You appreciate this caricature of Mozart in Amadeus when you listen to the obscure works in his catalogue. We know the hundreds, thousands of melodies from his best known genres: operas, symphonies, piano concertos, sonatas, string quartets. But there’s so much out there that we never hear. Last month I was listening to several of the flute quartets, this month I listened to the Church Sonatas (sometimes called Epistle Sonatas).
I can’t imagine many people have listened to these works, some 17 short works written mostly when Mozart was a young professional church musician in Salzburg. I will admit that when I saw this genre, I assumed they were some inconsequential choral works, written for immediate practical use in the liturgy.
It turns out, these Church Sonatas are mini-symphonies. They seem to take Sonata-Allegro form, and use small forces: a few instruments with continuo. Some recordings play one instrument to a part, how Mozart would have heard them, but some, such as the Daniel Chorzempa album on the accompanying playlist, use filled out orchestral forces. On a few occasions, the organ continuo takes a soloist role. Who knew that Mozart wrote organ concertos!
It turns out these works were written for a practical purpose: to fill ceremonial time between scripture readings in the liturgical service where Mozart served as church musician. These works probably were written in the same key as the Mass service used that day, Mozart was simply adding his style as an interlude to this sacred music.
But these pure orchestral works are excellent pieces. The themes are memorable, and are treated with the same compositional finesse we would expect from any substantial work by Mozart. Though short, these Church Sonatas are a trove of melodies that few Mozart fans get to appreciate. Realizing that these works exist lends credence to that fictionalized view of the composer in Amadeus: it was as if he was able to create melodies effortlessly on divine inspiration.
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act