense B minor Mass. The exploration of older forms in the Mass in fact points to the influence of Bach and Handel. Mozart had come into contact with Baron Gottfried van Swieten soon after he arrived in Vienna, who collected the music of Bach and Handel and owned a manuscript of the B minor Mass. The vivacity of the string writing, counterpoint and stirring vocal lines are a nod to the Baroque masters with which Mozart had recently become acquainted.
The arcane, understated opening invokes a solemn mood as the chorus and orchestra navigate a chromatic, contrapuntal setting of the Kyrie. There is soon respite in the form of a florid soprano solo, soaring above the orchestra and redolent of the operatic writing that Mozart would champion throughout the 1780s. The movement ends, though, with the return of the foreboding strains of the Kyrie. The Gloria again shows the influence of Mozart's operatic style on his church music. The "Laudamus te" is a vibrant, Italianate coloratura setting which showcases the solo soprano, with the mezzo-soprano joining for a duet in the "Domine". In between these movements lies the Adagio "Gratias", which is the closest we are brought to the music of Bach and Handel. The "Qui tollis" is the most haunting music of the Mass, a visceral chain of suspensions with an unrelenting orchestral ostinato beneath. Mozart once again effortlessly transitions into the a contrasting mood for the "Quoniam" – a trio for soprano, mezzosoprano and tenor – before paving the way for a resounding fugue affirming "the glory of God the Father".
The Credo opens with the militaristic sound of unison strings and declamatory choral homophony, bringing the text to the forefront of the texture to signal the strong declaration of faith which it proclaims. Yet, it is the "Et incarnatus est" which lies at the emotional heart of the Mass, a concertante aria for solo soprano, flute, oboe, bassoon and organ obbligato. It sets just one line of text but is the longest individual movement of the entire Mass, an extended moment of serene beauty. It is then left to the Sanctus and Benedictus movements to bring the Mass to a close, rather than the conventional Agnus Dei. The former opens with the full orchestra and chorus proclaiming a fortissimo "Sanctus" before launching into a fugue for double chorus. The four soloists aren't brought together and given centre stage until the Benedictus – it is a relatively understated affair as the penitential text looks on the one hand back to Mozart's earlier mass settings, and on the other forward to the famous opera ensembles later in the decade. A brief reprise of the "Hosanna" brings the work to a premature close which in many ways lacks both musical and poetic resolution. Nevertheless, the Mass in C minor has endured as one of Mozart's most celebrated sacred masterpieces.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
♪ Great Mass in C minor, K.427 (1782-1783)
i. Kyrie eleison
ii. Gloria in excelsis Deo
iii. Laudamus te
iv. Gratias agimus tibi
v. Domine Deus
vi. Qui tollis peccata mundi
vii. Quoniam tu solus sanctus
viii. Jesu Christe
ix. Cum Sancto Spiritu
x. Credo in unum Deum
xi. Et incarnatus est
xii. Sanctus – Hosanna
xiii. Benedictus – Hosanna
Lenneke Ruiten, soprano
Sophie Harmsen, mezzo-soprano
Attilio Glaser, tenor
Morgan Pearse, baritone
Netherlands Radio Choir
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Markus Stenz
Recorded: April 1, 2018, during The Sunday Morning Concert in Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam
|Morgan Pearse, Attilio Glaser, Sophie Harmsen, Lenneke Ruiten|
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem Mass in D minor – Christine Schäfer, Bernarda Fink, Kurt Streit, Gerald Finley, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Audio video)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem Mass in D minor – Dorothee Mields, Marianne Beate Kieland, Markus Schäfer, Tijl Faveyts, Choeur Arsys Bourgogne, Camerata Salzburg, Pierre Cao (HD 1080p)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem Mass in D minor – Lorna Anderson, Daniela Lehner, Andrew Tortise, Stephan Loges, Coro & Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Richard Egarr (HD 1080p)
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