WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Ave Verum Corpus
Originally intended to be sung by a small-town choir, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus is a beautiful but accessible piece, which Bridget Mermikides has arranged for classical guitar.
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes for guitar, a stunning work from perhaps the all-time genius of classical composition.
In this instalment we adapt for the guitar a work by the archetypal musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Space does not permit an adequate account of Mozart’s musical skill and staggering productivity. Suffice it to say that his career, which started aged five and despite constant money and health issues and having six children, by his final year at the ripe young age of 35 he had produced over 600 works. These included 41 symphonies, over 40 concertos (for piano, violin and horn), 26 string quartets and over 20 operas and works for stage. It’s quite hard to contemplate this work rate, let alone considering that each one is a work of exquisite skill and many of them genre-defining and expanding masterpieces.
Here we look at one of his shortest works, written in Baden on 17 June 1791 just a few months before his untimely death. By this point his technical and expressive mastery had long been established, and this motet (a general term stemming from the 13th century for a choral work with often sacred words) manages in just 46 bars to evoke serene beauty and deep expression. Ave Verum Corpus (K618 – his 618th work under the Köchel cataloguing system) uses a 14thcentury hymn as the text and was written for Anton Stoll, a friend of Mozart who helped his wife Constanze (pregnant with their sixth child at the time) and it is believed that the piece was written as a type of informal repayment. Stoll was the Baden Bei Wien Parish musical coordinator and used the work to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.
The text and general texture borrows much from the Renaissance motet, but there’s a succinctness in the melody and harmony, which is both original and progressive for the time. Originally scored for SATB choir, strings and organ, but such is the directness of the composition that virtually the entire melodic and harmonic content can be translated to the guitar (although I’ve transposed the original key of D to A to better use the guitar’s range). The simplicity of the work is perhaps due to Mozart’s awareness that this was to be performed by a choir of a small town which shows that, far from being in an ‘ivory tower’ he was a pragmatic composer, writing works to be heard not just on the score.
The main challenge here is not the tempo (which is serenely adagio and sotto voce: ‘subdued’) but to keep the melody legato like a sung voice while maintaining a suitable balance between it and the supporting chords. There are also numerous diads (double-stops and generally in 3rds) that require frettinghand fluency and an evenness of tone to make effective. This is a great arrangement to learn as it’s a perfect ‘miniature’ piece for performance and quiet consolation, and one of the technically easier pieces in our series. It is, however, by no means rudimentary musically - it has the surface of simplicity but a depth of sophistication – the so called ‘second simplicity’. Or, as the Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel so eloquently puts it, it is: “too simple for children, and too difficult for adults”. Enjoy!
there’s suCCinCtness in both the Melody And hArMony thAt MAkes it progressiVe And originAl for its tiMe
Mozart: composed over 600 works in his all-too-brief 35-year lifespan