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Mozart (1756-1791) – Exsultate, Jubilate K165
By all accounts, the motet Exsultate, Jubilate was a bit of a rush job. Venanzio Rauzzini was scheduled to sing the new motet in Milan's Church of San Antonio on 17 January 1773. However, Mozart hadn’t even started it when his opera Lucio Silla opened in Milan on 26 December 1772, and that kept them both fully occupied for the next three weeks! Somehow they managed to meet their deadline, and thus Mozart, then just “sixteen, going on seventeen”, had chalked up yet another brownie point towards his “genius” badge.
The definition of “motet” seems as constant as English weather. In the Italy of Mozart’s day, it was “a sacred Latin solo cantata [consisting] of two arias and two recitatives [and] an Alleluia” (Quantz, 1752). So, Mozart was one recitative short of a motet, suggesting that he didn’t quite beat his deadline. The shortfall, though, gave him an idea: soon he would “lose” that one, unconscionably brief recitative, and have in his grasp the formal model for his instrumental concertos!
Indeed, it must have been as obvious to Mozart’s ears as it is to ours – albeit with the benefit of hindsight: here was, in all but name, a Concerto for Castrato (though, for eye-wateringly obvious reasons, nowadays it’s generally “for Soprano”). It is as exquisitely crafted as any of his concertos to show off its chosen “instrument” - yet the young magician has two further rabbits to pull out of this hat:
1. Aria: Exsultate, jubilate (Allegro) is cast in an embryonic sonata-form, complete with a brief but fully-fledged solo cadenza, just before the coda.
2. Recitative: Fulget amica dies
3. Aria: Tu virginum corona (Andante). Rabbit no. 1! The gorgeously fluid theme of this variations movement bears a clear family resemblance to the first movement’s main subject. Following a micro-cadenza comes rabbit no. 2 – instead of yielding to the expected second recitative, the music modulates directly into the Alleluia’s main subject, precisely pre-empting Beethoven, who is generally credited as the first to link two concerto movements.
4. Alleluia (Molto allegro). Rabbit no. 1 resurfaces! The joyous ritornello of Mozart’s rondo-finale also bears the thematic family resemblance, completing a musical “trinity” that puts mere motto themes to shame. Yet, I’ve this nagging suspicion – we see all this breathtaking ingenuity, but to young Master Mozart was it no more than simple expedience, cutting corners to save time?
© Paul Serotsky
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