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Choral Music Notes - W.A. Mozart Ave Verum Corpus, K.618

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

Contents of this page:

  • Notes on the composition of the Ave Verum Corpus, K.618
  • Text and translation of the Ave Verum Corpus, K.618
  • Bibliography
  • Web sites with more information
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    In April of 1791, Leopold Hofmann, who was Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, fell gravely ill. Mozart, who had never been an avid composer of sacred music, nonetheless saw an opportunity to enhance his income, and maneuvered to succeed Hofmann. Towards this end, he turned his attentions again to sacred music, culminating ultimately with his Requiem. (As it happens, Hofmann survived Mozart, and died in 1793.)

    Mozart set the Eucharistic hymn Ave verum corpus in June 1791. This setting was dedicated to his friend, Anton Stoll, who was chorus master of the parish church in Baden, and it was first performed in Baden at the Feast of Corpus Christi.

    It is possible that Mozart set this hymn, mindful of the Imperial ban on elaborate concerted music, or it is possible that he was working with the limitations of Stoll's choir. One way or another, his setting is remarkable for its compact simplicity. There are a mere forty-six bars of music, with orchestral writing that serves to provide introduction, transition, and ending, and double the choral parts. The choral setting is simplicity itself, with the choir mostly singing the same text at the same time. This direct approach would suited a reform-minded Austria where textual clarity and brevity were all-important in church music.

    Mozart's setting is far from pedestrian or undistinguished. (It actually isn't even complete; the text below includes the last two verses, which Mozart omitted from his setting.) There is an unusual modulation from D major to F major at the text, "whose side was pierced, whence flowed water and blood,", and the simplicity is the sort that Artur Schnabel famously described as too simple for children and too difficult for adults (after all, simple music like this exposes any lapses of rhythm, intonation, or ensemble). And the music seems to encompass a universe of feeling in forty-six short bars.

    Chorus SATB; Strings, Continuo

    Ave / verum / Corpus, natum / de / Maria / Virgine:
    Hail / true / Body / born / of / Mary / Virgin,

    Vere / passum, / immolatum / in / cruce / pro / homine:
    truly / suffered / was sacrificed / on / cross / for / mankind

    Cujus / latus / perforatum, / unda / fluxit / et / sanguine:
    Whose / side / was pierced / from where or water / flowed / and / blood

    Esto / nobis / praegustatum / in / mortis / examine.
    Be / for us / foretaste / in / of death / testing

    O / Jesu / dulcis, / O / Jesu / pie, / O / Jesu / Fili / Mariae,

    miserere / mei. / Amen.

    Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary,

    who has truly suffered, and was sacrificed on the cross for mankind,

    whose side was pierced, whence flowed water and blood,

    Be for us a foretaste of heaven, during our final trial,

    O Jesu sweet, O Jesu merciful, O Jesu Son of Mary,

    have mercy on me. Amen.
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    Recommended Reading

  • Landon, H.C. Robbins. 1791: Mozart's last year. New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1999.
    An exhaustively detailed account of the events of Mozart's last year, by the person who edited the Eulenberg/Peters edition of the K427 score.

  • 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.
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    For more information:

  • Mindy Pechenuk on the Ave Verum Corpus
    A reprint from Fidelio magazine from 1996 exploring the mechanics of modal harmonies and how they tie into a Platonic interpretation of the work.

  • Studio Mozart essay
    Another essay on the Mass, written by John Ehrlich, music director of the Spectrum Singers of Boston, along with an MP3 file and a downloadable copy of the score.
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