Robert L. Edwards, Conductor, Consultant, Photographer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart “Ave Verum Corpus”

Mozart portrait

An uncompleted portrait made 3 years prior to Mozart’s death.

Mozart's setting of the 14th century Eucharistic hymn is one of the most oft abused sacred music miniatures, suffering excessive swooping and swelling, over-emoting and conductor self-indulgence. This is a contemplative piece that should alert the soul rather than stir the libido.

Conductors need to leave the piece alone. Let it be. Let it be as Mozart wrote it. Emphasis is written in. Emotion is built into the melodic line (without any need for instant soaring crescendos), and later in delicious harmonic stresses resulting from movement by clashing seconds (which DO call for controlled dynamic swelling). Its the conductor’s responsibility to prevent naive singers from treating this plaintive piece as if it were a grand opera chorus. Control and planned dynamics are the key. To allow the performance to be out of control is musically criminal. Ignoring the composer's clear instructions of sotto voce should be punishable by death. OK, maybe that's a little harsh.

Mozart Ave Verum Corpus”
 - Live Performance
- Greater Hazleton Oratorio Society, Sinfonia da Camera
Robert L. Edwards
- 1980

Written just six months before Mozart died, just prior to beginning his Requiem, “Ave Verum Corpus” is another of his pieces that  looks forward to the Romantic era. His setting of the text clearly is deeply felt. While its character is heartfelt, its form remains purely classical. The great joy is in its dignified simplicity. The performers’ responsibility is to avoid being simplistic. The peak of the piece comes with the aforementioned harmonic tension on the text "Let it be a foretaste (of Heaven) In the trial of death” where an ascending sequence is enriched by descending seconds. Dynamically, the piece gradually crescendos naturally via harmonic pitch movement into the upper middle voice peaking near the end, on the word “mortis” (death), followed by a comparatively quick decrescendo. Mozart’s emphasis on “death” was prescient.

This performance by Greater Hazleton Oratorio Society is the one about which Vienna-trained music critic Harry Trebilcox wrote:

“...I have never heard a more lovely, well-planned, or moving performance of Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’.”

In order to provide permanent documentation of the important sociological and musical contributions of the Greater Hazleton Oratorio Society, Singers’ Guild of Scranton and Sinfonia da Camera to the lives of residents in Northeastern Pennsylvania, some of the 1977-1986 live performance analog recordings of these community groups were rescued, restored, and converted to a digital format. Those restorations and the performance excerpts that appear on this website are intended as historical documents not as an entertainment product. The copying or dissemination of these excerpts is strictly prohibited.

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