Coronation Mass by Mozart

by Bill Morelock, Minnesota Public Radio
April 22, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — Nicknames in classical music often amount to misdirection plays effective enough to do an NFL offensive coordinator proud.

"Moonlight Sonata," you say? Oh, no, nothing whatever to do with the light on Lake Lucerne. And there goes Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14! All the way to the double bar!

Coincidental, accidental, tacked on whimsically by posthumous admirers, they're seldom the work of the composers themselves.

Jupiter, Emperor, Little Russian, Coronation.

Easter Sunday on Classical Minnesota Public Radio you can hear the Coronation Mass by Mozart. A work, not surprising by the logic of nicknames, first presented on Easter Sunday, 1779.

A dozen years later, Mozart's C Major Mass was performed as part of the festivities surrounding the coronation of Leopold II as Holy Roman Emperor. And so the somewhat secular won out over the completely sacred.

We'll put Mozart's "Coronation Mass" back into its original habitat, Sunday afternoon at 3 on Classical MPR. Peter Schreier leads the Staatskapelle of Dresden and the Leipzig Radio Chorus. Baritone Thomas Quasthoff is among the soloists.

To further deepen this nominal sleight of hand, another Mozart composition with a paper crown upon its head follows the mass. Mozart performed his penultimate piano concerto during those same protracted celebrations for Leopold's accessions.

Which begs question why was his Piano Concerto No. 26 the right size for the nickname "Coronation", and not the Concerto No. 19, performed at the same concert. Let's not tax ourselves. It's just another one of those delicate whimsies of musical history--alongside Moonlight, Emperor and the rest--that survive as persistent fossils in tradition's limestone.

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