The "Forgotten" Music of Salzburg the Organ Sonatas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Choral Graduals of Johann Michael Haydn

By Garrett, Monte | The American Organist, February 2008 | Go to article overview

The "Forgotten" Music of Salzburg the Organ Sonatas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Choral Graduals of Johann Michael Haydn


Garrett, Monte, The American Organist


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's (1756-1791) musical genius was widely acknowledged by his contemporaries and continues to the present time. He is regarded as a master in virtually every musical genre, including operas, symphonies, string quartets, choral works, and concertos. Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806), the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn and one of Mozart's Salzburg contemporaries, was less prolific but also highly esteemed by figures such as E.T.A. Hoffman and Franz Schubert.1 Both Mozart and his father Leopold spoke and wrote of Michael Haydn with admiration and made copies of his sacred works. Indeed, the influence of Haydn on Mozart may be seen in the comparison of Haydn's Requiem Mass in C Minor and Mozart's own Requiem. H.C. Robbins Landon asserts that Haydn's Requiem is "indisputably the direct model for Mozart's own Requiem written 20 years later. The similarities are too profound and too numerous to be accidental. The use of the Gregorian Te decet hymnus in both works is almost overwhelming evidence."2 Despite Haydn's reception during his lifetime and immediately afterward, his works are little known today. Though history has been much kinder to Mozart, both composers have a body of works that were all but forgotten or lost until the early to middle 20th century. While these works were composed for different performing forces-Mozart's instrumental and Haydn's choral-they were used in the same position within the liturgy at Salzburg Cathedral.

Mozart's 17 Epistle Sonatas, also referred to as "church sonatas," "organ sonatas," "sonatas," and Sonate all'Epistola are all single Allegro movements in a hybrid sonata form. Written between about 1772 and 1780, the works contain short development sections that blend features of chamber music, symphonic music, and the concerto. Although the term "sonata" in the classical period usually suggests a work for a solo instrument, none of the Organ Sonatas are written for solo organ. All of them have accompaniments or obbligato parts for orchestral instruments. Six of the 17 employ the organ as a solo instrument (see Table of Mozart's Organ Sonatas for scoring). The earlier sonatas were composed for strings and organ only, while the later sonatas included a variety of instruments such as oboes, trumpets, horns, timpani, and organ. The works display stylistic elements of the late Baroque period, not unusual in the slightly antiquated church music of the Viennese Classical period. The "mature" sonatas coincided with the composition of several of Mozart's finest choral works, including the Mass in C ("Krönungsmesse"), K. 317, Vesperae solennes de Dominica, K. 321, and Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339.

Mozart did not originate the organ sonata. The practice of performing instrumental music during the Mass goes back at least as far as the middle of the 17th century.3 Given Mozart's extensive travels, one is not surprised to discover an Italian Baroque influence in the sonatas. Mozart did not, however, hearken back to the Baroque trio sonata form.

It seems logical to suppose that the idea of the church sonatas derives from the Italian Baroque form, but Mozart's sonatas, each composed of a single, highly unified, compact movement are miniature examples of the classical style. . . . the periodic phrase structure, the close partnership of the violins, and the "Alberti" accompaniment figurations, along with the special function and increasing importance of the organ part, suggest that the medium is a true product of the Classical period.4

Perhaps the greatest innovation in these works is the multiple roles the organ fulfilled within a single work. The Sonata in F (K. 244) is the first to have both a detailed date and place of composition and an indication of registration. It is this registration that allows the organ to fulfill a triple function: (1) punctuated and sustained octaves are typical of Mozart's orchestral horn writing; (2) parallel thirds and sixths substitute for the absence of woodwinds; and (3) the organ assumes the role of a solo instrument in concerto style. …

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