Mozart: Exsultate, jubilate, K.165(158a)

Exsultate, jubilate, K.165(158a)

JOANNES CHRISOSTOMUS WOLFGANG GOTTLIEB MOZART
BORN: January 27, 1756. Salzburg, Austria
DIED: December 5, 1791. Vienna, Austria

COMPOSED: The exact date of composition is unknown

WORLD PREMIERE: January 17, 1773. Castrato Venanzio Rauzzini was soloist, at the Church of the Theatines, Milan

SFS PERFORMANCES: FIRST—February 1956. Suzanne Danco was soloist, Enrique Jordá conducted. MOST RECENT—April 2009. Lisa Saffer was soloist, Donato Cabrera conducted

INSTRUMENTATION: 2 oboes, 2 horns, portative organ, and strings

DURATION: About 16 mins

THE BACKSTORY  On October 24, 1772, sixteen‑year‑old Mozart and his father set out together for Italy. It was their third trip and would be their last. Their destination was Milan, then part of the Austrian Empire, where they arrived on November 4 and where Mozart was to produce a three‑act opera, Lucio Silla. He had begun the score in Salzburg and completed it in Milan in December; the first performance took place on the 26th of that month. The two principal singers were the Venetian prima donna Anna Lucia de Amicis and the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini.

Rauzzini, who was also a composer and harpsichordist (the great historian and chronicler Dr. Charles Burney was even more impressed by him in those capacities), had begun his singing career in 1765 as an eighteen‑year-old in Rome, worked in Munich for some years, and eventually settled in England, where he sang, taught, managed concert series, and composed. Haydn visited him in 1794 and composed a canonic obituary for his recently deceased dog. The Mozarts, father and son, already knew Rauzzini from a visit to Vienna in 1767, when he had sung in performances of Hasse’s Partenope.

Precisely how it came about that Mozart composed Exsultate, jubilate for Rauzzini is not known; but we can assume that, with his sharp powers of observation when it came to singers, Mozart tailored the composition pre­cisely to Rauzzini’s strengths—his taste, his bravura technique, and a de­livery on the whole gentle rather than forceful.

THE MUSIC  Mozart called this piece a motet, one of the loosest of musical terms, though the presence (in most cases) of a sacred text in Latin provides some sort of common ground. We may hear Exsultate, jubilate as a brilliant vocal concerto, whose andante (Tu virginum corona) is introduced by a recitative. The virtuosic Alleluja finale, detached from its context, has long been a favorite of singers and audiences; it even made it to Hollywood in 1937 when Deanna Durbin sang it with Leopold Stokowski conducting in 100 Men and a Girl.

—Michael Steinberg

Michael Steinberg, the San Francisco Symphony’s program annotater from 1979 to 1999 and a contributing writer to our program book until his death in 2009, was one of the nation’s pre-eminent writers on music. We are privileged to continue publishing his program notes. His books are available at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall.

MORE ABOUT THE MUSIC
Recordings: 
Kathleen Battle with André Previn and the Royal Philharmonic (EMI Classics Encore)  |  Barbara Bonney, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus Wien (Teldec) or with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv)

Reading: Mozart and Prague, by Harald Salfellner (Vitalis)  |  Mozart and Vienna, by H.C. Robbins Landon (Schirmer)  |  Mozart: A Cultural Biography, by Robert W. Gutman (Harcourt)  |  Mozart: The Golden Years, by Robbins Landon (Schirmer)  |  Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life, translated by Robert Spaethling (Norton)  |  The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia, ed. by Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe (Cambridge)  |  Decorum of the Minuet, Delirium of the Waltz: A Study of Dance-Music Relations in 3/4 Time, by Eric J. McKee (Indiana)

(November 2017)