W.A. Mozart (1756-1791): Requiem
Mozart’s Requiem is undoubtedly one of his best-loved and most often performed choral works. It has a power and poignancy which make it very special, knowing as we do that Mozart died while composing it. In that last year he was as busy as ever, composing two operas as well as this work.
Much of its power derives from fugal forms inspired by Bach and Handel, but often with Mozart’s very different accompaniments, as exemplified by the Kyrie, Offertorium and Hostias. In several movements Mozart seems to revel in his mature writing skill and there is a big variety of style of word setting. I always feel the opening Introit has the same feeling of inevitability as the great J.S. Bach chorales or movements from the B Minor Mass and the starting of a wonderful story.
The Tuba Mirum movement famously has a prominent trombone accompanying the bass soloist and each soloist has an individual line, one after the other.
The Recordare movement for the four soloists provides a gentle respite from rousing choral movements either side, and the interweaving solo writing reflects the great skill Mozart had developed as the result of writing his operas. Unlike most choirs, we are fortunate to be able to use soloists from amongst our own ranks, rather than hiring professionals.
We are singing the version of the work completed by Süssmayr, the composer who had worked closely with Mozart while he was composing the Requiem. Mozart himself only got as far as the Lacrymosa when he died, so Süssmayr had to rely on fragments, sketches and an understanding as to how Mozart worked so to be able to complete the piece.
The Sanctus and Agnus Dei movements are most unusual in their loudness and fierceness. In sections like this and parts of the Confutatis, it’s conceivable that Mozart was perhaps questioning his faith and was frustrated that his life was soon to end so early when he had so much more to give. The Lux Aeterna repeats the music from the Kyrie at the beginning, giving a feeling of circular closure to the work.
In the marvellous fugue Cum Sanctis Tuis, it is thrilling for the singers to be aware that while their own part has running semiquavers, other parts are coming in one by one with the strong fugue subject and cumulatively building to a tremendous climax.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Te Deum
This Te Deum in C major, written about 1799 for Maria Theresa, wife of Franz I of Austria, unusually has no solo parts. Its structure is a bright Allegro followed by a short, mysterious C minor Adagio section by way of contrast and then another bright Allegro to finish. There is a unifying rhythmic pattern of quaver and two semiquavers in all the sections. This uplifting and enjoyable work ends with an impressive double fugue with a lot of fast passage work for all parts. This reminds us that Haydn taught composition to the young Mozart.
William Byrd (1540-1623): Mass for Five Voices
One of the greatest composers of the Renaissance, William Byrd (1540 – 1623) wrote a lot of both vocal and instrumental music. Although he wrote music for services for the newly-formed Church of England, Byrd was a devout Catholic. The three mass settings Byrd wrote were published between 1592 and 1596 and they have retrospective features of the earlier Tudor mass style. In Elizabethan England of course, performance of any Catholic works was banned and Byrd had to be very careful, often writing for sympathetic Catholic families with secret performances in country houses.
We make considerable use of soloists and small groups throughout the work in order to preserve its unique “chamber-music” quality, chosen by Byrd in order to protect those celebrating the forbidden Roman rite from discovery.