June 2016 Blog: Behind the Music

June 2016 Blog: Behind the Music

Director of Music Timothy Noon writes ahead of Saturday's concert with the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra which features an all-Mozart programme. In our June 2016 blog Timothy talks about the repertoire that the choir has been preparing ahead of the concert on 18th June 2016.

Ave verum corpus

Written in the final year of his life, the exquisite miniature Ave verum corpus may be seen to represent the apotheosis of Mozart’s journey as a composer. Its understated simplicity, consisting of just forty-six bars, with minimal performance directions, and plainly scored for four voices, strings, and organ continuo, belies the composer’s genius in successfully managing musical momentum, texture, text setting, harmony, and melody. It was composed for one of Mozart’s musical friends, Anton Stoll, for the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, on 17 June 1791 (225 years and one day ago).

Krönungsmesse (Coronation Mass) 

Although composed in 1779 as Mozart took up the position of organist at Salzburg Cathedral on his return to that city, the ‘Coronation Mass’ earned its nickname in the early nineteenth century after becoming the preferred music for coronations at the Imperial Court in Vienna. It’s easy to see why, as its blend of majestic formality and purposeful energy ensures that due solemnity is achieved, without the work ever outstaying its welcome.

The emphatic and stately opening of the Kyrie gives way to a more lyrical and flowing melody introduced by the soloists, and later recapitulated in the Dona nobis pacem of the final movement. A similar structure is used for the Sanctus, whose exuberant Hosanna appears at the end of the soloists’ gentle, eloquent and expressive Benedictus. The Gloria and Credo movements digest their text with efficiency, grace, wit, and style, as one might expect from the pen of the 23 year old Mozart. This makes the contrast of the central Adagio of the Credo at the words ‘Et incarnatus est’ all the more striking and effective. Perhaps the crowning glory of the Mass (no pun intended) is the extended soprano solo that opens the Agnus Dei, which, it has been suggested, may foreshadow the famous ‘Dove sono’ aria from Le nozze de Figaro, and which makes sets up an interesting comparison with tonight’s other soprano highlight, the Laudate Dominum of the Vespers.

Vesperae solennes de confessore 

This was the final work Mozart wrote for Salzburg Cathedral, though it was written only a year after the Coronation Mass. It was intended for liturgical use, on a saint’s day (though it is not known which saint).

The first five movements are settings of Psalms, each concluding with the Gloria Patri, and the work ends with a joyful Magnificat. The first three psalms are quick, bold, lively, and decidedly upbeat, with Mozart channelling all his compositional brilliance into a variety of techniques designed to thrill and engage the listener, including scales, arpeggios, flourishes, and melismas. The fourth movement is a strict Fugue, which uses minor mode chromatic harmony and counterpoint in a more forthright and demonstrative way, before the mood changes completely in the Laudate Dominum. This movement sets the psalter’s shortest psalm (117) for solo soprano, with the chorus waiting until the Gloria Patri to join in. It is one of Mozart’s finest melodies, and is a sublime showcase for the soloist, whose extended lines are gently supported by undulating strings. The final Magnificat opens with a stately adagio triplet figure, before changing into top gear for a carefree sprint to the finishing line, achieved with Mozart’s trademark charm and panache.

About the concert

The Cathedral Choir and Orchestra will perform the works above at a special concert on Saturday 18th June 2016 in Exeter Cathedral. Tickets are still available from 01392 285983 and online.

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