Mozart, Ave verum corpus

The fourth of six brief descriptions of music I’ve written up for WRTI’s 60th Anniversary Classical Collection of listener favorites. Here is a fuller description of the project, under the first post, the Ave Maria of Franz Biebl.

AveVerumCorpus480Wolfgang Amadeus MozartAve verum corpus. Kosice Teachers’ Choir, Camerata Cassovia, Johannes Wildner. Mozart: Mass No. 16, ‘Coronation Mass’ / Exsultate, jubilate / Ave Verum Corpus. Naxos 8.550495, Tr 9

Mozart wrote this for a church musician friend of his, for the Feast of Corpus Christi [which was celebrated this past Sunday, as I post this]. “Hail, true Body” is sung at the central moment of the Catholic liturgy, but is here so simple, so self-effacing, that it almost sneaks by.

The melody is nearly too sweet, the harmonies stay put, the bass line doesn’t travel much, the voices move together. But at “May it be for us a foretaste in the trial of death,” Mozart holds back the tenors and basses—just for a space. When they enter, oh so quietly, repeating the women’s “may it be,” Mozart’s genius detonates the mysterious celebration of the power of suffering.

He wrote this in June, 1791. In December he would be dead. Ave verum corpus may be the most stunningly compact explosion of music ever composed.

above, Joos van Wassenhove, The Institution of the Eucharist, 1473-75

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