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

"No one attended the wedding ceremony, except for her mother and her youngest sister. When we were joined together, my wife and I began to cry — everybody was touched by that, even the priest; they all wept when they saw how deeply moved we were in our hearts. Now my dear Constanze is looking forward a hundredfold to traveling to Salzburg! And I wager — I wager — you'll rejoice in my happiness once you get to know her!"

Thus Wolfgang reached out to his distant and disapproving father Leopold in August of 1782.

Despite this and similar entreaties, Leopold remained unmoved and depressed. His career had reached a full stop in Salzburg under the tyrannical reign of the Prince Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. And his son threw all protocol (and his father's carefully laid plans) to the wind in far-off Vienna.

In a matter of three short months, the 26 year-old Wolfgang had quit the Archbishop's employ in a fit of rage, embarked on an unprecedented career as freelance composer and married into the family of the insidious Frau Weber.

It was clear she was still at the root of disinformation that managed to reach Leopold in Salzburg. Shortly after the wedding Wolfgang wrote of the matter with delicioius sarcasm:

"I cannot understand how you got the notion that my venerated mother-in-law lodged here too! Really, I did not marry my girl in such haste in order to live a life of vexations and quarrels, but for the sake of getting a little peace and happiness! The only way to attain these was to cut oneself off from that household."

Leopold, who devoted the past 22 years to ensuring his brilliant son's fame and fortune, was watching his entire life's work (and financial well-being) going up in smoke.

One excuse after another

But the father was still determined to retake control over his son's destiny. Since the Archbishop would not allow him to leave Salzburg, the elder Mozart knew that his only hope was to convince Wolfgang to "visit his poor impoverished Papa."

Wolfgang was torn. He desperately wanted his Leopold to accept Constanze into the family, which required the trip into the lion's den.

Yet Wolfgang was terrified to step foot in that city. He believed a vengeful Archbishop Colloredo might have him arrested for overstepping his bounds so outrageously in Vienna. He also feared becoming ensnared once again in the city he loathed. The risk of losing his hard-fought independence weighed heavily upon him.

So Wolfgang came up with a long string of excuses why the trip must be postponed, which only fueled Leopold's anger and frustration.

Leopold simply could not believe that maybe, just maybe, his "irresponsible" son might be able to find his own path to success and renown.

The Grand Mass becomes a grand scheme

An honor-bound Wolfgang never forgot his vow to compose a Grand Mass for his betrothed upon their marriage. In January 1783 he reported to Leopold that it was half finished.

But his motivation for composing the Mass shifted from a very personal expression of love for his wife to something much more inspired.

Wolfgang decided use the C Minor Mass to reach out to his estranged father in a uniquely Mozartean way. The young couple would arrive in Salzburg, whereupon Constanze would sing one of the soprano solos in what was Wolfgang's most ambitious, elaborate and difficult choral work.

Such a glorious display would surely win Leopold's love and respect! He would welcome her into the family with open arms and finally recognize Wolfgang's maturity and independence. It was a brilliant plan worthy of Leopold himself.

Family matters in Vienna

Constanze was pregnant with their first child and the parents-to-be could not have been happier.
Now that her abominable mother was no longer concocting vicious rumors about Wolfgang, his professional career was beginning to take hold. All the same, Wolfgang maintained as little contact with his mother-in-law as possible.

His sister-in-law was quite another matter.

Aloysia and her husband Joseph Lange recently moved from Munich to Vienna. The pain of her utter rejection of Wolfgang's marriage proposal five years earlier was gone. The Langes and the Mozarts got along quite well, socializing and performing together on many occasions.

Leopold spurns the ultimate olive branch

In early June of 1783, with the baby due any day, Wolfgang reaches out to his father yet again:

"I kept postponing what I meant to do all along, namely go down on my knees, fold my hands, and ask you, my dearest father, in all humility, to be the child's godfather! We'll call it either Leopold or Leopoldine."

Keeping to his frigid demeanor, the grandfather-to-be put aside his otherwise strict religious beliefs and remained ambivalent toward the honor.

Constanze finally went into labor at 10:30 the evening of June 16. A shockingly maternal Frau Weber cared for Constanze that night and all the next day "making up," as Wolfgang wrote, "for all the bad things she did to her daughter."

Wolfgang passed the time as only he could. He composed the minuet and trio of the String Quartet in D Minor (K.421) in between labor pains. A baby boy finally arrived 6:30 the following morning.

It was a boy, alright, but not a Leopold

Perhaps it was his lack of sleep, but Wolfgang did something that morning — quite unpremeditated — that must have cut his father to the quick.

Wolfgang's first thought upon receiving his son was to send the good tidings to his friend and landlord, Baron Raimund von Plankenstern Wetzlar.

Boisterous and delighted, Baron Wetzlar rushed over and, upon seeing that Constanze and child were doing fine, immediately offered himself as godfather. As Wolfgang stutteringly explained to his father:

"I couldn't refuse him — and so I thought to myself, well, I can still call the boy Leopold — and just as I was thinking it the Baron said with the greatest delight — Ah, well, now you have a little Raimund — and he kissed the child. So what was I to do? Well, I had the boy baptized Raimund Leopold."

Time to face the music in Salzburg

Over the next several weeks Leopold managed to calm Wolfgang's fear of reprisal from the Archbishop. So Wolfgang and Constanze agreed to make the trip to Salzburg, planning to stay for three or four weeks…just long enough to finish, rehearse and perform the C Minor Mass.

For reasons unknown, they left six-week-old Raimund behind in the care of a wet nurse. It was a fateful decision. The baby's presence in Salzburg might have endeared Constanze even more so to Wolfgang's father and sister. The young parents thought it best to spare Raimund the ordeal.

The Grand Mass was still unfinished when they left for Salzburg on July 29, 1783. Only the Kyrie and Gloria were complete; the Credo and Sanctus were only partially written down (though likely finished in the composer's head). Nothing of the Agnus Dei had apparently been put to paper.

Wolfgang anticipated a joyous reunion, a warm familial welcome for Constanze and a glorious performance of the Grand Mass to top it all off at the end of August.

Things go from bad to worse

It had been two and a half very difficult and divisive years since Wolfgang had seen his father. Both men had grown very far apart during that time. Wolfgang declared his independence, embarked on a "renegade" career path and became a loving husband and father. Sadly, Leopold just grew increasingly bitter and aloof.

The father/son reunion was, it turned out, melancholy at best.

Nor was there a warm welcome for Constanze. Quite the contrary. No matter how hard she tried, both Leopold and Wolfgang's sister 'Nannerl' refused to accept her as a Mozart. Strained cordiality was as close as they ever got.

But Wolfgang held to his plan. Preparations for the C Minor Mass were moving right along when disaster struck — little Raimund died quite suddenly of dysentery back in Vienna.

Although infant mortality was very common in the late eighteenth century, the news must have been devastating. The performance of the Grand Mass was postponed for two entire months, during which Wolfgang and Constanze remained in Salzburg.

The C Minor Mystery remains…how could it be complete yet unfinished?

There were no family letters during this time to chronicle the details surrounding the performance of the Mass. With key pieces of the puzzle missing, Mozart historians have offered differing views on the core paradox.

It would have been an egregious religious and personal offense to perform an incomplete Mass. Not only church law, but Wolfgang's own religious devotion, family honor and professional ethics would also have prevented it.

So a technically complete Mass was most definitely performed on October 26, 1783, but a finished manuscript did not survive.

How then did Wolfgang fill in the "missing" pieces? Some believe he adapted portions of his previous masses. Others believe he resorted to plainchant. Yet the scholarly consensus, based on the shardsof music that did survive, is that Wolfgang never finished the least not to Mozartean standards.

Would he have, as biographer Alfred Einstein suggests, "sacrificed his artistic conscience" so blatantly as to cobble together bits of previous works?

If not, why would this manuscript be so mishandled as to have entire portions lost to posterity? The Mozarts were keen on preserving everything they ever penned...letters, music, books, everything.

Was it carelessness or was some deliberate hand at work? No one really knows for certain.

Leopold was completely unmoved

What we do know for certain is that the performance of the C Minor Mass failed to achieve its intended objectives.

Leopold remained coldly unimpressed with his son's composition, with his choice of mates and with his financial prospects. Despite this extraordinary attempt to heal the rift, the father was incapable of accepting his son as the man he had become.

Wolfgang and Constanze left Salzburg early in the morning immediately following the performance, never to return. The kind and open-hearted Constanze was embittered by the whole affair. So much so that she later destroyed several years' worth of letters Leopold had written to Wolfgang. (One can almost see the bonfire reflected in her dark eyes.)

Leopold gets the surprise of his life

Back in Vienna, Wolfgang's popularity continued to soar. It wasn't until February of 1785 that Leopold agreed to pay his son a visit — a visit that lasted 10 weeks.

The evening Leopold arrived Wolfgang performed a piano concerto that had only been finished the day before. It was the Piano Concerto #20 in D Minor (K.466), one of the most moving and exquisite concertos ever written for piano.

Leopold was overwhelmed and wrote to his daughter that "the concert was incomparable, the orchestra superb."

The very next day Joseph Haydn visited the Mozart's apartment along with two other musicians to play some of Wolfgang's new string quartets (three of the six "Haydn Quartets"). Leopold himself played one of the violin parts alongside Haydn on viola as his son conducted.

At one point Haydn said to Leopold, "I say to you before God and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer whom I know in person and by reputation." Having one of the foremost composers in Europe to say that to his face seemed to rekindle the fundamental admiration Leopold always felt for Wolfgang, but which scarred over in recent years.

Wolfgang performed yet another concert the following day, this one attended by the emperor himself. Leopold again wrote proudly to his daughter, "Your brother played a magnificent concerto. When he left the stage, the emperor waved his hat to him and shouted 'bravo Mozart.' "

At last, redemption and respect

A few weeks into the visit, Leopold was treated to a new oratorio (Davidde Penitente, K.469) based on the Kyrie and Gloria from the C Minor Mass.

While everyone else in the hall was listening to beautiful "new" music, Leopold was listening to his son pointedly reminding him of the Salzburg debacle and demanding his respect.

He finally got it. Leopold, having witnessed his son's spectacular popularity with his own eyes, now saw Wolfgang in a new light.

Before leaving for home, Leopold took the extremely symbolic step of joining Wolfgang's Masonic Lodge.

Father and son had become brothers. And though they never saw each other again, the two Mozarts understood and accepted each other more deeply and fully than at any other point in their lives.


Constanze survived both men by some 50 years. It was she who fought to preserve her husband's legacy…a tenacious effort for which all subsequent generations are eternally grateful.

The Grand Mass had sunk into obscurity. For Constanze, it must have been a very painful reminder of the summer of '83 — when she lost her first born AND all hope of being accepted into the Mozart family.

Despite her devoted stewardship of her late husband's work, what remained of the C Minor Mass was not published until 1840 and not performed again until 1901. An attempt was made at that time to fill in the missing pieces. Contemporary performances, however, typically present only the torso that is Wolfgang's.

So don't miss our performance of it on January 19th

If you haven't done so already, now would be a great time to order your advance tickets to hear the Grand Mass in C Minor. Click here to zip over to the online order form.

We will be performing this masterpiece at 3pm on Sunday, January 19th. We found the most magnificent venue at the Presbyterian Church of White Plains. Click here for a map and directions.

Your chance to win two free front-row-center tickets

If you've been taking our C Minor Mastery quizzes following Chapters 1 and 2, you know the drill. If you haven't, there's still plenty of time to swoop in out of nowhere and walk off with two free tickets to the performance.

Each quiz, like each chapter, stands pretty much on its own. So you can take them in any order you wish. But be sure to submit your responses by the January 8th deadline.

To take Quiz 3, click here. Have fun and good luck!

And maybe win free ticketsContest rules
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