“A Tale of Joy and Sadness”

Ruth Davidge, Choir Director at Frenchay Parish Church tells the story of a favourite and inspiring musical work.

If you had been living in Vienna in the summer of 1783 you may have spotted a young well dressed couple boarding a coach for the week-long journey to Salzburg. They were going to visit his family whom his wife was yet to meet. Excitement was no doubt mixed with sadness as they were leaving behind their first child, a boy aged only two months.

The young man was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, already a well established composer in Vienna, and his wife Constanze, a talented singer.

Mozart had promised his father two things: the first was to bring his new wife to Salzburg as soon as he could to meet the family: and the second was to bring with him the new Mass which he had vowed he would complete and perform in Salzburg in honour of Constanze’s safe delivery of their first child.

The journey must have been very hot and dusty and especially exhausting for Constanze who had given birth only six weeks before, but they soon recovered and were well received and embraced by family and friends who were so happy to see Mozart after a separation of three years.

There were many concerts during their stay, culminating in a performance of the still unfinished Mass on Sunday, 26th October 1783, the day before the young couple were due to leave for their return journey to Vienna.

And so on a balmy summer’s evening this beautiful Mass set in the key of C minor was performed for the first time in the exquisite baroque Benedictine Abbey Church of St Peter’s under the direction of Mozart and with his musician friends taking part. Constanze was the principle soprano soloist and sang the music written especially for her voice.

I was privileged in 1991, two hundred years after Mozart’s death, to stand in the exact spot where Constanze stood that evening and to perform this wonderful music, so demanding yet so thrilling to sing.

Sadly, on their return to Vienna, the couple learned that their son had died while they were away, and sadly Mozart never completed the Mass.