Confused by Mozart's Missa Brevis in C ("Sparrow")
  • I'm in a wonderful summer choir that is doing (among other things) the "Kyrie" from this work. I have to admit to a bit of confusion. Offhand, it would seem that the text, imploring as it does the Lord's mercy, would call for a musical setting that takes something of our fallen human nature into account. Instead we are in C major! We are triumphant, shiny happy people and we know it. The sopranos have trills and runs and a tessitura that would put a Six Flags roller coaster to shame. All this and trumpets, too.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsBEbWRarDg

    I must be missing something.
  • Anna,

    I don't know the Mozart Mass in question, but in the Ordo of Paul VI, the Kyrie isn't part of the penitential rite. (Yes, I know that Mozart died before 1969).

    Mass IX's Kyrie also some melismas, and wouldn't qualify as sad or somber.
    Thanked by 1Anna_Bendiksen
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,772
    The Greek "Kyrie eleison" is not simply a plea for mercy, which the Latin "Parce nobis, Domine" is, it is also an acclamation of praise. If my memory serves me correct, it was first used in the liturgy in the Eastern Empire in honor of the Emperor, later it was applied to the Almighty; When the West took it up Rome added the "Christe" invocation. Kyrie eleison didn't really become penitential until it became an option to replace the Confiteor in 1969. The tropes for the Kyrie in the pre-Tridentine tradition are often anything but penitential.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,602
    The Greek word eleos and its derivatives were used in biblical Greek to translate Hebrew chesed. A very rich concept of God's enduring love. [see] Older English translation often just use mercy, even where the Vulgate has misericordiam - tenderness of heart. The word eleison presents great problems in translating succlinctly, particularly as it is an imperative.
    As the 2002 RM tries to make clear, the modern tropes are not supposed to be confessions of our guilt but to "name the gracious works of the Lord". Unfortunately, when they published the 1969 RM they had left this part of the NO in a confused mess, which invited misunderstanding. They should IMHO have left the Greek, as the TLM wisely did.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,154
    You are not missing anything. While I can listen to and enjoy Mozart, he wasn't a composer of church music. He wrote in an operatic style and I have always been hard pressed to align his compositional style to what music in the church should be. I have said several times that I can't see the stylistic difference between his "Exsultate Jubilate," and "Queen of the Night."

    Kyrie: As an easterner I note that we must say/sing the Kyrie 20 or 30 times in liturgy - sometimes more. It is not just penitential but reminds us that we always need God's mercy. It is an ancient prayer and I don't know why the west has seemingly minimized it. In many churches in the west it is almost never used.
  • Caleferink
    Posts: 356
    The phrase Kyrie eleison is not ipso facto penitential. Throughout the liturgy (whether said/sung in Greek or Latin or English or whatever) we ask the Lord to have mercy upon us - the Gloria that immediately follows the Kyrie ("qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis..."), the Agnus Dei (same), etc. The Victimae Paschali of Easter ends with the word "miserere" - have mercy on us - and the Octave Day of Easter now has the "subtitle" Divine Mercy Sunday.

    As I myself have learned about this, I have gotten more and more annoyed when, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the priest selects the option of using the troped Kyrie for the Penitential Act itself. Think about it: what does the priest say (or at least what is he supposed to say) immediately beforehand? "Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries." In the Confiteor, of course, we explicitly acknowledge that we have sinned - "I confess...that I have greatly sinned...". In the rarely-used second form, we at least collectively acknowledge that we have sinned using the words of Scripture: "Have mercy on us, O Lord. / For we have sinned against you..." When it is done according to the book, where is the acknowledgment of our sin in that third form? And of course in the traditional Mass, the Confiteor and Kyrie are separate acts - the former being a Prayer at the Foot of the Altar, the latter being said at the altar itself after more prayers and then the Introit. It's little wonder to me, then, why so many have lost the sense of sin in general - lex orandi, lex credendi.

    Thus endeth the rant.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,745
    Personally, I like that Classical-era composers had confidence in God's mercy.
    Also, look at the whole tradition, not just chant (which has been brought up already) but polyphony as well. A Mass in Modes V-VIII is probably not going to sound very penitential to us.

    I'm an expression guy, but I'm aware that that probably puts me at odds with Pius X.
    Thanked by 1Anna_Bendiksen
  • Anna,

    I should add that I'm not a fan of Mozart, and that I share Charles W's difficulty in differentiating between his operatic work and his supposedly sacred work.

    (You've helped me find another point of agreement with Charles, so I'm grateful for that. He and I have (over the years) found only a small number of topics on which we share an opinion.)
    Thanked by 1Anna_Bendiksen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,154
    (You've helped me find another point of agreement with Charles, so I'm grateful for that. He and I have (over the years) found only a small number of topics on which we share an opinion.)


    We might agree on more if we were conversing in person, not in print. All the nuances disappear in print.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    I was probably the first person on this board to dismiss Mozart as a composer of sacred music if you did a historical analysis of the forum, but then, I was the first person to say a lot of things that put me in a corner, so to speak, over the years. So be it.

    Mozart treats most text in the same manner... flowers ruffled in your face built on a simple structure of predictable chords and florid vocal gymnastics. It is religious music at best, but I do not subscribe to the idea that it is sacred music per se... maybe there is a piece here or there that touches into that arena, but they are few.

    As Charles says above, he was an opera composer dyed in the wool. It is what it is.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 818
    Mozart treats most text in the same manner... flowers ruffled in your face built on a simple structure of predictable chords and florid vocal gymnastics.

    Mozart doesn't treat text in the same opera in the same manner, let alone between genres. There is compelling evidence that Mozart and many of his contemporaries attempted to create a "Classical sacred style" by incorporating Baroque polyphonic procedures into their language; there is a marked difference in style between their Masses and their theatrical works. You may not like Mozart or his works, but to dismiss him and composers like him as having no idea how to write for liturgies they regularly attended their entire lives is a bit silly to me.
  • Schoenbergian,

    I've never been a fan, although I do periodically undertake to get to like his music more. So far, with very little success.

    Your point is well made.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,154
    I though Mozart was a Mason? True? Anyway, I have always found his music affected, frilly, and rather fussy. I do think his late works were better than his earlier works. They seem to have a darker and more interesting quality to them. If I were looking for sacred works during that time period, I would go for Haydn rather than Mozart. YMMV.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    Schoenbergian

    You don't need to defend the man nor do you need to defend music or art... or wine... it becomes evident over time and with repetitive involvement... it becomes clearer and clearer then if it is good or if it is not, or if it is just mediocre or just plain lousy. This is the truth about all art and music... I did not say he didn't employ a technique... he has a technique, but it is one of flowers that drawn together always smell the same from work to work and piece to piece.

    I play his piano sonatas and study them. [So far his best work (in my opinion) is his fugue in C Major]. I play his Fantasia in D Minor often... I understand his theoretical approaches. For myself he is fun to play, but tiresome and repetitive to listen to. Just my take. Apparently you must rather like his works... yes?

    A simple point... the OP has stated that she is 'confused' by the music... does not that say something to you? Does that not bring a question mark into your mind? In other words, give her an answer to her question... why are you bashing my observation? I am simply giving her the answer I have in my own heart and mind.

    Give us your answer to the 'confusion'... I hold the same view... she is spot on!

    I have observed and listened to this composer for 50+ years. I continue to listen to his music, mostly because the general public likes to listen to their style of popular classical music... It's Mozart and Beethoven over and over and over ad nauseum... still, my opinions and feelings and observations do not change no matter how many times I hear the works.

    Why is not Bach played in the concert halls? His music is far beyond the reaches of Mozart and Beethoven, yet, it is almost never programmed there? Why is that?

    I think the issue is that the people running the music biz are more concerned about money and always default to program 'music for general consumption'... the music that everyone approves and is familiar with. Perhaps its just the old adage... familiarity breeds contempt.

  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 818
    Bach isn't played in the concert hall because his music doesn't transpose to that medium as easily as Mozart or Beethoven. Back when HIP groups didn't have a stranglehold over Baroque performances, conductors like Stokowski would regularly program orchestral transcriptions of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. Bach is still regularly heard from keyboardists, solo instrumentalists, and period orchestras and enjoys worldwide acclaim on the Internet, so I don't think money is the obstacle.

    To engage more specifically with the IP's point: Major-mode Gregorian Ordinaries and Renaissance Kyries like Aeterna Christi Munera (Palestrina) should show that the "upbeat" Kyrie is hardly a Classical invention. Many forum members have spoken on the distortion of the modern Kyrie as a purely penitential moment, which does not represent its full historic meaning. I would take issue with the "Coronation" Kyrie, but not this one. It is no more offensive to me than the examples I listed above.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    Thank you for your response... major is not an issue for me, nor is upbeat, nor is the source of the invention... what IS the issue is the composer's circus like treatment of the vocal technique... it is like watching a trapeze act outlined in musical passages that elicit a silly grin. For me, and maybe the OP, that is more the source of the confusion... music that is totally out of character and disconnected with and from the text. It's quite obvious, yes? In other words, the music is the driving force... and the text is tacked on... if you changed out the words you could easily substitute the following:

    "flocks of geese... are gathering on the pond"
    ... they're flying! they're gliding...
    seee eee e e e e e e them rise! ascending... ascending... ascending to the skies!
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,976
    I nearly always agree with Schonbergian, but here we have some difference of outlook. There is nothing more boring or stupid, tasteless or clownish than hearing Leopold Stokowsky's arrangements of Bach, famously, his transcriptions of Bach's preludes and fugues for organ with a modern 100 member symphony orchestra. This is the height of idiocy. It's like turning Bach into the 1812 Overture. Did he think that there was a dearth of genuine orchestral music? Do modern organists think that there is a dearth of organ music which has yet seen the light of day?
    Stowkosky was in my youth the director of the Houston symphony and even then at that tender age I thought that his arrangements were the most ridiculous (meaning inviting ridicule) music I had ever heard.

    As for Mozart, I believe verily that his sacred music is out of place in a mass (a mass of his time or any other). I shan't go into the reasons, but can still be moved by his sacred music as a religious exercise. It should be noted that the (to us) frivolous music of earlier times reflect the joy that people at that time associated with heavenly life No intended irreverence was so much as thought of. This is no more to be noted than in some of the French organ masses whose hearers believed that heaven was filled with dancing, Therefore our music should reflect that. The Gloria, parts of the Credo, and Sanctus of the B-minor mass (not to mention Mozart) are outstanding examples of such.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    Do you mean things like Toccata and Fugue in D minor? If so, I tend to agree...

    hearing his chamber music in concert is more what I was thinking, or even his Cantatas.

    Bach's music can transpose to ANY medium, and it can be done well, if it is carefully executed, with delicacy and finesse... it will however, never elicit a bombastic applause or a standing ovation... Bach will only sit you down into quiet or have you on your knees, but that is the nature of his mystical art... he is not theatre...

    Mozart is all theatre... even his Kyrie... (and the gloria which I just listened to) and Mozart, (and I have said this before) is the Michael Jackson of his age... One, Fooooour Fiiiivvvvvvvvveeeeeeee, ONE! ONe... one... the general public is in love! blech!
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,311
    Bach is not played in concert halls? What is the meaning of that assertion? I've heard Bach countless times in concerts.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • davido
    Posts: 470
    I think the Stowkosky arrangements are fabulous, and that disagreement on them is a matter of taste. Bach’s music is often grand and for those who value the colors of the symphony orchestra, and the richness of an early 20th century style and timbre, Stowkowsky arrangements can add profundity and dramatization to Bach.

    As for the Spatzenmesse, I think it’s pretty impressive stuff to be written by a 20 year old.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 818
    There is nothing more boring or stupid, tasteless or clownish than hearing Leopold Stokowsky's arrangements of Bach, famously, his transcriptions of Bach's preludes and fugues for organ with a modern 100 member symphony orchestra. This is the height of idiocy. Did he think that there was a dearth of genuine orchestral music? Do modern organists think that there is a dearth of organ music which has yet seen the light of day?
    Stowkosky was in my youth the director of the Houston symphony and even then at that tender age I thought that his arrangements were the most ridiculous (meaning inviting ridicule) music I had ever heard.
    My point was more that Bach was regularly played in the concert hall and had no popular or financial obstacles to its performance vs. Beethoven or Mozart. In Stokowski's defense, he was trying to introduce these organ works to an audience that may never have heard them before, in an age before we could easily play recordings of any Bach work at our leisure.
    For me, and maybe the OP, that is more the source of the confusion... music that is totally out of character and disconnected with and from the text. It's quite obvious, yes? In other words, the music is the driving force... and the text is tacked on...
    People have made very convincing cases that the text was also "tacked on" or "unimportant" with Renaissance works, since the polyphony made it incomprehensible and everyone knew the texts already. I disagree with both assertions. It's certainly not "quite obvious" to me that Mozart haphazardly set a text as straightforward as Kyrie eleison in his music. And the "vocal fireworks" are no more bothersome to me than many of Bach's contrapuntal tours de force for voices, although certainly less accomplished than his forefather's masterworks. (Then again, he learned the entire art second-hand from old scores when it was wholly unfashionable, and wrote K. 220 when he was twenty. It seems entirely excusable to me.)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    Bach is not played in concert halls? What is the meaning of that assertion? I've heard Bach countless times in concerts.
    The large city symphony halls in particular. It seems it is just the rotatation of the same mediocre works over and over... it's why I never darken their steps.

    e.g., I just reviewed these orchestra's season calendars: Baltimore, LA, Atlanta, Chicago and NY... there is one instance of Bach that I found on the BSO.

    What area do you live in? Perhaps you have more diversity of programming...
  • trentonjconn
    Posts: 181
    I live right next to a university town in the southern U.S. and their musical offerings are almost universally Romantic, with an occasional exception for Mozart. The Thomanerchor did come to town a few years ago though, which was nice.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    trentonjconn... do you go under the same ID as Liam?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,311
    "Mozart is all theatre"

    A fundamental misunderstanding of W.A. Mozart.

    Rather, if Mozart's work is to be reduce to all of one mode, it's all ensemble. The delight of Mozart is most easily experienced as as part of an ensemble performing his music - whether in a hall (theatre or church) or home. Mozart was perfectly capable of non-simple chord progressions. But his age followed one that had experienced satiety of that. It may be harder to grasp if one is primarily a soloist or accompanist to a soloist or congregation.
    Thanked by 1Schönbergian
  • trentonjconn
    Posts: 181
    Francis, I'm not sure I understand the question (or quip?).
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,676
    We ARE triumphant, shiny happy people - we’re Catholics going to Mass. Think of the Kyrie in a major key as a group of little tykes pleading before their beloved Papa incessantly that their friends be allowed to spend the night. They know he’s going to say yes.

    Yes, Mozart is theater- but are we to assume that God doesn’t enjoy theater as well?

    Mozart was a Mason and Bach was a Lutheran and Faure was an agnostic and Palestrina was a capitalist - am I missing any derogatory titles?

    Everyone’s talking about points of agreement on this thread, and how reconciliatory it feels. Quite the opposite for me. I agree with Francis on damn near everything- except Mozart. It’s refreshing to know there’s something upon which we differ. Musical sycophants are to be avoided.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • I agree with Francis on damn near everything- except Mozart.


    His Holiness?
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,772
    Not to pooh-pooh Masonry, but when one looks at history and notices that nearly everyone of any standing in mid-18th century Austria was a Mason, including, IIRC, the Archbishop of Salzburg, old Wolfie seems a bit less culpable.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,676
    The lodge to which Wolfie belonged was based upon “reformed Catholic Ideals”, FWIW
  • Stimson,

    Elaborate, please. What are "reformed" Catholic ideas?

    Salieri,

    If membership in a Lodge is incompatible with being Catholic and in the state of grace, does it really matter if everyone around who was anyone was a Mason?
  • Skladach
    Posts: 15
    "Kyrie eleison" in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and early Roman liturgy is the congregational response to a litany ("ektenia") of petitions. (Cf. the "Prayer of the Faithful" in the postconciliar Mass.) Therefore it was not necessarily penitential in character.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,976
    In reference to Scladach's comment just above -
    I have no idea in whose account I read this, but quite some decades ago read that kyrie is the vestige of what anciently a litany before mass. I recall no details about this.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,456
    OK... I take it all back. Mozart is just fine. You all go have fun with scales and arpeggios...
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,154
    The Kyrie is a litany. Still is every Sunday in my Byzantine church.
  • ScottKChicago
    Posts: 340
    This sounds like a friend of mine who clucks and rolls his eyes at "Mozart's happy Kyries." It's an appeal for God's presence and attention, not another confession of sin. Similarly, one of our late clergy started a practice of bowing during the Kyrie as a penitential posture, and others followed suit. One morning just before Mass, he asked the altar party, "Are we not bowing for the Kyrie?" and the MC just said, "That's a topic for another time." Liturgical manuals don't call for that, so no. I enjoy the joyful kyries anticipating God's presence, as much as the more subdued ones.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,593
    I think of the Kyrie eleison litanies in the Byzantine rite as an affirmation that we are placing ourselves in a right relationship with God; that we are always in need of His mercy, and we are seeking it, and we are trusting Him to provide it; and that is a reason for happiness.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,325
    There's more than one way to set the Mass, fortunately. Being raised on Beethoven & Haydn, I remember laughing out loud the very first time I heard Liszt's mellow, not to say laid-back dona nobis pacem.

    Something that still perplexes me is the 'un-full' reduced texture usually encountered at "pleni sunt caeli et terra'', which I still think Beethoven got right. When Isaiah's vision comes around in OT 5C it's Berlioz' Tibi omnes that has fill our Offertory slot, rather than a treasure from the cyclic mass repertory.
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 138
    I was once at a talk given by a priest. He commented on the Kyrie as not always being penitential. He talked about the example of a old southern grandmother being told that she had just won the lottery and her response being "Lord have mercy!" The response is not penitential but one of thanksgiving for the mercy the Lord has shown in the past and a prayer for His continued mercy and blessings in the future.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen a_f_hawkins