Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Today is Mozart's birthday. Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born in Salzburg on this date in 1756 and was baptized the following day. (He died in Vienna on December 5, 1791.) The name Chrysostomus reflects the fact that, until the confusing calendar changes of 1969, January 27 was celebrated as the feast of Saint John Chrysostom.

Mozart, as everyone knows, was something of a child prodigy, who began composing at the age of five. He was the son of one of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg's musicians, and he too served as one of the Prince-Archbishop's court musicians until dismissed by him, which freed him for greater things in the imperial capital Vienna. The child prodigy grew up to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - composer of the classical period.

Mozart composed many Masses, and his truly glorious liturgical music has always been for me one of his great attractions. He personifies a time when the traditional precept to "hear" Mass could be quite literally fulfilled in a most esthetically pleasing and satisfying way. Sadly, Mozart's Masses are now completely confined to the concert hall and recordings and seldom ever enrich Catholic worship as they were originally intended to do.

In 1970, I spent July and August studying German in Salzburg, Austria. Not surprisingly, Salzburg has made the most of being Mozart's hometown. That summer I saw my first two Mozart operas, Die Zauberfloette and Don Giovanni. And on the feast of the Assumption (a legal holiday there), I heard Mozart's Kronungsmesse sung in several of the city's churches. That "Coronation" Mass has always been one of my favorites - along with Mozart's last Mass, his Requiem, that he was still working on up until his tragic and untimely death. I can clearly remember the first time I ever heard Mozart's Requiem. It was January 19, 1964, a televised "Month's Mind" Pontifical Mass for President John F. Kennedy, celebrated by Richard Cardinal Cushing at Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral. I remember how mesmerized I was, awestruck by something more beautiful than almost anything I had ever heard before.

Imagine if the Church's worship could still attract such quality music today!

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