MOZART: Solemn Vespers

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Wolfgang AmadeusMozart (1756-1791)

Vespers and VesperPsalms

The greater part of Mozart's church music, including his two settings ofVespers 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 1772Hieronymus von Colloredo. Mozart had been born into a musical family inSalzburg in 1756 and was soon established as a child prodigy, his precocioustalents perceived and fostered by his father. The fact that Mozart died at therelatively early age of 35 makes his achievement even more amazing, onlyleaving regret at what might have followed.

Mozart's early years brought a series of more or less extended concerttours, including performances at Versailles and at the English court. After1772 leave of absence for his father, Leopold Mozart, Deputy Kapellmeister tothe Archbishop of Salzburg, was only granted with considerable reluctance andthe composer, now in paid employment to the court, suffered similarrestrictions. In 1777 he resigned his position in search of greateropportunities that might be on offer in Mannheim or in Paris. After hismother'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 in1781 for the performance of the opera Idomeneo, commissioned by theElector 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 increasinglyprecarious independence until his death in 1791.

Mozart's first liturgical composition is a setting of the Kyrie, writtenin Paris in 1766. His first Masses and sacred music for Salzburg began in 1769.

The office of Vespers was often allowed relatively elaborate settings forperformance on the eve of a feast day and on the evening of the day itself. Theliturgical form includes a series of psalms and the canticle, the Magnificat.

The present release opens with settings of the opening Vespers psalm, DixitDominus and of the final Magnificat, completed in July 1774. Theseare scored for trumpets and drums, three trombones, strings and organ, with soloistsand choir. Much of the first is homophonic, with occasional antiphonal writing.

The final Gloria introduces a moment of solemnity, before thelively pace resumes in a contrapuntal final verse and Amen. The Magnificat isgenerally more contrapuntal in texture, offering graphic illustration of thewords and ending in a fugal et in saecula saeculorum.

The two settings of Solemn Vespers that Mozart composed for Salzburg ayear apart from each other in 1779 and 1780 reflect the reformist tendencies ofArchbishop Colloredo, who had decreed that the settings of the words should beconcise and not structured operatically as arias and ensembles, as was thestyle in Neapolitan church music of the day. In a letter to Padre Martini in1777 Mozart had complained about the musical limitations on church music inSalzburg, 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 CoronationMass. Scored for soloists, choir, trumpets, drums, three trombones, stringsand organ, it includes five psalms and a final Magnificat. Mozart ishere breaking away from convention in his choice of keys, with a beginning andending 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 andA major for the Laudate Daminum. There is contrast between the settings,with the Laudate pueri, for example, a choral setting beginning in canonand proceeding with a sure command of counterpoint, to be followed by acoloratura aria with strings and organ for the Laudate Dominum. Remarkabletoo is the final Magnificat where Mozart combines majestic choralwriting with contrasting passages for solo voices and an orchestral symphonictexture.

The Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K339, ('Solemn Vespers for aConfessor'), was written shortly before the great opera seria forMunich, Idomeneo. It is scored as before and the Laudate Dominum isagain set for soprano solo, this time one of Mozart's most serene melodies. Thesix movements cover a wide range of keys with the opening and closing sectionsin C major, passing through the keys of E flat, G, D minor and F. The writingis mainly energetic with alternations between soloists and choir and aconventional fugue for the Laudate pueri. It is with the conciseness andimagination of these two settings that Mozart, far from being servant to churchmusic conventions, is already forging a new language for sacred music.

Collegium Instrumentale Brugense

Since its foundation in 1970, the Collegium Instrumentale Brugense hasbecome one of the most celebrated chamber orchestras in Europe. Under thedirection of Patrick Peire the orchestra is renowned for its historicallyinformed performances on modem instruments. The choice of modern instruments isdeliberate since it widens the scope of its repertoire, which ranges fromforgotten masterpieces of the baroque, such as Handel's Brockes Passion andTelemann's St John Passion to contemporary works, including workscommissioned specially for the ensemble. In 1996 the Collegium InstrumentaleBrugense received a Grammy Award nomination for its participation in theNaxos recording of Rossini's Tancredi (8.660037-38) and was awarded theMunicipal Cultural Council Prize in Bruges.

Disc: 1
Vesperae solennes de Confessore
1 Dixit
2 Magnificat
3 Dixit
4 Confitebor
5 Beatus vir
6 Laudate pueri
7 Laudate Dominum
8 Magnificat
9 Dixit
10 Confitebor
11 Beatus vir
12 Laudate pueri
13 Laudate Dominum
14 Magnificat
Disc: 4
Dixit and Magnificat, K. 193
1 I. Dixit
2 II. Magnificat
3 I. Dixit
4 II. Confitebor
5 III. Beatus vir
6 IV. Laudate pueri
7 V. Laudate Dominum
8 VI. Magnificat
9 I. Dixit
10 II. Confitebor
11 III. Beatus vir
12 IV. Laudate pueri
13 V. Laudate Dominum
14 VII. Magnificat
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