The C Minor Mass
Wolfgang A. Mozart
Presbyterian Church
Eugene Sirotkine
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Although musically endowed beyond all measure, Wolfgang was immature in many ways. He was child-like, open-hearted and even clownish by nature — qualities that endeared him to his wife Constanze, but disdained by his father Leopold.

The years leading up to the composition of the C Minor Mass, Wolfgang's early 20s, were really about his painful struggle for personal independence from the domination of both his father and their employer, the roundly despised Prince Archbishop of Salzburg.

Wolfgang revered Leopold and was easily crushed by his father's disapproval. But he always regained his self-confidence by drawing on his genius for composition. Wolfgang never attended a formal school; Leopold was his sole instructor.

Although polar opposites in very many ways, the two Mozart men shared a strong sense of honor. They also shared an inability to conceal their contempt for lesser minds — a career-limiting fault for both men.

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Leopold was a loving but traditionally stern father figure. He was worldly, rational, devout and a keen judge of character. But he was also distrustful, condescending and domineering. Popular he was not.

Leopold was devoted to his son's success — in fact he was driven by it and went well into debt to help make it a reality. It was only through Wolfgang's success outside of Salzburg that his own dignity and financial well-being could be assured. (He remained in the employ of the Archbishops of Salzburg for 44 years and never rose above Deputy Court Composer.)

As Wolfgang grew increasingly independent, Leopold often reacted with a heavy hand, determined not to lose control. He saw his son as too naive and unfocused to get the job done.

Hence many of his letters were at once genuinely affectionate and coldly manipulative. It was Leopold's way of balancing the his roles as Wolfgang's CEO, mentor and father. He always had his son's best interest at heart, but his tight rein served to drive Wolfgang further away.

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Until her untimely death in 1778, Anna Maria had been Leopold's loving wife for 31 years. She was also one of the very few people who understood and actually liked the man. Of the seven children she bore him, only the fourth (Maria Anna, aka Nannerl) and the seventh (Wolfgang) survived to maturity.

Unlike Leopold and Wolfgang, she felt quite comfortable in Salzburg and disliked larger cities. Anna Maria was especially unhappy in Paris where she didn't speak the language.

Though not terribly musical, she had much more in common with Wolfgang than Leopold ever would. Wolfgang drew his sense of humor and fondness for scatological reference directly from his mother.

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The second-youngest of the Weber sisters, Constanze was only 14 when Wolfgang fell in love with her older, more beautiful and more talented sister, Aloysia. Constanze was mistreated by her mother and sisters and so grew to be quite self-reliant in a Cinderella-esque sort of a way.

Three years later in Vienna, Constanze became the center of Wolfgang's world — to the undying dismay of Leopold, who despised every member of the Weber household without ever having met them. (After all, he reasoned, were it not for those Weber women, his son would never have been seduced off the course he had so meticulously laid out.)

Wolfgang described Constanze to Leopold as "not ugly, but also not really beautiful." (He was sincere, if not flattering.) "She has no great wit," he wrote, "but enough common sense to fulfill her duties as a wife and mother. She has the kindest heart in the world. I love her and she loves me with all of her heart — now tell me whether I could wish for a better wife."

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Aloysia Weber was Wolfgang's first love and Leopold's first red flag. By all accounts she was a remarkably talented coloratura soprano, quite accomplished on the clavier and beautiful to behold. Wolfgang, five years her senior and madly in love, lavished his talent upon her but never revealed his true affection. For all the arias he wrote for her, he never wrote her a single love letter.

While she certainly enjoyed his attention, she certainly harbored no affection for him. She saw Wolfgang as little more than a musical mentor and accompanist.

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It's been said that the opposite of love isn't hate — the opposite of love is indifference. No one in Salzburg embodied cold indifference more than the tyrannical Prince Archbishop Colloredo.

Always "Prince" first and "Archbishop" second, he viewed the Mozarts as insubordinate servants (how positively Baroque). For their part, the devout and oppressed Mozarts viewed Hieronymus as, in Wolfgang's terms, "Arch Booby."

The Archbishop was 13 years younger than Leopold, but no match for him intellectually. The Prince had little appreciation for music and no appreciation for the genius of the young Court Organist Wolfgang. Both Mozarts (and nearly all of Salzburg) were simmering with contempt for Colloredo.

It was out of sheer spite that the Archbishop repeatedly promoted lesser men over Leopold into the position of Court Composer.

It was also out of spite that he refused to permit Leopold to accompany his son on that fateful job hunting expedition. How differently things would have turned out! The C Minor Mass would likely never have been written.

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This woman was a real piece of work. She was scheming, manipulative and abusive — in other words, the Mother-in-Law from Hell. She must have studied her Machiavelli well. She was living truth behind one of Leopold's more interesting exhortations toward his son (upon learning of his love for Aloysia):

"I will not even speak to you of women, for there the greatest reserve and prudence are necessary, Nature herself being our enemy. He who does not exert his judgment to the utmost to keep the necessary reserve will exert it in vain afterwards to extricate himself from the labyrinth; a misery ended in most cases by death alone."

It was Frau Weber's modus operandi to dangle her daughters before suitors to ensnare them into marriage contracts that ensured the Weber family's financial well-being.

And it was she, of all people, who started the nasty and baseless rumors about Wolfgang and her own daughter that had tongues wagging from Vienna to Salzburg. (She used Solieri, et al, as mere tools to pressure Wolfgang into signing such a contract.)

Interestingly, her single redeeming moment toward Constanze and Wolfgang came on the night of the birth of their first child. But that goodwill — and, sadly, their young son — perished far too soon.

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During the winter of 1782 Wolfgang was exposed to (and took a deep interest in) the contrapuntal works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. Wolfgang would find the greatest compositional challenge of his career in trying to master the fugue.

Many fugal experiments were left unfinished, but Wolfgang ultimately triumphed with the C Minor Mass. Alfred Einstein, one of the foremost authorities on Mozart, said it well:

"For if it had not been for the crisis that the acquaintance with Bach caused in Mozart's creative career, and the surmounting of that crisis, the C Minor Mass would never have taken the shape it did."

Joseph Haydn, a good friend, helped Wolfgang overcome his creative crisis with counterpoint. He also personally played a hand in healing the rift between Wolfgang and his father. When visiting his son in Vienna in February 1785, a proud Leopold wrote to his daughter:

"Herr Haydn said to me, 'I tell you, calling God to witness and speaking as a man of honour, that your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by repute! He has taste, and, in addition, the most complete understanding of composition.' "

Could it be a coincidence that Wolfgang recycled the Kyrie and Gloria from the C Minor Mass to create the oratorio Davidde Penitente (K. 469) — knowing that his father would be in the audience? We think not...

The Inextricable OppositesA Family Torn AsunderThe C Minor mysteryWhere do you stand?
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