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Choral Music Notes - W.A. Mozart Mass in c, K.427 (417a)

Dr. Jimbob's Mozart page, with a short biography

Contents of this page:

  • Notes on the composition of the Mass in c, K.417a
  • Translation of the Mass in c and notes
  • A note on performing editions
  • Recommended recordings
  • Bibliography
  • Web sites with more information
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    Notes on the composition of the Mass in c

    As a composer in the court of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Mozart naturally wrote a number of settings of the Mass service for performance at the Salzburg Cathedral. The Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II (who famously complained that Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglio had too many notes) sought to reform the Catholic mass service, and called for sacred music with short and relatively unadorned choral music, no aria-like solos and no choral fugues. The Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg preferred his masses to have this kind of simplicity, which would be easier for common parishioners to understand. As a result, most of Mozart's Mass settings are relatively brief, and mostly undistinguished.

    Mozart began work on a much more ambitious setting of the Mass text in the summer of 1782, after he had left the Archbishop's employ and no longer needed to write Mass settings. It remains unclear why he chose to start this setting; most of Mozart's compositional output was created in response to a specific need, whether that need was a commission, an upcoming concert, or an opportunity for publication. In the 1780's, Emperor Joseph II curtailed performances of complicated concerted church music to the court chapel and St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, so there would have been little opportunity to perform this work in Vienna. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that he received a commission to perform this mass elsewhere. The mass is only mentioned once in Mozart's surviving correspondence: in a letter to his father, Mozart promised a Mass if he could bring his wife Constanze home to Salzburg. Constanze herself recalled that he promised to write a Mass after her safe recovery from the birth of their first child. It has been suggested that this Mass may have been intended as a peace offering to his estranged father, who objected to his marriage, and as a hymn of praise for his wife, who ultimately sang one of the soprano solos at the work's premiere, in the fall of 1783, at St. Peter's Abbey in Salzburg. (Mozart got around the Archbishop's restrictions on elaborate concert mass settings by performing the Kyrie, Gloria, and Sanctus of this work at a monastery outside of the Archbishop's jurisdiction, with an orchestra and chorus augmented from the Archbishop's ensemble.)

    It is also unclear why Mozart chose to create a "cantata-style" mass. This style of composition developed originally in Naples in the late 17th century, and involved dividing the texts of the Mass movements into smaller chunks. Each chunk was treated as a movement which stood on its own, as opposed to the "through-composed" style where the entire text is sung from start to finish, without a break. Movements would often alternate between elaborate contrapuntal choral settings and operatic arias for one or more soloists. The cantata style was popular in southern Germany in the early 18th century, but by the 1780's, it was not possible to perform such large, elaborate settings in reform-minded Austria (among Haydn's many settings, for example, only the Cecilia Mass is set in the cantata style). Mozart loved opera and the theater, and this cantata style certainly had a natural appeal to him.

    There may have been another source of inspiration for this work. Shortly after Mozart's arrival in Vienna in 1781, he made the acquaintance of the Baron Gottfried van Swieten. van Swieten was one of the first patrons to promote the music of past masters such as Handel and J.S. Bach, a novelty at a time when most concert music consisted of compositions by the performers themselves. van Swieten owned a copy of the complete score of Bach's extraordinary Mass in b S232, probably obtained after meeting Bach's son Carl Philip Emmanuel in Berlin. C.P.E. Bach actively promoted the Credo from his father's score, and from an early period connosieurs recognized the extraordinary effectiveness of Bach's Crucifixus section, where a vocal lament-like passage is heard over a figure repeated thirteen times in which the orchestral bass slowly descends, half step by half step, over the distance of a fourth.

    It has been suggested that Mozart may have been moved to create this Mass in reaction to his first exposure to Bach and Handel. Mozart imitates Handel's dotted rhythms (the signal in Baroque France of the arrival of the King) in texts addressing the King of Kings. Mozart's Mass in c and Bach's Mass in b both have a rather impractical mix of choral deployments, with five-part choir with a second soprano part for modern-style choral writing, four-part choir for fugal movements, and double choir for the Osanna (though Mozart also adds double choir for the Qui tollis). The orchestral layout is a similarly idiosyncratic mix-and-match patchwork, with various members sitting out on various movements and a solo instrument in both works that has to wait through an hour of performance before accompanying a single aria. Mozart's setting has a number of movements where the bass section descends, half step by half step, over the distance of a fourth. And the choral fugues are among Mozart's first efforts to create counterpoint with Bach's complexity and subtlety. Thus, this may have been his first reaction and imitation of the Baroque style, much as he had imitated the locally popular styles when he toured Europe as a teenager.

    One additional mystery surrounding the Mass is why Mozart abandoned work on it with only half of the text set. The score that Mozart left behind includes a complete setting of the Gloria movements. The manuscript of the Credo leaves off before the crucifixion sequence, and a Sanctus was set for chorus and a Benedictus was written for an ensemble of soloists. The ambitious Osanna was scored for double choir, but the manuscript does not include the second choir part; Alois Schmitt reconstructed these parts from the existing manuscripts around 1901. No evidence of work on an Agnus Dei setting survives from this period, apart from a few preliminary sketches.

    The work was apparently halfway complete when Mozart performed it in Salzburg with his wife (what music, if any, Mozart used for the rest of that Mass service is unknown). Wolfgang and Constanze left Salzburg the day after the premiere, and Mozart never returned to his birthplace again. He also did not do any further work on the score after returning from Salzburg, though he did recycle this music to create a sacred cantata, Davidde penitente. It is possible that Leopold spurned his son's peace offering, and Mozart felt no compulsion to complete a setting that could not be performed in public. It is also possible that by the fall of 1783, Mozart had passed the creative crisis that he experienced after encountering Bach and Handel, and felt no need to further this compositional experiment.

    Experiment or no, we can still be grateful for the music that did survive. The movements that have been handed down are not a mere slavish imitation of the Baroque compositional style; the arias in particular have a distinctly Mozartian operatic flavor. And Mozart would eventually incorporate the Baroque style into his own personal style in most dramatic fashion in his final Requiem.

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    Texts, Translations, and Notes

    The left column contains the Latin text, plus a word / for / word / translation / where / necessary. The right column contains a more idiomatic English translation. The choral movements are as follows:
  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Gratias
  • Qui tollis
  • Cum Sancto Spiritu
  • Credo
  • Sanctus

    Kyrie: Chorus SATB; Solo Soprano; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Timpani, Strings, Continuo

    Kyrie eleison.
    Christe eleison.
    Kyrie eleison.

    Lord, have mercy upon us.
    Christ, have mercy upon us.
    Lord, have mercy upon us.
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    Gloria: Chorus SATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Timpani, Strings, Continuo

    Gloria / in / excelsis / Deo.
    Glory / in / highest / to God.

    Et / in / terra / pax / hominibus / bonae / voluntatis.
    and / on / earth / peace / to men / of good / will.

    Glory to God in the highest.

    and on earth peace to all those of good will.

    Laudamus te: Solo Soprano; 2 Oboes, 2 Horns, Strings, Continuo

    Laudamus te.
    Benedicimus te.
    Adoramus te.
    Glorificamus te.

    We praise you,
    We bless you,
    We adore you,
    We glorify you.

    Gratias: Chorus SSATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, Strings, Continuo

    Gratias / agimus / tibi / propter / magnam / gloriam / tuam.
    Thanks / we give / to you, / for / the great / glory / Yours.

    We give thanks to You, according to Your great glory.

    Domine Deus: Duet (Soprano 1 & 2); Strings, Continuo

    Domine / Deus, / Rex / coelestis, / Deus / Pater / omnipotens.
    Lord / God / King / of heaven / God / Father / almighty

    Domine / Fili / unigenite, / Jesu / Christe.
    Lord / son / only-begotten / Jesus / Christ

    Domine / Deus, / Agnus / Dei, / Filius / Patris.
    Lord / God / lamb / of God / son / of father

    Lord God, king of heaven, God the almighty Father.

    Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.

    Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.

    Qui tollis: Double Chorus SATB/SATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 3 Trombones, Strings, Continuo

    Qui / tollis / peccata / mundi, / miserere / nobis.
    Who / remove / the sins / of the world, / have mercy / on us.

    Qui tollis peccata mundi, / suscipe / deprecationem / nostram.
    Who remove the sins of the world, / receive / entreaty / ours.

    Qui / sedes / ad / dexteram / Patris, / miserere nobis.
    Who / sits / at / the right hand / of the Father, / have mercy on us.

    You who remove the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

    You who remove the sins of the world, receive our prayer.

    You who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

    Quoniam: Trio (Soprano 1 & 2, Tenor); 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, Strings, Continuo
    NB: The final sentence in this segment finishes with the text Jesu Christe. Mozart elected to cut off the phrase here, and reserve the completion of the sentence for the choir in the next movement.

    Quoniam / tu / solus / Sanctus.
    because / you / alone / holy

    Tu / solus / Dominus.
    you / alone / Lord

    Tu / solus / Altissimus ...
    you / alone / highest

    Because you alone are holy.

    You alone are the Lord.

    You alone are the highest, ...

    Cum Sancto Spiritu: Chorus SATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Timpani, Strings, Continuo

    ... Jesu Christe.
    Cum sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris,

    ... Jesus Christ.
    With the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father,
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    Credo: Chorus SSATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, Strings, Continuo
    NB: Mozart inserts the word Credo before the words et in unum Dominum and qui propter nos homines. These appear to mark structural divisions within the movement, rather than logical divisions in the liturgical text.

    Credo / in / unum / Deum,
    I believe / in / one / God,

    Patrem / omnipotentem,
    Father / Almighty,

    factorem / coeli / et / terrae,
    maker / of heaven / and / earth,

    visibilium / omnium, / et / invisibilium.
    visible things / all / and / invisible things.

    Et / in / unum / Dominum / Jesum / Christum,
    And / in / one / Lord / Jesus / Christ

    Filium / Dei / unigenitum,
    Son / of God / only-begotten

    et / ex / Patre / natum / ante / omnia / saecula.
    and / from / Father / born / before / all / ages

    Deum / de / Deo, / lumen / de / lumine,
    God / from / God / light / from / light

    Deum / verum / de / Deo / vero.
    God / true / of / God / true

    Genitum, / non / factum, / consubstantialem / Patri:
    Begotten / not / made / of one substance / with the Father

    per / quem / omnia / facta / sunt.
    by / whom / all things / made / were

    Qui / propter / nos / homines,
    Who / for / us / men

    et / propter / nostram / salutem
    and / for / our / salvation

    descendit / de / caelis.
    descended / from / heavens

    I believe in one God,

    the Almighty Father,

    maker of heaven and earth,

    and all things visible and invisible.

    And (I believe) in one Lord Jesus Christ,

    the only-begotten Son of God,

    and born of the Father before all ages.

    God from God, Light from Light,

    True God from True God.

    Begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father:

    by whom all things were made.

    Who, for us

    and for our salvation

    descended from the heavens.

    Et incarnatus est: Solo Soprano; Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Strings, Continuo
    NB: Mozart abandoned work on the Credo movement after this section. In the liturgical Mass, the next section would be the Crucifixus.

    Et / incarnatus / est / de / Spiritu / Sancto
    and / made flesh / was / by / Ghost / Holy

    ex / Maria / Virgine. / Et / homo / factus / est.
    from / Mary / Virgin / and / man / made / was

    And was made flesh by the Holy Ghost

    from the Virgin Mary, and was made human.
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    Sanctus: Double Chorus SATB/SATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Timpani, Strings, Continuo

    Sanctus, / Sanctus, / Sanctus,
    Holy / Holy / Holy

    Domine Deus Sabaoth,
    Lord / God / of Hosts

    pleni / sunt / caeli / et / terra / gloria / tua.
    filled / are / heavens / and / earth / glory / your

    Osanna in excelsis!
    Hosanna / in / highest

    Holy, Holy, Holy,

    Lord God of Hosts,

    the heavens and earth are filled with your glory.

    Hosanna in the highest!


    Quartet (Soprano 1 & 2, Tenor, Bass); Double Chorus SATB/SATB; 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Timpani, Strings, Continuo
    NB: The Benedictus features the quartet of vocal soloists for the first verse. There is then an orchestral transition passage which leads to a repeat of the last fifteen bars of the Osanna from the preceding movement.

    Benedictus / qui / venit / in / nomine / Domini.
    blessed / who / comes / in / name / of Lord

    Osanna in excelsis!
    Hosanna / in / highest

    Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

    Hosanna in the highest!
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    A note on performing editions

    For many years after Mozart's death, the Mass in c was thought to be a lost fragment, surviving only in the cantata adaptation, Davidde penitente, K.469. The first published edition of the Mass did not come out until 1840, after editor Johann Anton André located the fragmentary autograph score along with incomplete performance parts discovered in a monastery in Bavaria. This edition included the Kyrie and Gloria, the two incompletely orchestrated movements of the Credo, and a single-choir, five-part setting of the Sanctus and Benedictus.

    The next significant step was the publication of a new edition in 1901. The Dresden Kapellmeister Alois Schmitt edited a complete mass, recycling movements from other Mozart masses (which were much simpler settings and did not fit well with the elaborate music of K.417a) to fill out the missing parts of the Credo, and created an Agnus Dei from scratch, modeled on the Kyrie. These reconstructions have since been discredited, but Schmitt also made the important realization that the orchestral parts to the Sanctus and Osanna implied a setting for double four-part chorus, instead of the single five-part choir in the André edition. Schmitt reconstructed the double choir setting from the extant instrumental parts, since the instruments mostly serve to double the choir in these movements.

    I know of two commercially available modern editions of the Mass score. The one in widest use was edited by H.C. Robbins Landon for Eulenberg, and published in 1956 as catalog number 983. Landon excised the Schmitt reconstruction of the Credo and Agnus movements, reducing the former to the two extant Mozart fragments, and left Schmitt's Sanctus reconstruction largely intact. This edition is available in the United States from Peters. The other edition, from Bärenreiter, includes a speculative reconstruction by the German composer Helmut Eder of the two Credo movements, the Sanctus, Osanna, and Benedictus movements.  
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    Recommended recordings

    There are many fine recordings of the Mass in c. My personal favorite is John Eliot Gardiner's recording on Philips with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. Those on a budget can try searching the Berkshire Record Outlet for cut-out, or remaindered, recordings. Quantities of these are limited, one currently available recording which is decent is Philippe Herreweghe's recording on Harmonia Mundi.

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    Recommended Reading

  • Küster, Konrad (trans. Mary Whittall). A promise kept? The C minor Mass, K.427. In: Mozart: a musical biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p153-161.
    An interesting biopgraphy that approaches Mozart's life b commenting on pivotal works in his output. Outside of the forewords to various published editions of the Mass, this chapter was the only study dedicated to the Mass in c that I could find. It provides a nice summary of the latest, admittedly fragmentary understanding of this work's genesis, and also speculates on a possible link with Bach's Mass in b.

  • Gutman, Robert W. Mozart: a cultural biography. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1999.
    Not recommended as a first biography, but a fascinating read as an extended riff on Mozart's life. The more that you know about Mozart's life and his operas, the more you're likely to get out of this breathtakingly comprehensive survey of Mozart and the historical and cultural context in which he lived and worked.

  • Solomon, Maynard. Mozart: a life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.
    A thoroughly researched account of Mozart's life. Good for details on Mozart's life, though a bit heavy on the psychoanalysis for my taste.

  • Zaslaw, Neil, and William Cowdery, eds. The Compleat Mozart: a guide to the musical works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991.
    A comprehensive compendium of what are essentially liner notes for everything in the Mozart oeuvre, assembled for the Mozart bicentennial. The writing is a little uneven, but the coverage is impressively comprehensive. WW Norton does not have a page dedicated to this book, but the ISBN number is on the page referenced above.

  • Jeffers, Ron, ed. Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, vol. 1: Sacred and Latin texts. Corvallis, OR: Earthsongs, 1988.
    A really nifty volume with all of the Latin texts commonly used in sacred music, along with a word-for-word translation which inspired the format above, annotations about the texts and their backgrounds, and a list of examples of each text. Indispensable for choral conductors and singer-nerds like me.

  • Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor. New York: Schirmer Books, 1997.
    Okay, so it's not about the Mozart Mass in c. But this book is a comprehensive survey of the Bach Mass BWV 232, including a history of the Roman Ordinary and its settings in Lutheran/Catholic Dresden, the compositional history of the Mass, a movement-by-movement analysis of the work, and a history of its reception and performance practices. Useful for learning about more than just that piece.
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    For more information:

  • Hudson Valley Singers Mozart Mass page
    A slick, whimsical survey of Mozart's Mass and the elements of his life that pertain to the work, with an interpretation focusing on the attempts to reconcile family differences.

  • Essay on the Mass in c
    A brief introduction to the Mass, from a web site displaying the repertoire of the Pomona College Orchestra
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