When the Viennese Tonkünstler-Societät (founded in 1771 to assist the widows and orphans of musicians) invited him to compose an anthem for one of its benefit concerts, he was obliged to decline through lack of time.
Anxious, however, to maintain the good relations that he had enjoyed with the Society, he suddenly hit on the brilliant idea of using music written for the Kyrie and Gloria of his Mass in C minor (KV 427), turing them into the opening sections of an impressive oratorio and providing a perfect answer to the comission that had been offered to him. Thus Viennese audiences were able to make the aquaintance of a new masterpiece and hear the magisterial music of an unfinished Mass which - had circumstances been different - Mozart would probably never have written for the city.
In composing Davidde Penitente, Mozart used an Italian text adapted to fit the original music of the Kyrie and Gloria. It is believed, albeit without certainty, that the author of these words (which paraphrase the Psalms of David) was Leonardo Da Ponte. Mozart evidently worked at some speed, not even having time to prepare a new copy of the score for himself; one of the tasks that the copyists had to undertake was to add the text at various points beneath the exisiting notes.
In order to ensure that this large-scale oratorio would be worthy of his name, Mozart added two arias (No 6 and 8), together with the famous cadenza for the three soloists in the final chorus. Each of the soloists thus had his or her own aria, and the work acquired the minimum length required by the Tonkünstler-Societät. The four-, five- and eigth-part choruses are of a beauty already amply attested by the earlier Mass in C Minor. Since the orchestral parts had still to be copied, it must be a matter of some speculation how this performance actually went.
Gossec's influence - he was Mozart's great friend during the 1760s - is clearly discernible in the C minor Mass and hence also in Davidde Penitente. In his comparative study of Mozart's Requiem and Gossec's Messe des Morts, the Viennese musicologist Hartmut Krones has shown how many of Gossec's musical ideas have found their way into Mozart's C minor Mass. Thus, for example, the opening theme of the fugal "Et lux perpetua" from Gossec's Mass recurs, note for note, in the "Kyrie Eleison" of Mozart's Mass (and also to the words "Alzai le flebili voci" in Davidde Penitente), while another of Gossec's themes, "Cum Sanctis tui in aeternam", is rediscovered intact supporting the words "Cum sancto spiritu" in the C minor Mass, only to be heard again in the large-scale chorus "Di tai pericoli non ha timor" that brings Davidde Pentitente to its fitting conclusion.
The Missa Solemnis is a typical example of the kind of Missa Brevis that Haydn, Mozart and other composers were writing at this time.
The Mass is cheerful and light-hearted, but the "Benedictus" remains a mystery: built around an austere, academic, even refractory fugue, the music is in flagrant opposition to the words "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord". Was Mozart trying to express his discontent at the behaviour of his employer Archbishop Colloredo? Mozart quarreled with his patron Colloredo in 1780 and decided to turn his back on him.
The CD was released by Erato, 1990, (DDD). Erato 2292-45498-2.
Soprano: Bernadette Degelin
Soprano: Jennifer Smith
Countertenor: Peter Ickx
Tenor: Guy de Mey
Baritone: Jan Vandercrabben
Choeur De Chambre De Namur, Musica Polyphonica, Conductor: Louis Devos
Davidde Penitente, KV 469
- Coro: Alzai le flebili voci Signor (6'03")
- Coro: Cantiam le glorie (2'16")
- Aria Soprano II: Lungi le cure ingrate (4'58")
- Coro: Sii pur sempre benigno (1'58")
- Duetto soprani I&II: Sorgi, o Signore (2'47")
- Aria tenore: A te, fra tanti affani (6'27")
- Coro: Se vuoi, puniscimi (3'34")
- Aria Soprano I: Tra l'oscure ombre funeste (6'18")
- Terzetto Soprani I&II: Tutte le mie speranze (4'23")
- Coro: Chi in Dio sol spera (5'31")
- Kyrie (2'22)
- Gloria (3'29")
- Credo (5'04")
- Sanctus (1'43")
- Benedictus (2'33")
- Agnus Dei (5'07")