Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, K.477

Striving for a synthesis between the sacred and theatrical, this piece by Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart brings both class and confusion into the twenty-first century’s choices for traditional funeral music. Mozart wrote this C-minor Mass to celebrate his marriage to Constanze Webber. Although only half-finished, this Mass premiered in Salzburg in 1783, when Wolfgang and Constanze visited his family in that city. Constanze sang a solo part in that Mass, which contains some difficult vocals.

Like Mozart’s Requiem, the explanation as to why either piece was not finished is unknown. Alfred Einstein called it ‘a magnificent torso,’ and several musicians have tried to complete it over the decades. Louis LangrĂ©e, who conducted one recording, found those additions unsatisfactory and created his own version. Where Mozart omitted or sketched vocal and instrumental parts, LangrĂ©e reconstructed them, but unlike some editors did not substitute music from other pieces for the missing sections. Setrak Setrakian conducts the version you can hear in the video posted above.

Edith Eisler wrote, “Apart from some clumsy transitions and muddy counterpoint, his emendations work well. The Mass’s grand, solemn first chorus in somber C minor (Mozart’s favorite key for drama and tragedy) seems a strange opening for a hymn of thanksgiving, but the mood soon changes to serene affirmation with a very operatic soprano aria in E-flat major, and indeed C minor never returns.”

Also called the “Masonic Funeral Music,” this piece combines elements of march and chorale, beginning in tragic C minor, but ending on a radiant C-major chord.

Over his lifetime, Mozart composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.

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