The Corner


Tweens, Teens, and Others

Detail of The Boy Mozart, 1763 (anonymous) (Public domain via Wikimedia)

In 1768, Mozart received a commission to write some church music. He wrote a mass for the consecration of a new orphanage church. That work is broadly known as the “Waisenhausmesse,” or “Orphanage Mass.” The composer himself conducted the premiere — which involved a choir of orphans. He was probably about the same age as many of them: twelve.

I include this mass — an excerpt from it — in the new episode of Music for a While.

Is the “Waisenhausmesse” the greatest juvenile work ever written? Well, maybe. But it depends on what you mean by “juvenile.” Is 16 too old? That was the age of Mendelssohn when he wrote the Octet in E flat. Bizet was a veteran of 17 when he wrote the Symphony in C.

How about Mitridate, re di Ponto? Mozart wrote that opera when he was 14. Not bad.

I discuss this issue in Music for a While, and also present some Chopin: the Largo of his B-minor piano sonata. I think it is one of the most astonishing things in Chopin, and in the piano literature at large.

Then there is Lise Davidsen. She is a Norwegian soprano who made her Metropolitan Opera debut last season. I was unprepared for it. I had not known about it. But I was sitting there, in the dark, watching and listening to Pique Dame (Tchaikovsky), when this woman opened her mouth. Holy . . .

Later, I smiled, on hearing a statement by Esa-Pekka Salonen, the conductor (and composer). He made a recording with Davidsen. “The moment Lise sang the first phrase, everybody’s jaw dropped in the orchestra. I have never seen this kind of thing before. I’ve seen lots of things, but this was completely unique. It was like, Can this sound come out of a human? Because it was so full, so rich, so perfect.”

I end this particular episode with some more Mozart — more mature, you might say (and also sacred): “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes,” from Vesperae solennes de confessore. If you aren’t careful, you might just float away.

Again, the episode is here.


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