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Miscellaneous Notes

Mozart: Litaniae de venerabili altaris Sacramento, K. 243

The Litaniae de venerabili altaris Sacramento is the last and most mature of his four Litany settings. Composed in 1776 - before the Masses, the Requiem, and the Vesper settings, it was first performed on Palm Sunday in Salzburg. The Sacramental Litany is a prayer of supplication, with a steady repetition of acclamations, and a testimony of praise and veneration of the Eucharist.

Mozart used as models for his work the sacramental litanies of his Salzburg predecessors and contemporaries, fusing stile antico with stile moderno. Thus, for the penultimate movement, “Pignus futurae gloriae,” set traditionally as a double fugue, Mozart made a special study of the “Pignus” fugues by Michael Haydn. The spirit of the ancient church style of composition is also evoked by the cantus firmus in the “Viaticum,” derived from the Gregorian plainsong Pange lingua. The other movements are symphonic in conception. Lavishly decorated virtuoso arias with a strong operatic influence express veneration of the “living bread” and the “sweetest banquet” (Panis vivus and Dulcissimum Convivium). The especially gentle tone color of the Litany attains the utmost delicateness in the “Agnus Dei” through use of three solo instruments (flute, oboe and cello.) Quivering string tremolos and the whispering which rises to shattering exclamations in the chorus are used to depict awe before the Holy of Holies in “Tremendum.”

In the words of Alfred Einstein in his biography of Mozart, the Litany “swept away a dam that obstructed Mozart’s writing for the church.”

© Ryan Turner