Mozart: Missa Brevis in D (K. 194)

At our Easter Sunday service (11am) we will be singing Mozart’s Missa Brevis in D (K. 194) with orchestral accompaniment. 

Mozart was only 18 when he wrote the Missa Brevis in D in 1774, but he was already a masterful composer. 

Musicologist Elisabeth Southorn points out that this was not only a period of great change in music, with the emergence of the classical style, but also a time of significant social upheaval, with the revolutionary influence of Enlightenment thought, and Masonic ideals such as the ordering of society according to merit, not birth. 

Between October 1773 and August 1774 the teenage Mozart wrote at least 20 works – including two Missae Breves – an output perhaps inspired by a trip to Vienna where he had had the opportunity to hear the compositions of great contemporaries such as Joseph Haydn. 

Southorn observes that during this period, Mozart had the tendency to write pieces in pairs: one in the old style, and one exploring the new stylistic ideas: 

‘An element which stands out in reviewing Mozart’s work from October 1773 to August 1774 is his apparent predisposition (at least in this period of time) to compose pairs of works – one conservative and one progressive. In this short period of time, he composed two symphonies in October, one which is considered to be composed from an earlier style and the second, a progressive work which brings him fame (“the Little G Minor”). This happens again in the spring, with two other symphonies and seems to be the case with the composition of the two missa breves’ (p. 71). 

In the Missa Brevis in D, Mozart incorporates many aspects of the new, emerging classical style: unification of the movements through motivic relationships, rhythm and tessitura; the use of sonata form (in the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and the Dona nobis section of the Agnus); and frequent changes of affect and the use of dramatic ‘Sturm und Drang’ devices in the Credo. 

By comparison the Missa Brevis in F, K. 192, written only a few months earlier, is much more in the traditional mould of a mid-18th century Viennese mass. There is much less structural unity between movements, heavy use of counterpoint and more independent orchestral writing, adherence to the Baroque ideal of one affect per movement, and almost no trace of sonata form. 

It was as if Mozart was negotiating his way through a period of great change by writing first in a traditional style, closing that off, then devoting himself to the future. 

From her analysis, Southorn concludes that above all K. 194 is an expression of great joy. We couldn’t agree more, and look forward to welcoming you to our Easter Sunday service! 

Source: Elisabeth B. Southorn, 1994, ‘Mozart’s Missa Brevis in D Major, K. 194: Meaning revealed through historical, biographical and analytical perspectives’, Masters Thesis, San Jose State University. 

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