Program Notes

By Michael Driscoll, Artistic Director, Commonwealth Chorale


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

After traveling and performing throughout much of Europe during Mozart’s early childhood, the Mozart family returned to the family’s hometown of Salzburg, Austria, on January 5, 1769 – three weeks before Mozart’s thirteenth birthday. By this time, Mozart had achieved a significant reputation as both a composer and a performer, and in October of that year he was named honorary Konzertmeister (Concertmaster) at the Salzburg court. 

In March of 1771, after a fifteen-month journey in Italy, Mozart and his father, Leopold, returned to Salzburg, where the Mozart family remained for much of the 1770s. In Salzburg, both Mozart and Leopold were employed by the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Although this arrangement provided the family with a steady source of income, it did not fully satisfy the ambitions of the Mozart family. 

In March of 1772, Hieronymous Colloredo was elected as the new Archbishop of Salzburg following the death of Archbishop Schrattenbach. Colloredo sought to modernize the archdiocese and to rid it of what he considered to be excesses and superstitious traditions. He reduced the length of the mass and placed restrictions on the performance of purely instrumental music as well as some instrumentally accompanied sacred vocal music. These new restrictions on music for the church were not popular with the musical establishment in Salzburg and certainly not with the Mozart family. 

Following a final quarrel with the Archbishop, Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781. Upon arriving in Vienna, he boarded with the Weber family and met his future wife, Constanze Weber, whom he married in August 1782. Together they had six children, two of whom survived infancy. During his Vienna years, Mozart composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas. He also began his Requiem, which remained unfinished at the time of his death. In all, he composed over 600 works, many of which are considered pinnacles of their forms. On September 6, 1791, Mozart fell ill in Prague at the premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito. He died at his home on December 5, 1791, at the age of thirty-five. 

Regina coeli, K. 276

One of four Marian antiphons in praise of the Virgin Mary, Regina coeli is sung at the evening prayer service during the Easter season. Mozart set this hymn to music three times. He composed the third setting, Regina coeli K. 276, in Salzburg in the spring of 1779. It is scored for SATB soloists, SATB choir, two violins, two oboes, two trumpets, timpani, and ‘continuo’ instruments, and written in a festive, celebratory style. The work is in sonata form and is marked by frequent alternation between soloists and choir as well as repetition of text. 

Mozart admired Handel’s music and attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1777, two years before composing his third setting of the Regina coeli text. The influence of ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah is clearly evident: at three different points in Regina coeli K. 276, Mozart includes a nearly direct quotation from the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’

A portrait of a personDescription automatically generated with medium confidenceGiovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784)  

Martini was a Franciscan friar, leading musician, composer, writer on music, and teacher.  Born in Bologna, he was appointed maestro di cappella (chapel-master) of San Francesco in Bologna when he was just nineteen years old.  He remained in that position until the final years of his life.  His first extant works date from around 1724 and saw the first publication of his works ten years later.  His sacred works remain largely unpublished.  As a teacher, Martini taught composition, primarily counterpoint, to a number of students, including Mozart and Johann Christian Bach, son of J.S Bach.  The Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna invited him to teach there in 1758, and he later was instrumental in shepherding Marianna Martines’s application for induction into the academy.

An avid collector of books and music, Martini was estimated to have amassed a library of 17,000 volumes by 1770. His library became the basis of the present-day International Museum and Library of Music of Bologna, where his autograph score of Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina now resides.

Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina

The Vespers service begins with a priest or cantor intoning the text ‘Deus in adjutorium meum intende’ (‘God, come to my assistance’), to which the congregation or choir responds ‘Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina’ (‘Lord, make haste to help me’), followed by the doxology text. Martini’s B-minor setting of the response is written for SATB choir, SATB soloists, strings, and organ. The work is divided into three distinct sections, beginning with a slow opening polyphonic section in the solemn stile antico style of Palestrina. Martini then launches into a ‘modern’ festive Italian concertato style with sections for chorus and vocal soloists as well as sections for orchestra alone. The work ends with a double fugue set to the concluding portion of the doxology text. A double fugue is a compositional style in which two melodic ideas or ‘subjects’ are set and developed at the same time. In Martini’s setting, the first subject features a rhythmic setting of the words ‘Et in saecula saeculorum,’ first heard in the alto voices. The second, contrasting subject, set to the word ‘Amen,’ is first heard in the tenor voices.

Marianna Martines - WikipediaMarianna Martines (1744-1812)

Although her name garners little recognition today, Marianna Martines and her musical works were well known throughout Europe during her lifetime. A highly regarded singer, pianist, and composer, Martines achieved considerable success despite the limitations placed on women of the era.

Martines was born in Vienna in 1744 and is believed to have lived there until her death in 1812. Her paternal grandfather was a Spanish soldier who settled in Naples, Italy. Her father grew up in Naples and later became chief of staff in Vienna to five papal nuncios, the Vatican’s equivalent of ambassador. Martines appears to have lived her entire life in rooms in a large, six-story building in Michaelerplatz (St. Michael’s Square) in Vienna. St. Michael’s Church, where some of her sacred works were performed, was connected to the building. Across the square was the entrance to the Hofburg palace complex of the Imperial Emperor. All three of these buildings still stand today.

The building where the Martines family lived proved to be a remarkable place for young Marianna. On the first floor lived the dowager princess of the wealthy Esterházy family. On the middle floors lived Nicola Porpora, a well-known Italian composer and singing teacher. A young Joseph Haydn, who was trying to make his way as a freelance musician, resided in a drafty attic room. The Martines family lived on the third floor along with family friend Metastasio, the Poet Laureate of the Empire and one of the most important writers of opera seria libretti. 

Martines spent her childhood under Metastasio’s tutelage and later set a number of his poems to music. Her musical education began at age seven. She studied singing, piano, and composition with both Porpora and Haydn and later with Johann Adolph Hasse and Imperial court composer Giuseppe Bonno. Martines was praised for her beautiful singing voice and for her skill at the keyboard. When she just sixteen years old, Metastasio sent some of her composition exercises to Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, a leading musician, composer, and teacher of the era. Martini praised her work and encouraged her to continue. 

In the spring of 1773, Martines made a formal request for induction into the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, an association of leading composers of the era. Martini guided her through the application process, and she was inducted into the academy later that year, the first woman to receive this honor in the 108-year history of the academy. As part of her induction into the academy, Martines was expected to submit a composition to the academy. She composed the Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109) for five voices and orchestra and submitted it to the academy in August 1744.

Marianna and her sister cared for Metastasio into old age, and upon his death in 1782, the Martines family inherited his large estate. Marianna and her sister hosted weekly musical soirées at their home that attracted many distinguished guests, including Haydn and Mozart, the latter of whom wrote four-hand piano sonatas to play with Marianna.

Marianna Martines wrote approximately sixty works in both small and large forms, including two oratorios, four masses, six motets, three litanies, a number of psalm settings, three keyboard sonatas, three keyboard concertos, and a symphony. She composed in the Italian style typical of the early Classical style in Vienna. Her works reveal a fondness for rapid runs, large melodic leaps, trills and melodic ornaments, and frequent development of motivic ideas.

Dixit Dominus

Large-scale, orchestra-accompanied settings of Psalm 109 (Dixit Dominus) have their origins in the Roman Catholic Vespers service. Celebrated at dusk, Vespers is the principal Christian evening prayer service, one of eight daily prayer services that make up the Divine Office. Until the late 20th century, the Vespers service included five psalm settings and the Magnificat canticle, each of which concluded with the doxology (Gloria Patri). In the 17th and 18th centuries, composers frequently set the five Psalms and Magnificat canticle to music. Although the psalm changed depending on the day and place in the liturgical year, Psalm 109 began every Sunday Vespers service. As a result of the frequent inclusion of Psalm 109 in the Vespers service, many composers set it to music. Some, including Mozart, wrote multiple settings.

In early eighteenth-century Italy, composers such as Vivaldi and Lotti created extended-length Dixit Dominus settings in which they divided the text into multiple movements. Handel’s Dixit Dominus setting of 1707, composed in Italy in his early twenties, is perhaps the best-known setting in this style. In an autobiographical letter, Marianna Martines listed Handel as one of her chief influences. Indeed, her 1774 setting of Dixit Dominus shares many similarities with Handel’s famous setting of 1707. While Martines’s Dixit Dominus reveals a thorough knowledge of and facility in writing in traditional Baroque style, she also incorporates elements of the newer galant style.

Martines composed Dixit Dominus for five choral voices (SSATB), four solo voices (SATB), two flutes, two oboes, two trumpets, timpani, strings, and organ. The opening ‘Dixit Dominus’ movement begins with a brilliant extended orchestral introduction that features fanfare-like flourishes in the oboes, trumpets, and timpani. Martines sets the complete first verse to music once, concluding with a deceptive cadence, the musical equivalent of a question mark. Following a brief pause, the complete verse text and music repeat, this time with the music venturing into new key areas before returning to the opening key of D major.

The second and third movements set the second and third verses of the psalm text, respectively. The second movement, ‘Virgam virtutis tuae,’ is a delightful triple-meter duet for soprano and alto soloists. The third movement for alto soloist features a technically challenging vocal part accompanied by a virtuosic flute part that lends the movement a charming pastoral atmosphere.

The fourth movement, ‘Juravit Dominus’ (‘The Lord has sworn an oath and will not repent of it’), begins with a slow introduction of dissonant diminished-seventh harmonies and abrupt changes of keys that highlight the solemnity and magnitude of the Lord’s oath. The second half of the fourth verse of the Psalm (‘Tu es sacerdos’) is the first of two Baroque-style fugues. Although Martines recalls the compositional style of an earlier era, this fugue includes compositional features that are unlike traditional Baroque-era fugues. The form itself is unusual in that the fugue is divided into three main sections with pauses between the sections. Also unusual is that the beginning of each section includes a new exposition of the fugue subject, each time with the voices entering in a different order and at different time spacing between entrances. The four-measure fugue subject appears first in the high soprano voices, then in each of the other four voice parts (alto, second soprano, bass, tenor) in consistent four-measure intervals. In the second major section, the fugue subject first appears in the bass voices, then one and a half measures later in the tenors. In the third section, the fugue subject appears in yet another sequence of voice parts and at different intervals.

Martines combines the final three verses of Psalm 109 into a single movement, ‘Juravit Dominus,’ for four solo voices. Each soloist, in order from highest voice to lowest voice, sings a verse of the psalm, with the middle verse divided between the alto and tenor soloists. After the bass sings the final verse, the three verses repeat, this time in various combinations of the four voices. The full chorus returns for the concluding doxology text in praise of God. Martines divides the concluding doxology text into two large sections. The first section, in praise of the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is set in a grand triple-meter with the chorus declaiming the text in largely in unison. This is followed by a spirited concluding fugue (‘Et in saecula’). 

‘Coronation’ Mass in C Major, K. 317

Mozart composed the ‘Coronation’ Mass in C Major shortly after his return to Salzburg as the newly appointed court organist, completing it on March 23, 1779. Although the ‘Coronation’ title might lead one to guess that Mozart composed the Mass for a coronation ceremony, it was composed for performance at Salzburg Cathedral, probably for the Osterfest on April 4 and 5, 1779. It is believed that the ‘Coronation’ nickname became attached to the work as a result of performances in 1791 when Antonio Salieri conducted it as part of the coronation of Leopold II of Bohemia.

One of 17 mass settings composed by Mozart, the ‘Coronation’ Mass is scored for SATB soloists, SATB choir, two oboes, two trumpets, two horns, timpani, three trombones, string orchestra, and a continuo group consisting of organ, cello, bass, and bassoon. Following Salzburg tradition, the work is scored for string orchestra without violas. This evening’s performance includes every instrument except the trombones, which can be dispensed with since they merely double other instrumental or vocal parts. Mozart’s inclusion of the ‘festival’ orchestra instruments (horns, trumpets, and timpani) and the mostly C major tonality throughout give the overall work a celebratory character. One can imagine why Salieri chose this work for the coronation of a king.

Archbishop Colloredo’s reforms included a requirement that the mass music last no more than three quarters of an hour. At approximately twenty-five minutes in length, this Mass meets the Archbishop’s time restrictions despite the lengthy text that had to be set to music. Mozart achieved this time restriction by mostly setting the text syllabically (one note per syllable rather than multiple notes per syllable), and he mostly refrained from repeating text. In addition, the Mass is largely homophonic (all voices singing at the same time with the same rhythm). Polyphonic sections (sections where each voice part is rhythmically independent) generally require more time to realize; as a result, Mozart minimizes polyphony.

At just thirty-one measures in length, the ‘Kyrie’ movement is fairly short. Mozart sets it in a standard tripartite (ABA) form. The contrasting B section, sung by soprano and tenor soloists, is somewhat unusual in that it includes both the Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison text rather than the more common practice of setting only the Christe eleison text in the B section.

The triple-meter ‘Gloria’ is written in sonata form. Sonata form consists of three main sections: an exposition in which new material is presented; a development, which often moves into a new key; and a recapitulation, which brings back the material from the exposition. The exposition opens with the full chorus singing a fanfare-like motive. The introduction of the solo quartet marks the beginning of the development section, which modulates to the dominant key. The recapitulation brings back the opening material beginning with the words Quoniam tu solus Sanctus. The full chorus and soloists alternate throughout the movement.

The ‘Credo’ is written in rondo form, a form in which a principal theme alternates with one or more contrasting themes. The opening thematic material, characterized by an upwardly rising orchestral bass line and a rauschenden (rushing) violin texture, is heard in the four-measure instrumental introduction and returns six times over the course of the movement. As with the ‘Gloria’ movement, the chorus and soloists alternate throughout.

The relatively short ‘Sanctus’ movement is divided into two major sections: the Sanctus text and the Osanna text. The Sanctus text is filled with symbolism of the numbers three and six. The text itself comes from Isaiah 6:3 (symbolism from its placement in the Bible), which describes the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God surrounded by six-winged seraphim. Additionally, the word Sanctus is repeated three times in the liturgy. Mozart represents this symbolism musically by setting the ‘Sanctus’ movement in a slow triple meter. Because of the slow tempo, each beat of the triple meter is typically divided into two, resulting in six beats per measure. The ‘Osanna’ section immediately follows in a joyous duple meter. The ‘Benedictus’ is the only part of the Mass that is sung entirely by a solo quartet. The quartet is interrupted by the full chorus singing an abbreviated form of the previous ‘Osanna’ material. After a return of the quartet, a final ‘Osanna’ sung by the full chorus completes the movement.

The ‘Agnus Dei’ is divided into two major sections. The opening section features a lyrical soprano solo in F major, the only movement of the work that departs from the predominant C major tonality. The second part of the ‘Agnus Dei’ is indicative of the festive character of the overall work. Composers traditionally set the dona nobis pacem (grant us peace) text as a prayerful, often solemn plea for peace. However, in the ‘Coronation’ Mass, Mozart sets this text in a lively tempo with the full chorus accompanied by fanfare-like punctuations from the brass and timpani.