Mozart Ave Verum Vocal ScoreIn April of 1791, Leopold Hofmann, who was Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, fell gravely ill. Mozart, who had never been an avid composer of sacred music, nonetheless saw an opportunity to enhance his income, and maneuvered to succeed Hofmann. Towards this end, he turned his attentions again to sacred music, culminating ultimately with his Requiem. (As it happens, Hofmann survived Mozart, and died in 1793.)
Mozart set the Eucharistic hymn Ave verum corpus in June 1791. This setting was dedicated to his friend, Anton Stoll, who was chorus master of the parish church in Baden, and it was first performed in Baden at the Feast of Corpus Christi. If you wish to buy Mozart's Ave Verum, please click Vocal Scores and then FILTER BY COMPOSER, or see below for more.
It is possible that Mozart set this hymn mindful of the Imperial ban on elaborate concerted music, or it is possible that he was working with the limitations of Stoll's choir. One way or another, his setting is remarkable for its compact simplicity. There are a mere forty-six bars of music, with orchestral writing that serves to provide introduction, transition, and ending, and double the choral parts. The choral setting is simplicity itself, with the choir mostly singing the same text at the same time. This direct approach would suited a reform-minded Austria where textual clarity and brevity were all-important in church music.
Mozart's setting is far from pedestrian or undistinguished. (It actually isn't even complete; the text below includes the last two verses, which Mozart omitted from his setting.) There is an unusual modulation from D major to F major at the text, "whose side was pierced, whence flowed water and blood,", and the simplicity is the sort that Artur Schnabel famously described as too simple for children and too difficult for adults (after all, simple music like this exposes any lapses of rhythm, intonation, or ensemble). And the music seems to encompass a universe of feeling in forty-six short bars.
Chorus SATB; Strings, Continuo
Ave verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine:
Vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine:
Cujus latus perforatum, unda fluxit et sanguine:
Esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine.
(O Jesu dulcis, O Jesu pie, O Jesu Fili Mariae,
Miserere mei. Amen.)
Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary,
who has truly suffered, and was sacrificed on the cross for mankind,
from whose pierced side flowed water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste of heaven, during the trial of death.
(O Jesu sweet, O Jesu merciful, O Jesu Son of Mary,
Have mercy on me. Amen.)
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