We are singing three movements from Mozart’s Solemn Vespers.
He wrote his second set of Vespers – Vesperae Solennes de Confessore – in 1780, during a brief period when he served as Court Organist to the Archbishop of Salzburg. It consists of five psalm settings, followed by a Magnificat. These movements would have been separated by different parts of the service, so they are stand-alone pieces.
A translation of the text is given below:
- The LORD said unto my lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
- The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
- Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.
- The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
- The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
- He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.
- He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
- Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.
- His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed.
- Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever.
- Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
- A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion.
- Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.
- He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD.
- His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies.
- He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour.
- The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.
O praise the Lord, all ye nations:
praise him, all ye people.
For his merciful kindness is great toward us:
and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.
Praise ye the Lord.
Mozart – Coronation Mass
Of the sacred works that Mozart composed in Salzburg none is as well known or as popular as the Mass in C K. 317. In 1779 Mozart returned from his disastrous trip to Paris and, partly out of material necessity and also to please his father, he took up a position in the Archbishop’s service in Salzburg. He was to “unbegrudgingly and with great diligence discharge his duties both in the cathedral and at court and in the chapel house, and as occasion presents, to provide the court and church with new compositions of his own creation”. At the first opportunity Mozart fulfilled this demand, composing the mass for the Easter Day service on 4th April 1779.
The musical style of the piece corresponds to the hybrid form that was preferred by the Archbishop: its use of wind instruments suggests a “Solemn Mass”, and its length suggests a “Short Mass”. Mozart himself described his task in a letter: “Our church music is very different to that of Italy, all the more so since a mass with all its movements, even for the most solemn occasions when the sovereign himself reads the mass [e.g. Easter Day], must not last more than 3 quarters of an hour. One needs a special training for this kind type of composition, and it must also be a mass with all instruments – war trumpets, tympani etc.” It therefore had be a grand ceremonial setting, but the mass also needed to have a compact structure. Mozart therefore omits formal closing fugues for the Gloria and Credo, the Credo with its problematic, vast text is in a tight rondo form, and the Dona nobis pacem recalls the music of the Kyrie.
Even as early as the 19th Century the mass was already popularly referred to as the “Coronation Mass”. The nickname grew out of the misguided belief that Mozart had written the mass for Salzburg’s annual celebration of the anniversary of the crowning of the Shrine of the Virgin. The more likely explanation is that it was one of the works that was performed during the coronation festivities in Prague, either as early as August 1791 for Leopold II, or certainly for Leopold’s successor Francis I in August 1792. (There is a set of parts dating from 1792, and the same parts were probably used the year before.) It seems that Mozart must have seen the chance to be represented at the coronation festivities in 1791, not only with La clemenza di Tito, but also with a mass composition: he wrote from Prague requesting that the parts for his old Mass in C be sent to him there. He was held in very high regard in Prague: The Marriage of Figaro had been a smash hit there, and they had commissioned Don Giovanni. It seems likely therefore that the city would have taken on the mass as its own, and the nickname would have grown from there.
Certainly the music itself is celebratory in nature, and would have fitted a coronation or Easter Day service perfectly. The soloists are continually employed either as a quartet, in pairs or in solo lines that contrast with the larger forces of the choir. The most stunning examples are the central hushed section of the Credo, and later when the Hosanna section of the Benedictus is well under way, the quartet begins the piece again, seemingly in the wrong place! Perhaps the most obvious reason for the mass’s popularity in Prague in 1791/2 was the uncanny similarity between the soprano solo Agnus Dei and the Countess’s aria Dove sono from Figaro which had been so successful there in the 1780’s.
Notes thanks to Aylesbury Choral Society
Vivaldi – Gloria
|Antonio Lucio Vivaldi composed this Gloria in Venice, probably in 1715, for the choir of the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for girls (or more probably a home, generously endowed by the girls’ “anonymous” fathers, for the illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen and their mistresses). The Ospedale prided itself on the quality of its musical education and the excellence of its choir and orchestra. Vivaldi, a priest, music teacher and virtuoso violinist, composed many sacred works for the Ospedale, where he spent most of his career, as well as hundreds of instrumental concertos to be played by the girls’ orchestra. This, his most famous choral piece, presents the traditional Gloria from the Latin Mass in twelve varied cantata-like sections.
|The wonderfully sunny nature of the Gloria, with its distinctive melodies and rhythms, is characteristic of all of Vivaldi’s music, giving it an immediate and universal appeal. The opening movement is a joyous chorus, with trumpet and oboe obligato. The extensive orchestral introduction establishes two simple motives, one of octave leaps, the orher a quicker, quaver – semiquaver figure, that function as the ritornello. The choir enters in chorale-like fashion, syllabically declaiming the text in regular rhythms, contrasting with the orchestral ritornello, which contains most of the melodic interest of the movement.
|The B minor Et in terra pax is in nearly every way a contrast to the first. It is in triple rather than duple time, in a minor key, and rather slower. Its imitative and expressive chromatic texture evokes the motets of the Renaissance era, the so-called “stile antico”. Laudamus te, a passionate duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano, gives us some hint of the skill of Vivaldi’s young singers.
|Gratias agimus tibi is a very broad and entirely homophonic prelude to a fugal allegro on propter magnam gloriam. The Largo Domine Deus, Rex coelestis is in the form of duet between the solo soprano and the solo violin, followed by the joyful F major Domine Fili unigenite chorus in what Vivaldi and his contemporaries would have regarded as the ‘French style’. It is dominated by the dotted rhythms characteristic of a French overture. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei features the alto soloist, with the chorus providing an antiphonal response, qui tollis peccata mundi, to each intercession. The bold harmonies of the following section, Qui tollis, provide a refreshing change of tone colour, and complement the intercessional alto aria, Qui sedes ad dextera Patris. The string accompaniment contains recollections of the opening movement, and prepares for the following movement, Quoniam tu solus sanctus, which takes the shape of a brief reprise of the opening movement’s broken octaves.
|The powerful stile antico double fugue on Cum Sancto Spiritu that ends the work is an arrangement by Vivaldi of the ending of a Gloria per due chori composed in 1708 by an older contemporary, the now forgotten Veronese composer Giovanni Maria Ruggieri, whom Vivaldi seems to have held in high esteem, as he used a second adaptation of this piece in another, lesser-known D Major Gloria setting, RV 588.
|Today Vivaldi is one of the most popular of all composers, who during his lifetime enjoyed considerable success and fortune, which he squandered through extravagance, and when he died in Vienna he was buried in a pauper’s grave. For two centuries after his death, the Gloria lay undiscovered until the late 1920s, when it was found buried among a pile of forgotten Vivaldi manuscripts. However, it was not performed until September 1939 in Siena in an edition by the composer Alfredo Casella. This was by no means an authentic edition (he described it as an “elaborazione”), as he embellished the original orchestration of trumpet, oboe, strings, and continuo, while reducing the role of the continuo, and cut sections from three movements. It was not until 1957 that the now familiar original version was published and given its first performance at the First Festival of Baroque Choral Music at Brooklyn College, NY.
Notes thanks to Peter Carey, Royal Free Singers