Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mozart’s Paris "Failure"

On a windswept plateau between Minnesota and Iowa, on U.S. Highway 59, a Saturn Ion roars down the little-used highway to Melvin, Iowa.  A full moon greets the diver on the horizon as he navigates the patchwork of asphalt. During the day the scenery all around is farmland, but at night, under a full moon, the ice that carved the landscape spreads its mojo, and the many lakes, carved eons ago, scent the air with the unknown.

(Photo: Google Maps.)

Maybe it was the freedom.  I managed a vitamin store at the Northland Mall (out of business now), and commuted to Melvin, where reasonable rents helped stretch low wages.

There is no comparison to Paris, of course, but like Mozart, I was forced to work where I really didn’t really want to.  The Iowa Great Lakes were close (a summer recreation area), but not so much great classical music.  The only compact disc (CD) I had at the time was “Krönungsmesse."

Timed perfectly from the Northland Mall to the plateau on the Minnesota-Iowa border, the “Agnus Dei,”  or "Lamb of God" chorus in Mozart’s “Mass No. 15,” (or “Krönungsmesse"), capped the homestretch.  Yes, church music, even Mozart’s, is rather solemn, but it accompanied me, by default, every late-night.  And I soon found the music, and especially the Agnus Dei, exhilarating.

Because Mozart had failed to find meaningful employment in Paris, he created his “Mass No. 15 in C major” after returning to work in Salzburg.  It is true he was offered work as organist at Versailles, but it was a job he did not want. The visit to Paris was an especially unhappy one because Mozart's mother took ill and died there, June 23, 1778.  But it was because Salzburg was "out in the boondocks," that Mozart went to Paris in the first place.

According to the Aylesbury Choral Society, Mozart returned from Paris out of material necessity, and to please his father, took the position in the Archbishop's service.  With great diligence he discharged his duties, both in the cathedral and at court, and provided both with compositions of his own creation.  At the first opportunity in Salzburg, Mozart composed the Easter Mass, but he was not happy there.  Composers were a dime a dozen in Salzburg, and Mozart believed he was worth more.  The Archbishop fired him.

Mozart’s “Mass No. 15 in C major is a short mass (as opposed to a more formal or High Mass).  Mozart wrote about this in a letter:

"Our church music is very different to that of Italy," Mozart wrote, "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."

Thus the setting had be grand and ceremonial, but the mass also needed to have a compact structure, the Aylesbury Choral Society said.  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 (grant us peace) recalls the music of the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy) heard at the beginning.

All of this on a CD in a Saturn Ion — and years of listening (and research for this article).  In the old days such information would be difficult, if not impossible to find.  But today Youtube offers countless opportunities to find Mozart’s "Mass No. 15 in C major, K.317."  The translation of the Latin can be found easily too, and can be viewed here.  It can also be printed to follow the Mass in English.  But it doesn’t need a translation, not really.
The links supplied here also include several YouTube recordings.  There is a traditional recording too (minus the girls in the orchestra).  But the one shared below is the best.  The soloists in the Dona nobis pacem are weak for some reason, but there is an ad lib in the Agnus Dei solo, or a hint of one anyway.

Full moons, dark country roads, ice-age glaciers and 12-hour days at work.  Sit back, listen and enjoy.  Mozart’s return from Paris.  Remarkable.     


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