26 October 1783: The Great Mass in C minor

“Vienna, January 4, 1783

Mon très cher Père!

I cannot possibly write much at the moment, because we’ve just come back from Baroness Waldstätten, and I have to change from head to toe, for I am invited to a private concert at the residence of Herr Court Councilor Spellmann. – We both thank you for your New Year’s wishes and acknowledge freely that we are as dumb as oxen because we completely forgot our own duty of sending wishes to you – so we are sending you our wishes belatedly and won’t even send them as New Year’s Wishes but just as the everyday wishes we always have for you – and we’ll leave it at that. – About my moral commitment, yes, that’s quite correct; – the word flowed from my pen not entirely without my intention – I made the promise firmly in my heart and I hope to keep it. – When I made it, my wife was still single – but the promise was easy to make because I was determined to marry her as soon as she was well again. – Time and circumstances prevented our trip as you know; – but as proof of my promise I have the score of half a mass that is lying here waiting to be finished.”  

Mozart - Autograph of two of the pages of the C minor mass (Kyrie) - 1

Mozart - Autograph of two of the pages of the C minor mass (Kyrie) - 2

The Great C minor Mass, K.427, was composed by Mozart in Vienna in 1782 and 1783, and remained unfinished, missing large portions of the ‘Credo’ and the complete ‘Agnus Dei’.

St. Peter's Abbey

Mozart and Constanze arrived in Salzburg on July 29 (Nannerl’s birthday was on the 30th). They remained in Salzburg for three months and began their return trip on October 27, 1783, at 9,30 in the morning. The day before their departure, on 26 October 1783, the first performance of the Great C minor Mass took place in the Church of St. Peter’s Abbey in the context of a Roman Catholic mass. (This is the view of most scholars, while others discuss that Mozart’s sister wasn’t specific about which Mass was performed on this day of 26 October.)

Salzburg - Stift Sankt Peter

The performers were members of the ‘Hofmusik’, the musicians employed at the court of Prince-Archbishop Count Hieronymus von Colloredo. The C minor Mass was rehearsed with Mozart’s former colleagues in the Kappelhaus of the Church on 23 October 1783.

Kapelle & Gräber am Petersfriedhof © Tourismus Salzburg - S. Siller

Salzburg - Stiftskirche St Peter

At the premiere, the ‘Kyrie’, ‘Gloria’ and ‘Sanctus’ were presented. Constanze sang the “Et incarnatus est”. 

Robert W. Gutman on the Great C minor Mass in his “Mozart – A Cultural Biography” :

“If, in the eyes of the Salzburg Residenz, Mozart no longer existed – officialdom avoided mention of his name – he did remain a presence to many in the city (and, indeed, at court) who continud to perform his music. In 1782 they had even received something new from his pen: to celebrate his elevation to the nobility, Siegmund Haffner the Younger had commissioned a work from him. Even while laboring against the clock to arrange The Abduction for winds – “otherwise someone will beat me to it and have the profits instead of me” – he made time, at Leopold’s insistence, to write what would be refined into the second Haffner Symphony, K.385. It had been hard upon his wedding day when he posted to Leopold the finale, a Presto embodying a reference to Osmin’s aria in The Abduction: “How I will triumph!”

(Leopold had dragooned him into fulfilling the request of a family that had supported his interests since his childhood. As he composed the new Haffner music, he sent it piecemeal to the mail coach. When Leopold returned the entire composition to Vienna early the following year, Mozart gazed in amazement at what he had conceived under pressure and scribbled as fast as pen could travel: “The new Haffner Symphony has in truth surprised me, for I had forgotten every note of it. Indeed, it must make a good effect.”)

Such confidence sank as he confronted the reality of the Salzburg journey , which, one excuse after the other, had resolved itself into a series of postponements. He fixed upon departing in high summer (when pupils broke off their lessons) even though two dark patches hovered above the plan: misgivings about the reception his bride might find in the Tanzmeisterhaus and his fear of arrest upon entering the archbishopric. (“A priest is capable of anything.”) He suggested a meeting in Munich rather than Salzburg, but Leopold indicated that its officials had signaled indifference to the visit. He recognized Mozart’s prevarications as proceeding from a divided spirit. But all at once Mozart determined to face the troublesome issues and redefine himself in his family’s eyes: to demonstrate his new commitments and demand respect for them. At the end of July 1783, he and Constanze left Raimund with a foster mother in the suburb of Ober-Neustift – they foresaw an absence of a month at most – and set out for Salzburg. Family letters wanting, little of importance concerning the visit has come down except passing words about the mass in C minor, K.427.

Its relationship to a vow Mozart had taken somewhat before his union with Constanze remains obscure, as does the nature of the promise itself. She had fallen ill, and he determined to make her his wife upon her recovery. His oath to compose a mass and perform it in Salzburg – “with all my heart and without condition I gave my word and in like manner I hope to keep it” – united concepts of love, thankfulness, reunion, reconciliation, repair, and, with Raimund’s birth, took on the dimension of continuity (unless he committed himself after marrying and only with regard to her safe accouchment). The proof of his having undertaken the obligation, he assured a father ever suspicious of his high-flown assertions, resided in a “well-grounded hope” to complete “the score of half a mass lying here (Vienna)”.

The performance of the mass was to take place in Salzburg’s monastery church of St. Peter’s, where he had old friends, among them Kajetan Hagenauer (Father Dominicus). Mozart’s crossing the threshold of the cathedral where Colloredo presided remained out of the question. Yet, in diplomatic deference, St. Peter’s, likewise, would have had to close its doors to the renegade had the Residenz remonstrated. It, however, looked away even as its own musicians joined the rehearsals in its Kapellhaus – the resources of St. Peter’s alone would have been unequal to the score – which, without the Residenz’s studied, in fact, beneficent aloofness, would also have been out of bounds.

Of the mass he brought to Salzburg only the Kyrie and Gloria stood complete, along with the substance of the Sanctus. The Credo existed only up to the Crucifixus, and nothing of the Agnus Dei had come to paper. (At the performance, plainchant or material adapted from his earlier masses may have filled the gaps. Perhaps he formed an ad hoc Agnus Dei by putting to work music adapted from preceeding movements, the procedure in part followed in the posthumous completion of his Requiem.). Sebastian Bach’s and, in particular, Handel’s spirit, breathed in at van Swieten’s matinees, guides whole sections of the score; but, unlike so many period-style efforts by his contemporaries, these double choruses, fugues, and less formal contrapuntal passages never suggest a hand ruffling the shallows to give the impression of depth. Reinterpreted and given new dimension through Mozart’s finely colored harmonies, ever fresh and scrupulous melodic detail, and volatility of humors, these units show forth as brilliant reinventions, as refinements of the pastiche of his Salzburg masses, the rhetorical grandeur of the ‘Qui tollis’ for two four-part choirs the finest example. Moreover, in the tradition of the Salzburg works, he eggs and sugars the baroque pudding with galant touches: rococo and empfindsam enchantments from time to time take the lead, offering their tender beauties and with them textural contrast, as in the exquisite pathos of the ‘Et incarnatus’, the longest and most demanding of the three soprano solos shaped, so Constanze had it, for her voice.

During the stay in Salzburg he would not or could not complete the mass: that the project fell through his fingers may well have been the effect of a change of heart wrought by his recent and intense labors in Vienna upon a set of string quartets, arguing an aesthetic not of the evocative and reminiscent, but, rather, of their assmilation within a new style fully his own. Yet the mass’s incomplete state in no way compromises its distinction as a magnificent compendium juxtaposing the century’s musical vocabularies. Its wanting sections somehow made good, K.427 came to performance on 26 October 1783, the day before the Mozarts took their departure.

In Salzburg Mozart did compose, but alas for posterity, not an Agnus Dei for the mass. A bizarre turn of events led him to write a pair of works for the Archbishop. An ailing Michael Haydn, helpless to complete a set of six duos (for violin and viola) impatiently awaited at the Residenz, turned to the visiting Mozart to furnish the final two. He emulated Haydn’s style, and they passed as his.

Returned home at the end of November 1783, they found little Raimund almost three and a half months in his grave, the victim of dysentery. Epidemics, parasites and accidents wove a pattern of mortality permitting only about half the children of the time to survive infancy. Parents for the most part brought into the world at least twice the number of offspring they hoped to raise: “Birth is halfway to death”, observed Leopold Mozart, his two children the survivors of seven births. Mozart and Constanze mourned their “poor, round, fat and darling little boy”, who had looked so much like his father, “the face as if sculpted” after his. She would be pregnant early in 1784 – toward the end of January they moved from the Judenplatz to the Trattnerhof on the Graben – and their domestic world recovered its order and flourised, as did his career.”  

Maynard Solomon on the Great C minor Mass in his ‘Mozart – A Life’ biography :

“By its florid style, bravura solos and great length, it explicitly goes counter to attitudes toward and restrictions upon church music current in the Vienna of Emperor Joseph II, which limited the performance of instrumentally accompanied church music to the court chapel and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Similarly, it could not have been expected to please Salzburg authorities, whose archbishop held official views on church music very similar to those of Joseph II. In an archiepiscopal letter of 19 June 1780 Colloredo had called for the elimination of complex forms of church music and the substitution of German congregational singing. A pastoral letter of 1782 was directed, Eisen notes, “against the liturgy and the excessive ornateness and ostentation of parish churches”, and accompanied sacred vocal music was greaty discouraged. Mozart’s mass in no way reflected the official new Salzburg style, which limited duration to forty-five minutes and abolished solo singing and fugues. Clearly, he had no intention of compromising his effort to create a dramatically expressive, elevated church music style that transcended the Austrian mass tradition at the same time as it drew freely upon Italian sources as well as on Bach and Handel – made aware of the latter through his close association in Vienna with Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who promoted their music in private concerts there.”

Hermann Abert on the Great C minor Mass in his ‘Mozart’ biography :

“In the present chapter we shall examine only those works that reflect Mozart’s impresions of earlier classics in their freshest and most immediate form. The first and greatest of these works is the C minor mass K427, the genesis of which has already been recounted. Only the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus were finished. Of the Credo, only the opening section was completed in draft score, including the choral voices and bass. Only the most essential elements of the accompaniment are indicated here. In the ‘Et incarnatus’, too, the vocal line is written out in full, together with the obbligato wind instruments and bass, with the rest of the accompaniment merely hinted at.

(The mass was completed by Alois Schmitt of Dresden in 1901, and both the full score and vocal score of this completion were published by Breitkopt & Hartel in Leipzig. For the missing sections, Schmitt drew, in part, on other masses and, in part, on individual surviving sacred works by the composer. Individual endings were newly composed and various changes were made to the accompaniment,too. The arrangement has the great merit of having reintroduced the mass to the sacred repertory, yet the manner of its completion raises considerable doubts. (…) The only sections that can be welcomed unconditionally are the replacement of the ‘Et vitam venturi’ by the corresponding movement from K262 and of the ‘Agnus Dei’ by a repeat of the Kyrie, this last-named change inspired by the example of the Requiem. – Annotation by Cliff Eisen)

What distinguished this torso from all Mozart’s other masses is its tendency towards monumentality, a feature it really shares with only the Munich D minor Kyrie K341. The individual sections are developed on a scale previously unknown in Mozart’s works: the Gloria, for example, is in seven completely independent movements, a structure that reveals that in these large-scale complexes Mozart has abandoned his earlier attempts to use rondo form to impose a formal unity on these movements. Their sheer length, moreover, finds a counterpart in the resources that Mozart employs: whereas all his earlier choruses had been in four parts, there are now frequent examples of five-part writing and even an eight-part double chorus. In keeping with local practice in Salzburg, the orchestral forces include neither clarinets nor flutes but make up for this lack by drawing not only on oboes, bassoons and horns but also trumpets and timpani and even four trombones, although, as was usual in Salzburg at this time, these last-named instruments generally support the voices and only occasionally acquire an independent function.

But the most remarkable aspect of this work is the striking unevenness of its individual sections. Passages of an inspired magnificence that far surpasses anything found in the earlier Masses occur alongside others that bear the dusty imprint of a style that had long been out of fashion. Yet it is the more inspired passages – and it is significant that they are nearly all choral movements – that afford the clearest evidence of the influence of Bach and Handel, with even the opening Kyrie falling under this heading: it is a large-scale ternary structure, the third part of which is a slightly abbreviated and modified repeat of the first, with the ‘Christe eleison’ as its middle section, clearly set apart from the others in terms of its tonality and other features, thereby constituing an oasis of welcome relief within  more sombre picture. Unlike most of the earlier Kyrie allegros, this is a movement characterized by austerity and dourness and, as such, an audible echo of the impressions left by Bach. (…)

Perhaps it was the personal disappointments that Mozart endured in Salzburg that robbed him of any desire to complete this remarkable work. Not until 1785 was it to enjoy a curious resurrection in Vienna when Mozart was invited to provide an oratorio for the Tonkünstler- Sozietät concert on 13 and 17 March. In spite of the shortage of time, he accepted the commission as he saw it as a welcome opportunity to introduce the music of his mass, which he held in particularly high regard, to a larger audience. The chosen text was an adaptation of the popular oratorio subject of Davidde penitente, the author of which, hitherto unidentified, was no doubt one of the Viennese court poets. As we know from Johann Sebastian Bach, this retexting of existing music had never been regarded askance by composers of the older period, and the fact that these adapters often revealed a high degree of musical appreciation is clear from the present piece, the text of which is not only poetically impeccable but subtly adapted to suit the expressive content of the individual movements of the mass. All the existing movements were used with minimal changes, the only exception being the Credo, which once again remained unfinished (K469). (…) The result is a work – half oratorio, half cantata – that is bound to create an ambivalent impression on present-day listeners but which was not without importance for the Viennese audiences of Mozart’s day. The special status enjoyed by the Viennese oratorio under Fux had already been undermined by the modern Neapolitan style, but the very fact that Mozart was ablet o risk offering the public a work of such austerity and to call it an oratorio suggests that the old tradition was still very much alive. It was probably only in Vienna at this time that the independent handling of the orchestra and the elaborate artistry of many of the numbers could count on unanimous approval. Even so, the monumental grandeur of the choruses was a risk since, in the wake of Zeno and Metastasio, choruses had largely been suppressed in the Viennese oratorio as elsewhere, yet Mozart was still able to trust in the abiding appeal of the Fuxian tradition, and on this point he was not mistaken as Davidde penitente proved hugely successful not only in Vienna but elsewhere at German and foreign music festivals until well into the nineteenth century. “

St. Peter's Abbey Church and monastery, view from Hohensalzburg Castle - 2

St Peter’s Abbey was founded in 696 by Saint Rupert at the site of a Late Antique church stemming from the first Christianization in the area in the days of Severinus of Noricum. In the Middle Ages, St Peter’s was known for its exceptional writing school. In 1074, Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg  sent several monks to the newly established filial monastery of Admont in the March of Styria. In the 15th century, the abbey adopted the Melk Reforms. In 1623, Archbishop Paris Graf von Lodron founded the Benedictine University of Salzburg, which until its dissolution in 1810 was closely connected to the abbey. 

Stiftskirche St Peter

Stiftskirche St Peter 2

Kirche St. Peter © Erzdiözese Salzburg - Josef Kral

The present-day Romanesque abbey church at the northern foot of the Monchsberg was erected from about 1130 onwards at the site of a previous Carolingian church building, it was dedicated to Saint Peter in 1147.  One of the organs had been built on the rood screen in 1444 by Heinrich Traxdorf of Mainz. While the steeple received its onion dome in 1756, the interior, already re-modelled several times, was refurbished in the Rococo style between 1760 and 1782 under Abbot Beda Seeauer by Franz Xaver König, Lorenz Härmbler, Johann Högler, Benedikt Zöpf and others. The high altar is a work by Martin Johann Schmidt.  (wiki)

Mozart’s letter of 4 January 1783: from the book of Robert Spaethling 

Source of info: Wiki 

Photos © where specified,

credits specified there where available,

other images from the internet, assumed to be in the public domain.

DISCLAIMER – I don’t claim credit or ownership on the images taken from the internet, assumed to be in the public domain, used here. The owners retain their copyrights to their works. I am sharing the images exclusively for educational and artistic purposes – this blog is not monetized, and has no commercial profit whatsoever. Whenever I find the credits to internet images I am happy to add them. If you are the artist or the owner of original photos/images presented on this blog and you wish your works to be removed from here, or edited to include the proper credits, please send me a message and they will either be removed or edited. Thank you! 

Salzburg - Stift Sankt Peter 2


Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s