The Missa Solemnis is a genre of musical settings for the solemn mass (as opposed to a modest Missa Brevis) which are festively scored.
Mozart’s K337 was written in 1780 when he was 24 and had returned to Saltzburg as court organist after his mother’s death. He produced a series of church works, including the Coronation Mass, during his brief return to the city, but found it confining and the following year moved to Vienna, where he met and married Constanze.
Leopold Mozart was a musician at the court of the Prince-Archbishops of Saltzburg, benefiting with his family from the generous support offered by Archbishop Schrattenbach who was a great patron of the arts. But his successor, Hieronymus Colloredo was less accommodating over the touring absences of Wolfgang and his father, and was no fan of fuss or lengthy compositions in the liturgy.
“The first three movements of K337 are in a style of which the Archbishop would most certainly have approved. The ‘Kyrie’ has a rather subdued opening but one which is solemn and penitential (not always the case in settings from this period).
The ‘Gloria’ stands in contrast with its bustling instrumental writing and energetic choral parts and moves through the text at some speed. Only in the final ‘Amen’ does Mozart allow himself a little liberty with two coloratura sections for the soprano soloist. The ‘Credo’ continues the energetic mood and uses a rondo-like form with Mozart repeating an infectious swinging motif throughout the movement.
After the ‘Credo’ things begin to change as Mozart starts to assert his own musical priorities as well as perhaps making a pointed gesture at Colloredo. The Archbishop had no time for fugues in music which could be lengthy and involved repetition of the text: he also disliked extended solos such as those sung by great divas in the opera houses.
The ‘Sanctus’ begins in a solemn style but leads to a rather cheeky ‘Osanna’. For the ‘Benedictus’ there is a real change of direction as Mozart uses a serious-sounding fugue in A minor and unusually makes no use of the soloists before the return of the ‘Osanna’. Even more mischievously, he writes a gorgeous aria in the contrasting key of E flat major for the ‘Agnus Dei’, one that belongs more to the world of opera than to that of church music, and which also features an obbligato organ part and exquisite oboe and bassoon writing.”
Andrew Carwood at Hyperion Records