The Coronation Mass in C major KV 317 reveals Mozart’s gift as a composer of sacred music. His Salzburg sacred music was produced in the context of his service as court organist and composer in the archbishop’s chapel. Raised in the spirit of Catholic tradition and values, without professing ritual bias, deep down in his heart Amadeus was at peace with God. “I have always God before my eyes, I acknowledge His omnipotence, I dread His wrath; but I also know His love, His compassion and mercy towards His creatures, and that He will never forsake His servants. When His will is done I am resigned [or: If something happens according to his will, then it is in accord with mine,]” as we read in one of his letters to Leopold (October 25, 1778). The letter explains Mozart’s reverence for Creation. It is well-known that the genius had unflagging belief in the immortality of man’s spirit, in eternal bliss.
The score of the Coronation Mass was completed on 23 March 1779. Almost certainly, it was written for the Easter Service, which took place on April of the same year, at the Salzburg Cathedral. Shortly after the the Master’s death it became his most popular sacred work. It was entitled ‘Coronation’ because it was often used in ceremonial services for the coronation of kings, emperors, and services of thanksgiving. Another account holds that Mozart wrote it for one of the church celebrations of Virgin Mary – the crowning of the miraculous icon of the Mother of God. Mozart deeply revered and trusted in the mercy of the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Salzburg, dedicating several works to her.
The C-Major Mass KV 317 is festive in its character and its style corresponds to the musical requirements of the Archbishop. Amadeus shared with his teacher Padre Martini: “Our church music is very different from that of Italy, and what is more, a Mass with all its parts – The Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Epistle sonata, the Offertory or motet, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei – must not last longer than three-quarters of an hour. This applies even to the most solemn Mass said by the Archbishop himself. A particular [training] is required for this class of composition. And certainly it must be scored [in the brilliance and full power of] all instruments, including trumpets and tympani”, “this even applies to the most solemn services, said by the Archbishop himself.” Mozart skillfully structures his mass as a compact setting of the traditional parts: Kyrie eleison (“God have mercy”), Gloria (“Glory in the highest”), Credo (“Believe”), Sanctus (“Holy”), Benedictus (“Blessed”) and Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”). It obviates complicated polyphonic constructions that appeared too “scholarly” to Coloredo’s taste. He actively uses the four solo voices in a combination of quartet, duo or solo lines that contrast with the more monolithic choral sonority. In this sacred piece, Mozart once again reveals his theatrical flair in the handling of the sacred texts. For example, he has the third part – Credo – expand into a dramatic scene, and in the final Agnus Dei, the astonishingly beautiful arioso sung by the soprano in a couple of years would become the Dove sono aria of the Countess from the opera The Marriage of Figaro.