Sunday, May 10, 2009

Magic in a Mozart mass

This being May it might be fun to explore, off and on, some music devoted to Mary. There is so much of it and it is so glorious!

Here is something to start with. I have always found it interesting that Mozart's "Coronation" Mass was written for the crowning of Mary and not for the crowning of a king. The whole "Coronation" Mass is exquisite. But there is one particular part of it that kills me.

That is in the concluding "Agnus Dei."

A crash course in Latin in case you are new to this: The words to the prayer are "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis": "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us." At first, Mozart has the soprano sing it straight, without pause, to a melody of rapturous beauty.

But then when it repeats comes this weird moment. The singer is singing "Qui tollis peccata" -- "Who takes away the sins" -- and right then Mozart makes a surprise stop and the orchestra echoes the melody. Since I was a teenager that has given me shivers. It is as if there is something invisible in the room with you!

So you hold your breath. And time stands still. And then he lets the phrase finish.. "Peccata mundi."

"The sins of the world."


That happens in this video at 3:42.

Then at 4:25 there is another magical moment where the music melts into the "Dona nobis pacem."

And at 5:10 all the voices start blending and building into the great triumphant fanfare that bursts forth at .. let's see ... 5:43. That is thrilling, almost like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Such faith, such power!

Admittedly I have an overactive imagination. But I see faith in that shivery moment at 3:42. It makes you stop and think about what the words mean. Mozart might not have thought that out consciously but that is the effect it has. He stops the prayer and you feel something and you are not sure what it is.

It gives you pause.

That is a nice video, I have to say. Herbert von Karajan is conducting and Kathleen Battle is the soloist and throughout that vast quiet melody, they both look as if they are in a trance. It is touching to see Karajan mouthing the words. And this is not just a performance. It seems to be an actual Mass.

At the end they all look as if they are coming out of a dream.

What a beautiful way to pray!

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