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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Solemn Vespers
By Terry Williams
"'Solemn' Vespers by name only, as there is little that is solemn or mournful about Mozart's settings. Contemplative and often moving, certainly, but newcomers shouldn't be put off by the title of this disc. There is some quite extraordinary music here, written for Salzburg Cathedral with which both Mozart and his father were closely associated.
"Patrick Peire directs beautifully scaled, intimate performances. Capella Brugensis is ideal in this music offering pure tone and a lovely blend of voices. Naxos have a special knack for producing fine choral discs, and I'd rate this as one of their best. It makes ideal late night listening. As a taster, try track 6, 'Laudate pueri', from K339. Irresistible, I'd say. Sound quality is spacious but clear. Yet again we are in Naxos's debt for offering first class performance and recording at a (thankfully) ridiculous price."
Vespers and Vesper
The greater part of Mozart's church music, including his two settings of
Vespers and his setting of the Vespers Dixit Dominus and Magnificat,
was written for the Cathedral in Salzburg, where he, like his father,
served in the musical establishment of the ruling Prince-Archbishop, from 1772
Hieronymus von Colloredo. Mozart had been born into a musical family in
Salzburg in 1756 and was soon established as a child prodigy, his precocious
talents perceived and fostered by his father. The fact that Mozart died at the
relatively early age of 35 makes his achievement even more amazing, only
leaving regret at what might have followed.
Mozart's early years brought a series of more or less extended concert
tours, including performances at Versailles and at the English court. After
1772 leave of absence for his father, Leopold Mozart, Deputy Kapellmeister to
the Archbishop of Salzburg, was only granted with considerable reluctance and
the composer, now in paid employment to the court, suffered similar
restrictions. In 1777 he resigned his position in search of greater
opportunities that might be on offer in Mannheim or in Paris. After his
mother's death in the latter city in 1778, he returned to Salzburg once more,
now to be employed from 1779 as court organist. A visit to Munich in
1781 for the performance of the opera Idomeneo, commissioned by the
Elector of Bavaria, was followed by a summons to join his patron in Vienna,
where disagreement led to his dismissal. He now took up residence there,
marrying imprudently, winning early success but existing in increasingly
precarious independence until his death in 1791.
Mozart's first liturgical composition is a setting of the Kyrie, written
in Paris in 1766. His first Masses and sacred music for Salzburg began in 1769.
The office of Vespers was often allowed relatively elaborate settings for
performance on the eve of a feast day and on the evening of the day itself. The
liturgical form includes a series of psalms and the canticle, the Magnificat.
The present release opens with settings of the opening Vespers psalm, Dixit
Dominus and of the final Magnificat, completed in July 1774. These
are scored for trumpets and drums, three trombones, strings and organ, with soloists
and choir. Much of the first is homophonic, with occasional antiphonal writing.
The final Gloria introduces a moment of solemnity, before the
lively pace resumes in a contrapuntal final verse and Amen. The Magnificat is
generally more contrapuntal in texture, offering graphic illustration of the
words and ending in a fugal et in saecula saeculorum.
The two settings of Solemn Vespers that Mozart composed for Salzburg a
year apart from each other in 1779 and 1780 reflect the reformist tendencies of
Archbishop Colloredo, who had decreed that the settings of the words should be
concise and not structured operatically as arias and ensembles, as was the
style in Neapolitan church music of the day. In a letter to Padre Martini in
1777 Mozart had complained about the musical limitations on church music in
Salzburg, coupled with the continuing demand for trumpets and drums and so on.
Both these settings are relatively brief and rely little on repetition.
The earlier setting, the Vesperae solennes de Dominica, K321,
(Solemn Vespers for Sunday), was written in the same year as the well-known Coronation
Mass. Scored for soloists, choir, trumpets, drums, three trombones, strings
and organ, it includes five psalms and a final Magnificat. Mozart is
here breaking away from convention in his choice of keys, with a beginning and
ending in C major, but otherwise four separate keys – E minor for the Confitebor,
B flat major for the Beatus vir, F major for the Laudate pueri and
A major for the Laudate Daminum. There is contrast between the settings,
with the Laudate pueri, for example, a choral setting beginning in canon
and proceeding with a sure command of counterpoint, to be followed by a
coloratura aria with strings and organ for the Laudate Dominum. Remarkable
too is the final Magnificat where Mozart combines majestic choral
writing with contrasting passages for solo voices and an orchestral symphonic
The Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K339, (‘Solemn Vespers for a
Confessor’), was written shortly before the great opera seria for
Munich, Idomeneo. It is scored as before and the Laudate Dominum is
again set for soprano solo, this time one of Mozart's most serene melodies. The
six movements cover a wide range of keys with the opening and closing sections
in C major, passing through the keys of E flat, G, D minor and F. The writing
is mainly energetic with alternations between soloists and choir and a
conventional fugue for the Laudate pueri. It is with the conciseness and
imagination of these two settings that Mozart, far from being servant to church
music conventions, is already forging a new language for sacred music.
Collegium Instrumentale Brugense
Since its foundation in 1970, the Collegium Instrumentale Brugense has
become one of the most celebrated chamber orchestras in Europe. Under the
direction of Patrick Peire the orchestra is renowned for its historically
informed performances on modem instruments. The choice of modern instruments is
deliberate since it widens the scope of its repertoire, which ranges from
forgotten masterpieces of the baroque, such as Handel's Brockes Passion and
Telemann's St John Passion to contemporary works, including works
commissioned specially for the ensemble. In 1996 the Collegium Instrumentale
Brugense received a Grammy Award nomination for its participation in the
Naxos recording of Rossini's Tancredi (8.660037-38) and was awarded the
Municipal Cultural Council Prize in Bruges.
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MOZART: Solemn Vespers