The C Minor Mass
Wolfgang A. Mozart
Presbyterian Church
Eugene Sirotkine
From the Met Chorus
The Hudson Valley Singers
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The Inextricable OppositesA Family Torn AsunderThe C Minor mystery
His disastrous job hunting tour behind him, a heart-broken Wolfgang returned to Salzburg in January 1779. His father Leopold remained angry and bitter over his wife's untimely death in Paris — a loss for which he forever blamed Wolfgang.

Still, Leopold begged the Prince Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo to hire his son as Court Organist. It was a lowly position for a musician of Wolfgang's caliber, made all the more so by the Archbishop's low opinion of musicians to begin with. But the Mozarts needed the money.

That is not to say they suffered their indignity in silence. Both father and son were unable to fully conceal their festering discontent, yet they were very careful not to actually bite the unenlightened hand that was feeding them.

Wolfgang toiled in Salzburg for nearly two years. During this time he composed some of his most sophisticated sacred music, including the C Major Mass (K.317) and the incomparable Vesperae Solennes (K.339).

A flight to freedom and to manhood

Wolfgang was quite unexpectedly commissioned by the Bavarian Court in Munich to compose and stage a new dramatic opera — Idomeneo. Free at last, he left for Munich in November of 1780.

Wolfgang dove into the project with a renewed sense of vigor and purpose, hoping the engagement would result in a permanent position far away from the controlling interests in Salzburg. Though the opera was a tremendous success, no such position was offered.

On the verge of his 25th birthday and yearning for a life of his own choosing, Wolfgang remained intimidated by his father. He chafed under Leopold's well-intentioned but suffocating influence. Unwilling to confront his father, Wolfgang used the Archbishop as the convenient lightning rod for all of his discontent.

In a letter to Leopold, Wolfgang writes, "I am remaining in Salzburg only for your sake…the Prince is getting more insufferable every day." A few sentences later he confesses, "I'll do anything in the world to please you - although it would be easier for me if once in a while I could get away for a short time just to breathe freely."

As always , he signs the letter "your most obedient son."

A young man finds himself

Wolfgang lingered in Munich, basking in acclaim over Idomeneo with a reawakened sense of self worth. He had grown quite accustomed to breathing freely and had thoroughly outgrown his feelings for "the Weber girl."

In March of 1781, the Archbishop ordered his Court Organist to accompany his entourage to Vienna. (In yet another snub of Leopold, Wolfgang was the only Mozart who was asked to make the journey to the music capital of Europe.)

Wolfgang fires the Prince - Leopold goes ballistic

The only thing the Archbishop and Wolfgang had in common was a feeling of utter contempt for the other. It took barely two months for the inevitable eruption to occur.

Colloredo repeatedly humiliated Wolfgang in front of others. "Knave" and "slovenly fellow" escalated to "scoundrel" and "lousy rogue," which culminated in "cretin" and "miserable scum." Wolfgang's honor could take no more and in May he does the unimaginable.

In an unprecedented violation of protocol, the lowly Court Organist lashed out at the high-and-mighty Prince Archbishop and declared himself free of his indentured servitude.

With no other means of support, Wolfgang suddenly found himself in the equally unprecedented role of freelance composer. Fortunately for him he was in Vienna and not Salzburg — close to many wealthy patrons and far from the father that wanted to wring his neck.

Leopold was beside himself with rage. He invested everything he had into seeing Wolfgang attain the fame and fortune he was never able to attain for himself. Now he sees his "irresponsible" son throw it all away in grand fashion.

Leopold sides with the Prince Wolfgang feels betrayed

Wolfgang was crushed to see the man he loved above all others take the side of the man he loathed above all others. He may have broken free of the Prince, but he was still under his father's yoke.

In yet another symbolic act of dominion and rebuke, Leopold demands that Wolfgang send the portrait of his mother back to Salzburg.

But Wolfgang's resolve was steadfast. He not only stood up to his father, he also repeatedly insisted that the Archbishop's Chief Steward deliver his letter of resignation to the Prince.

Finally fed up with the insolence of the ex-organist, the Chief Steward physically threw Wolfgang out of his office. The only thing he ever delivered was a swift kick to Wolfgang's derriere on his way out the door.

The return of the Weber women

Needing a place to stay, Wolfgang turned to the only person he knew in Vienna: the now widowed mother of Aloysia Weber. (The Weber family moved to Vienna the year before; Aloysia remained in Munich where she sang for the German Opera.)

Frau Weber took Wolfgang in as a tenant, a kindness for which he was very grateful.

Leopold took a far different view. His naïve and spectacularly unemployed son was now living in the home of a woman with three young daughters. No possible good could come of this, that much was clear to him. Also clear (and perhaps most upsetting of all) was the degree to which he was losing control of his son's destiny.

Frau Weber schemes Leopold seethes

All summer long, nasty rumors were flying about Wolfgang and Constanze, that "other" Weber girl.

An outraged Leopold insisted that Wolfgang find other quarters, and in September the son dutifully obeyed. But he continued to visit the Weber household on a daily basis.

Wolfgang was falling in love again.

Of course, the young freelance composer was very well known among the Viennese musical elite by this time. Jealous of his genius, Antonio Solieri and all the others were more than happy to fan the flames of innuendo. But they were mere pawns in an extortionate plot hatched by none other than Frau Weber herself. It was she who fabricated the rumors. And it was she who made sure they reached all the way to Salzburg.

Why? So she would benefit financially whether Wolfgang married her daughter or not.

Her plan was to force Wolfgang to sign a marriage contract — and hence "save Constanze's honor." The contract stipulated that Wolfgang pay Frau Weber a tidy annual allowance for life if he fails to marry Constanze by a certain date. (She pulled the same trick on Aloysia's hapless husband, too.)

And of course he fell for it.

But Constanze knew full well how to protect her own honor. The ink had barely dried on the contract when she snatched it from her mother and tore it up (as she later did with nearly all of Leopold's letters on the subject).

A vow to compose a grand mass

It was in November of 1781 when Wolfgang made a solemn vow to his beloved Constanze. If she married him he would write for her a magnificent Mass, the finest ever composed.

This Weber girl might not have had the looks and the talent of her older sister, but at least she had the good sense to accept the proposal.

His first artistic crisis — counterpoint

Over the next several months Wolfgang was introduced to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The brilliant counterpoint so characteristic of Bach's work was decidedly out of vogue in the late eighteenth century.

Wolfgang became enamored with the form and began to compose fugues of his own, most of which he never finished. Unlike every other musical form, Wolfgang had a remarkably difficult time mastering counterpoint.

Mozart scholars agree, however, that his ultimate triumph over this artistic crisis is heard in the C Minor Mass.

The showdown — whose life is it anyway?

Only Constanze and Wolfgang understood the depth of their love. Perhaps because they were both very childlike in many respects, they opened their hearts to each other in ways that their embittered parents could no longer conceive.

Leopold was still unable to accept the fact that his child prodigy had become a man. And he deeply distrusted the entire Weber clan, refusing to believe that even the kind-hearted Constanze was sincerely in love with his son.

He spent the past 22 years nurturing his son's career so he could at last leave the employ of the loathsome Archbishop and live comfortably in retirement. The Webers were a direct threat to that outcome.

But Wolfgang had grown immune to the manipulative, hurtful tactics that worked so well in the past. Despite Wolfgang's repeated and increasingly emotional pleas to consent to the marriage, Leopold clung to the belief that a refusal to do so would put the entire matter to rest.

Wolfgang demands consent but doesn't wait for it

In July of 1782, Wolfgang finally demanded the consent of his father. The young couple had set a wedding date of August 4th and nothing was going to stop it.

Leopold finally realized that he had lost control of his son's life. He grudgingly consented to the marriage. As with the death of his wife, however, he never really accepted it. Leopold was so distraught and disgusted that, in letters to his daughter, he no longer referred to Wolfgang by name.

August 4th arrived but Leopold's letter of consent did not. Wolfgang and Constanze were undeterred and the wedding proceeded as planned. With a great deal of unintended symbolism, the letter arrived the next day.

Wolfgang was 25, happily married, gainfully self-employed and firmly in control of his own destiny.

What about your destiny?

While the rift between father and son is still fresh in your mind, why not play Round 2 of C Minor Mastery? Just click on the button below and have fun answering the questions. If you play well, you may just find yourself sitting in the front row on January 19th being showered with acclaim as the Pointmeister of Westchester.

On December 4th we'll be publishing Chapter 3 — The C Minor Mystery. If you'd like to have it delivered to your inbox, simply sign up for our newsletter. It'll only take a few seconds.

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