By Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D
Loyola Marymount University
Roger Wagner has long been recognized as a leading exponent of and craftsman in the production of Renaissance choral music. Choirs are likewise indebted to him for his numerous deftly arranged carols, folksongs, shanties, and ballads. He has moreover composed secular and sacred music. In the latter category his Mass in Honor of St. Francis in the pre-Vatican II liturgical style received frequent performances. This evening marks the world premiere of his celebratory motet in the Venetian Choral idiom, Jubilate Deo omnis terra, Alleluia (Psalm 100) for four choruses. The motet will be prefaced by the chant melody used in the motet, which will likewise be recapitulated at the close of the motet.
Never before has a city's cultural resources been so magnificently exploited for the glorification of the Christian State as in Renaissance Venice. There, ecclesiastical and state ceremonial combined to produce art and music magnifying the city's patronal feasts, ducal coronations, and naval triumphs. Whether from the double choir lofts of St. Mark's Cathedral or from its balcony overlooking the Piazza, the Gabrielis, Andrea and Giovanni, employed organs, wind instruments and multiple choirs to enhance these festivals.
Andrea's twelve-voice three-choir Magnificat, published in 1587, set a standard for the Venetian polychoral style which would reverberate throughout Europe.
Giovanni produced the splendid Jubilate Deo as part of his Sacrae Symphoniae commissioned in 1597 to celebrate the coronation of the wife of Doge Marino Frimani. Jubilate, for two four-part choirs, one of women and one of men, has often been regarded as the greatest single motet ever composed.
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) exerted tremendous influence throughout Europe on the formation of violin playing, both as a solo instrument and as an orchestral instrument. Such was the case even though the number of his compositions embracing trio sonatas, solo violin sonatas, and concerti grossi were small. The Sarabanda, Giga, and Badinerie are three movements for string orchestra typical of his vivacious and intimate style of expression.
The short-lived Slovenian composer Jacob Petelin (1550-91) has come down to us known as Gallus, the name he signed to the majority of his 445 motets. It is the Latin translation of Petelin, meaning 'rooster' which translated into German became the name we know him best by today, Handl. His service to bishop and emperor demonstrated his complete mastery of the contrapuntal art and of the Venetian polychoral style. His art is superbly exemplified in his great motet for double chorus on the Lord's Prayer, Pater Noster.
This evening's performance of Morten Lauridsen's Mid-Winter Songs provides increasing evidence that their composer is well on his way toward achieving that enviable reputation which has distinguished his teachers, among others, Halsey Stevens and Ingolf Dahl.
Born in 1943, a native of Washington State, Lauridsen attended Whitman College and the University of Southern California. He has since attained the rank of Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition at USC.
A recipient of numerous grants, prizes, and commissions, he has composed for and been performed by such artists as Canadian Brass trumpeter Ronald Romm, the Yoav Chamber Ensemble, Tchaikovsky Gold Medalist Nathaniel Rosen, the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra, and Geneva Gold Medalist Juliana Gondek. His many published works are performed throughout the United States and have been recorded on no less than four labels.
With respect to Mid-Winter Songs Lauridsen provides the following commentary.
''Robert Graves' poetry demonstrates a remarkable blend of historical scholarship and craftsmanship combined with a real warmth and understanding in writing about human conditions. In examining his complete works, six poems with related themes (Nature, Love and Winter) suggested cohesive musical setting.
"In contrast to recent abstract, atonal works (particularly my setting of Lorca texts for the Yoav Chamber Ensemble), the compositional approach in Mid-Winter Songs is more classic in terms of harmony, form and melody, and the emphasis is on a clear and lucid choral setting, making the text easily comprehensible to the listener.
''The warmth of the poetry is also reflected in the more consonant choice of melodic and harmonic intervals. The several distinct melodic themes recurring throughout the work tie the pieces together musically:”
The Mid-Winter Songs were commissioned by the University of Southern California on the occasion of its Centennial in 1980 and premiered in 1981 by the USC Chamber Singers. On April 12, 1983, conductor Robert Duerr presented the Mid-Winter Songs in a version for chorus and orchestra, which he had commissioned, in Ambassador Auditorium with the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra and Chorus. The work was again presented in 1984 at the convention of the American Choral Directors Association by the Bend Kammerchor conducted by Jo-Michael Scheibe. Moreover, they have received the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Work at USC and have been recorded by Rodney Eichenberger and the USC Chamber Singers in their album Musica Sacra et Profana.
Two choral/orchestral works exhibiting Mozart's most profound genius both remain unfinished torsos, the Requiem in D (K. 626) and the Great Mass in C-minor (K. 427/417a). Both remain enigmatic relics with respect to the circumstances of their composition and incompleteness. In all likelihood we shall never probe satisfactorily the reasons why they remained torsos, even though both in the course of the Twentieth Century have been the subjects of intense investigation respecting their origins and compositional fabric. An excellently comprehensive article by P. Paul Crabb in the August, 1985 issue of The Choral Journal has furnished a lucid summary in Part One of the circumstances and influences in Mozart's life contributing to the Mass's composition and in Part Two, of the possible reasons why it was left incomplete.
Briefly, Mozart commenced the Mass in January, 1783, in fulfillment of a vow he had made to the Virgin Mary imploring her intercession in restoring health to his wife Constanza. There is no doubt that his marriage to her in 1782 was a love match and that he was very happy with her. He had made several attempts to go to Salzburg to introduce Constanza formally to his father, Leopold, and his sister, Nannerl. In the last analysis, the delays were probably caused by the press of his teaching duties, the continuing successful performances of his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio and Constanza's pregnancy. Mozart and Constanza, leaving their new-born son Raymond Leopold with a foster mother in Vienna (he died three weeks after their departure), arrived in Salzburg in mid-summer, 1783, and there they remained until after October. This lengthy sojourn would seem to put to rest the supposition that Leopold and Nannerl bore enduring antipathy to Constanza.
The Great Mass in C-minor received its premier performance on October 25, 1783 in the Benedictine Abbey Church of St. Peter, Salzburg, with Constanza as one of the soprano soloists. Even at this time the Mass was most likely still incomplete, lacking the second half of the Credo from the "Crucifixus" onward and the whole of the Agnus Dei. How the missing parts were supplied at that October liturgy remains a matter of pure speculation. Mozart likely chose segments from others of his Masses. He never completed it, probably because it was not a commissioned work and because of the pressures exercised on him from his efforts in Vienna to secure recognition there in compositional areas more likely to earn him a living.
The Mass has survived in fragmentary autograph manuscripts and in an important published edition of 1840 by that collector of Mozart manuscripts, Johann Anton Andre. In 1901, Alois Schmitt produced a completed version of the Great Mass in which he supplied the missing parts of the Mass from sections of Mozart's other Masses and from a fragment of a Requiem of Johann Eberlin which he mistakenly attributed to Mozart.
In 1956, the renowned Mozart scholar H.C. Robbins Landon produced a much more authentic and definitive edition of the C-minor Mass. He simply resorted to the solution of leaving the work a majestic torso. It is this edition which prevails today in almost every performance or recording. It is the edition used in this evening's performance.
The Mass exhibits such a marked advance in Mozart's style that no previous Mass he composed, excellent though they may be in their own right, can hold a candle to it. What contributed to the Great Mass in C-minor's profoundly monumental and spiritual character? As Henri Gheon wrote fifty-one years ago (In Search of Mozart): "The moment the "Kyrie" begins one feels oneself in the presence of a different art. Bach and Handel had passed that way. Maturity has come. It was a gigantic movement that Mozart designed.” Certainly from 1934 to the present, Gheon's judgment of the Mass in C-minor has continually been reinforced: "Such as it is, the Mass is one of the very summits in the mountain chain of his masterpieces. It is time that it was given its true place between the Mass in B-minor of Bach and the Missa Solemnis in D of Beethoven:'
If we are to appreciate the magnificent variety of style exhibited in this Cantata-style Mass, we must see in it Mozart's masterly assimilation of almost all the streams of contemporary European musical art. Whether Italian, Austrian, or North German, he forged these musical elements into his unique and integrated style. Through it, he imbued the Mass texts with deeply spiritual understanding.
It is bootless to discuss whether the florid Italianate soprano arias, "Christe eleison," "Laudamus te," and "Et incarnatus est" are liturgical music. Mozart and his contemporaries would never have comprehended the distinction made by the reforming musical liturgist of the Nineteenth Century between "secular" and "sacred" musical style. Mozart simply brought to bear on the liturgical text all of the resources of his art in the context of accepted Austrian liturgical triumphalism.
Let us observe some of the contrasting characteristics of the Mass's Cantata movements. Gheon has asked in his penetrating analysis of the Mass whether the "Kyrie" and "Qui Tollis" movements have ever received a more profound expression of our innate spiritual unhappiness reflective of Augustine's words: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts cannot rest until they rest in Thee.” All recognize the greatness of these settings.
Gheon then grappled with those so-called operatic thrills and embroideries of the "Et incarnatus est:' This concerto for soprano, flute and orchestra is viewed by many as the quintessence of Mozart's supposed frivolous and worldly attitude in church music.
If I resort to Henri Gheon's analysis once again, it is because this perceptive Frenchman, converted from atheism to Catholicism, exhibits a subtle understanding of Mozart's approach to the Mass text from a perspective influenced by the ideals of Gregorian Chant and its free melodic flow, paragons of liturgical music productive of prayer and praise.
''A subtle orchestra, modulating deliciously, used every means to make it (the soprano’s and flute's melodies) as irresistible, pleasing, and seductive as possible. But what incurable worldliness, it will be asked, made Mozart choose all the most profane resources of his art to express the profoundest mystery of the Catholic religion, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin and the Incarnation of God? We have only to listen attentively. No one can deny that the orchestra, until the entry of the flute, possesses all the solemn grace becoming the Salutation of the Angel, and the delicacy relating to such a secret. It is a spiritual caress in which the senses are omitted. And can anyone deny the wonderful accuracy of expression of the opening phrases, ''Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, etc”? One thing is clear enough, that the movement never for a moment forsakes the attitude of recollection from which it started. Without losing the spirit of mystery, it rises to pure melody, free melody, to melody for melody's sake, the untranslatable expression of beauty, purity, and joy ... a hymn of thanksgiving struggling to join the free and penetrating song of the angels. After all, Gregorian Chant does nothing else when it curls and uncurls its single thread of praise. And Mozart here was imitating it, inspired by pagan models."
By way of summary, Karl Geiringer provides us with a succinct overview of this great work together with an insight into its stylistic characteristics. "In its monumental grandeur and its decided leaning towards baroque polyphony, the C-minor Mass clearly reveals the tremendous influence of Bach and Handel, whose works Mozart was studying. Yet the Mass is anything but a mere copy of the past style. In all its parts, it is imbued with the peculiar sweetness and nostalgic tenderness which form so important a component of Mozart's own language; and within his sacred works, the C-minor Mass marks a peak of artistic achievement which Mozart was to exceed only in his very last work.”