Lenten Concert 2017; Part I

In preparation for the Cathedral Choir’s Lenten concert on Sunday, 19 March, I thought it would be helpful to briefly examine each of the three pieces on the program particularly since they are somewhat unfamiliar works.

We begin with Mozart’s Litaniae Laurentanae B.M.V. (The Loreto Litany), composed in Salzburg in May of 1771 and his first work in this genre (he was 15 at the time). The text itself is a prayer of supplication addressed to the Virgin Mary. The text is old–it was originally approved for use in the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V and is known as the Litany of Loreto for its first-known place of origin, the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto (Italy). Some writers trace its origins back to Gregory the Great, but the earliest surviving copy of the text dates from 1558, found in a small town in Bavaria.

But now to the music itself. Mozart distributes the text of the litany over a series of five movements: Kyrie, Sancta Maria, Salus infirmorum, Regina angelorum, and Agnus Dei. All but the Regina angelorum are scored for chorus and soloists (the Regina angelorum is for soloists alone) and the whole work is governed by a series of contrasts in tempo, scoring, and style. It uses the traditional “Salzburg” church orchestra of two violins and continuo (organ and cello) and, true to the prevailing religious style of the day, Mozart mixes stile antico (old style) with elements of stile moderno (new or modern style). You will easily hear those elements working in tandem; some sections will sound “blocky” or hymn-like” while others will sound little different than sections from a Mozart opera.   Despite its seemingly large number of movements, the work is only about 11 minutes in length. Here is the work in full: