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8.570231 - MOZART: Davide penitente / Regina coeli, K. 108
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Davide penitente, K. 469 • Regina coeli, K. 108

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child's birth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and elder daughter Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.

Childhood that had brought Mozart signal success was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like his father, Mozart found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in 1781, but after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna. There Mozart's dissatisfaction with his position resulted in a quarrel with the Archbishop and dismissal from his service.

The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financial difficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791, however, his fortunes seemed about to change for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute, and the possibility of increased patronage.

The greater part of Mozart's church music had been written during his years in Salzburg, where it fulfilled something of the requirements of his employment. In Vienna from 1781 he had other preoccupations, but in 1783 he had worked on another Mass setting, again with Salzburg in mind. In August 1782 he had married Constanze Weber, one of his former landlady's daughters and a cousin of the composer Carl Maria von Weber. He had done his best at first to conceal his relationship from his father, who disapproved of the match. It was not until a year later that the couple travelled to Salzburg, where Constanze might meet her father-in-law and sister-in-law. The occasion brought from Mozart his Mass in C minor, K. 427, a composition he had worked on intermittently and that was to remain unfinished, without a completed Credo or Agnus Dei. It was written in fulfilment of a promise to his new wife, who sang the soprano solo when the work was first performed at the Benedictine church of St Peter in Salzburg during the course of the couple's first visit there together. It was to this earlier composition that Mozart had recourse in 1785, when, at the height of his powers and fully occupied as a composer and performer, he was required to produce a composition for the Vienna Society of Artists, a charitable organization in which he had an obvious interest and in which he sought membership, since the Society took responsibility for the care of the impoverished widows and orphans of its deceased members.

For the new work, Davide penitente, a setting of an Italian text perhaps by Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart took his earlier Kyrie and Gloria, replacing the Latin text with the new Italian words, not always happily. He was, however, able to add two new arias and a new final cadenza. Davide penitente was performed in Vienna at the National Theatre in the Hofburg on 13 and 15 March 1785, with the soprano Caterina Cavalieri, a protégée of Salieri, who had sung the part of Constanze in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The second soprano was Elisabeth Distler and the tenor Johann Valentin Adamberger, Mozart's Belmonte. Leopold Mozart, who was visiting his son in Vienna, found his son's constant activity bewildering, but his surviving letters to his daughter only mention briefly the coming Tonkünstlersozietät concerts, which he must have attended. The orchestra employed was a large one, matched in size by the number of singers in the chorus. The programme at each of the two concerts was a mixed one, including the latest Haydn symphony and a chorus from the latter's oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia, with a chorus from Gassmann's Amore e Psiche, solo arias and instrumental contributions. The first concert also included an oboe concerto and the second a violin concerto played by Leopold Mozart's pupil Heinrich Marchand.

Davide penitente is scored for an orchestra that includes pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, and strings, with three trombones, and probably with keyboard continuo, together with trumpets and drums for the outer movements. The oratorio opens with the C minor chorus and soprano solo, with the full orchestra, 'Alzai le flebili voci'(I raised my weeping cries), using the Kyrie of the Mass in C minor. The second chorus, 'Cantiam le glorie e le lodi'(Let us sing the glories and praises), in C major, takes the opening of the earlier Gloria. The F major soprano aria, 'Lungi le cure ingrate'(Far away be thankless cares), with oboes, horns and strings, rewords the earlier Laudamus te. The A minor chorus, 'Sii pur sempre benigno, oh Dio'(Be ever gracious, O God), with the full orchestra, uses the original Gratias agimus tibi and is followed by a duet for two sopranos, 'Sorgi, o Signore, e spargi'(Arise, O Lord, and scatter your enemies), a D minor movement, accompanied by strings, a version of the original Domine Deus, Rex caelestis. The sixth part, a B flat major tenor aria, 'A te, fra tanti affanni'(From you, amid such troubles), with its final Allegro, 'Udisti voti miei'(You heard my prayers) is the first newly composed addition to the work, and uses solo flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, with two horns in high B flat and strings. This is followed by a G minor chorus with full orchestra, 'Se vuoi, puniscimi'(If you wish, punish me), with its dotted rhythms, using the original Qui tollis peccata mundi. The C minor soprano aria 'Tra l'oscure ombre funeste'(Amid the dark grievous shadows), with a flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings, is newly composed for Caterina Cavalieri. This is capped by an E minor trio for the soloists, with oboes, bassoons and strings, 'Tutte le mie speranze'(All my hopes) derived from the original 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus'and a concluding C major chorus, 'Chi in Dio sol spera'(Who hopes alone in God), the original 'Jesu Christe'and the polyphonic 'Di tai pericoli non ha timor'(Of such dangers he has no fear), initially more aptly matched with the traditional liturgical text, Cum Sancto Spiritu. To this Mozart adds a new cadenza that allows the soloists their final moment of glory. The chief interest of the whole work must lie in the two newly composed dramatic arias and the final bars, where text and music are better matched.

In 1770 and 1771 Mozart and his father were in Italy, and spent a few months at Bologna, where Mozart was able to study traditional counterpoint with Padre Martini. One result of the Italian journey was the Regina coeli, K. 108,written in May 1771 after their return to Salzburg. Scored initially for pairs of oboes, horns, trumpets and timpani, strings, soprano solo and four-part choir, with a figured bass for the organ, the celebratory C major first section is followed by an F major movement accompanied by two flutes and strings, with a florid soprano solo and a contrapuntal deployment of the choir. The A minor soprano solo that follows, marked Adagio un poco andante and setting the words 'Ora pro nobis'(Pray for us), is accompanied by the strings. The full orchestra returns, with the soloist and chorus, for the final Alleluia.

Keith Anderson

 

Sung texts and translations can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/570231.htm

 

 


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