“Old” Salzburg

Mozart would certainly have been steeped in the sacred music of the Salzburg court, where his father was employed as perennial second banana to a variety of lesser composers.  The Mozarts’ Salzburg had about a 150-year tradition of support of the arts by its rulers, who were princes with absolute political power as well as archbishops of the Holy Roman Empire.

The 1100th anniversary of the Salzburg cathedral had fallen in 1682.  Prince-Archbishop Max Gandolph wanted to have a big party, which turned out to be years in the preparation, partly because after several great fires the rebuilding of the cathedral had been neglected.  The peasants were taxed to within a zoll of their lives and artisans were hired to complete the building and to fashion grand robes, silver chalices, golden goblets, and crystal bowls.  To help clean up the city, Gandolph expelled about one thousand Protestants and burned about two hundred vagrants and children as witches.

The big day finally came in 1685, with the centerpiece being the granddaddy of all Salzburg masses, Heinrich Biber’s (1644-1704) “Missa Salisburgensis”.  The sound is solemn, majestic, and “churchy,” as in “Et in terra pax,” with all Type I choruses and only brief Type II soloist combinations, probably due to the muddy sound produced by the echoes of the enormous orchestral forces scattered about the cavernous cathedral.  This 53-part monster was probably performed only the once, but must have been a required study piece ever after for all Salzburg musicians.

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