Monteverdi Choir - J. Eliot Gardiner
Mass No. 17 for soloists, chorus & orchestra in C minor (fragment, "Great Mass"), K. 427 (K. 417a) (1783)
On August 4, 1782, Mozart married Constanze Weber, the sister of the singer Aloysia Weber with whom he had fallen love in Mannheim five years earlier. Later that year he embarked on the composition of an ambitious and large-scale Mass in C Minor that was apparently intended as a thanks offering for his marriage. He intimated as much in a letter to his father Leopold dated January 4, 1783, when he describes the mass as half finished and "still lying here waiting to be finished." The word "still" is significant. Mozart generally worked fast once he had a work in his mind, his usual method of composing. For reasons that have puzzled Mozart scholars ever since, Mozart failed to complete his offering to his new bride. The torso that remains consists of completed settings of the two opening sections, the Kyrie and the Gloria, but the Credo breaks off after "Et incarnatus," itself lacking some of its string parts. Fragmentary sketches (mostly not in Mozart's hand) exist for the Sanctus and Benedictus, but the final Agnus Dei was not composed. Despite being still incomplete, the work was performed in St. Peter's, Salzburg, on October 26, 1783, under the direction of Mozart, and with Constanze (about whose qualities as a singer little is known) taking part. No record of that performance survives, so it is not known if she sang any of the elaborate soprano solos.
The work was clearly intended as a missa solemnis on a far grander scale than any of the masses he had written for Salzburg, featuring a diversity of styles that ranges from the Handelian grandeur of some of the double choruses to a number of florid arias in the Neapolitan style. Of these the "Et incarnatus" has become famous as a soprano showpiece. Mozart's newly-emergent interest in the works of Handel and Bach is displayed in a number of impressive fugal choruses in the stile antico, and the work, even in its incomplete state, has a power and intensity that sets it apart from any of Mozart's previous church music. A number of attempts have been made to complete the C Minor Mass using the surviving sketches. In 1785, Mozart himself salvaged much of the music he had composed for the mass for the secular oratorio David penitente, K. 469.
- Brian Robins
All Music Guide