Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Fear not, Mary!"

Et incarnatus est
De Spiritu Sancto
Ex Maria Virgine,
Et homo factus est.

And was incarnate
by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

When Mozart set these words from the CREDO in his C Minor Mass, K. 427, he created a remarkably human way of understanding this central miracle of Christianity, extrapolating from the text—the way a great preacher does—to reveal deep truths.

Et incarnatus est, these lines of the Mass, rote and dry from weekly incantation, suggest a direct yet mystical congress between Mary and various parts of The Trinity. To become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God is certainly no routine miracle, and Mozart proposes a musical realization of this spiritual - corporeal union, giving voice to Mary's sacred acceptance in this mystical moment.

The work is set for soprano solo, accompanied by strings with an obbligato trinity of flute, oboe, and bassoon. Graciously opening with the trio of winds, the soprano answers their greeting with a simple, chant-like melody. The winds begin to woo, encircling the soprano in a beautiful cloud of contrapuntal caresses. The music of the wind instruments takes the role of the Holy Spirit preparing Mary, represented in the soprano solo, to become a mother. As the movement progresses, the soprano line gradually opens up, becoming more and more elaborate with trills, melismatic ornamentation, and great leaps of tessitura. Finally, a quartet cadenza for the winds and soprano carries the audience through an extended state of exquisite tension, ending in a gentle cadence. Back to earth, rocking rhythms sooth in the afterglow of mystical intertwining.

Et homo factus est.

Mozart's wife Constanze sang the first performance.

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