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W.A. Mozart

Big Mass in C minor

Big Mass in C minor


Unfinished master piece of religious music, the « great mass in C minor » is one of Mozart's masterworks. This music is amazing because of its dimensions, the richness of its architecture and above all, the wide diversity of musical languages perfectly handled by the brilliant master of Salzbourg.


The « great mass in C minor » K.427 is the accomplishment of a wish: to make a « premiere » on the occasion of his wedding with Constance Weber, in his native town : Salzbourg. Mozart starts composing during the summer of 1782, and the piece, still unfinished, is performed one year later. This is the first time that the composer can write a piece with a complete freedom, without any pressure from the church. The piece is probably the culmination of mozart's art, associated to the influence of the master of counterpoint* writing : the cantor of leipzich Johann Sebastian Bach. Mozart's devotional spirit is revealed, far away from the « galant style ». Here, the game is over, no more dance, no more bows ; he kowtows to God, with a dramatic, tragic and frightening climax ! The genius lies in Mozart's ability to combine J.S. Bach's severe counterpuntal style, with the bright arioso coming from the Italian « bel canto » of this 18th century.


Kyrie 3 parts : Kyrie - Christe - Kyrie
Gloria 7 parts : Gloria - Laudamus te - Gratias - Domine - Quoniam - Jesu Christe
Credo 2 parts : Credo - In carnatus est
Sanctus 2 parts : Credo - Osanna
Benedictus 2 parts : Benedictus - Osanna


Orchestra 2 oboe
2 bassoons
2 french horn in C
2 trumpets in C
String orchestra
Choir Double mixed choir



The 1st theme of the Kyrie in C minor, is based on a descending motion of the violins, increased by a chromatic* descending line of the basses :


Then comes a majestic fugue* in the choir,


and a dramatic element of the basses, based on a dotted rhythm :


In the relative tonality* (Eb major), the theme of the Christe placed in the soprano, contrasts with the previous one, in a peaceful and luminous mood :



Totally different from the Kyrie, the Gloria comes in the brilliant C major key with « Forte » fanfares going from the bass to the soprano voices,


sometimes interrupted by the depressive line of the « Et in terra » :



The « Laudamus te » in F major is an Italian aria da capo* based on an ornamented soprano line :


The 2nd theme of this 3 part structure, offers a discrete conversation with the oboe,


and precedes the return of the 1st theme with sixteenth notes :



The « Gratias » is an adagio in A minor, based on an oppressive dotted rhythm* :



The « dominus dei » is a duet between the 2 soprano voices, one of them being a smooth melody in D minor,


and the other one in the key of F major (relative key) :


Qui tollis

The grandiose « Qui tollis » in G minor is probably the climax of the piece because he frightens the audience in order to illustrate Jesus' suffuring. Here, Mozart uses a haunting dotted rhythm, some grating dissonances and depressive chromatic lines. The 1st theme is built on a wide melody using dissonant retardations* played « Forte »,


and the 2nd one, a syncopated* and descending chromaticism :



The « Quoniam » in E minor goes back to the light and joy, with a rerun of the final theme from the piano concerto K.175 :


The 2nd theme is given in the relative key (G major) on the word " Sanctus " :


Cum sancto spiritu

The short but tremendous « Jesu christe » in C major introduces the « Cum sancto spiritu », a 4 voice fugue made of whole notes, and based on the interval of 4th, superimposed to brilliant vocal singing exercises* :



Center part of the work, the Credo in C major keeps the majestic feeling of the Gloria and is divided into 2 themes; the 1st one being very energetic :


and the 2nd one like a fugue using imitations* :


Et incarnatus est

The « Et incarnatus est » remains smooth and unearthly. This is an « aria » in F major, performed by a very pure soprano solo :



This majestic Sanctus in C major is performed by the whole orchestra :


and precedes the monumental fugue « Osanna » superimposed to a constant melodic element in sixteenth notes :



Final part of the piece, the « Benedictus » in C major continues the previous « Osanna », with a conversation between 2 soprano voices :



Aria da capo Melody replayed once
Chromatic A melodic line proceding by semi tones
Counterpoint A music process consisting of superimposing different and independant melodic lines
Dotted rhythm Rhythm made of a long dotted note and a short note value. Eg : dotted eighth note + sixteenth note
Fugue Piece using the imitations proposing different enterings of a same theme
Imitations A technique of composition establishing a conversation between 2 instruments or 2 voices
Mixed choir Choir including female voices (soprano – alto) and men voices (ténor – basse)
Relative key 2 keys placed a minor 3rd apart, one is major and the other minor, and having the same signature key. Eg: C maj. and A min.
Retardation Melodic non chordal note
Subject The unique theme of a fugue
Syncopation Rhythm played on a weak beat and sustained with a slur or a dot, towards a strong beat.
Vocal exercises Virtuoso and ornamental vocal melodic line based on scales and arpeggios