Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began composing music as a child, and did not live to see his fortieth year, yet he was among the most prolific composers of all time. He wrote literally hundreds of pieces, a large number of them major works such as operas, masses, symphonies, and other works that would have taken a lesser man months to complete. Yet, for all its quantity, Mozart's work never suffered in quality.
That this piece bears the Koechel number of 618 would seem to indicate that it was a later piece, and indeed Mozart wrote this "Motette" only six months before his death in 1791.
Some musicologists have assigned nearly cosmic significance to the manner in which Mozart laid down his innovative harmonic progression, drawing metaphoric significance and sociological commentary from the unique and intensely moving texture of this work. Whether they are right is open for debate. What cannot be debated is that despite its apparent simplicity, this is among a few pieces at the pinnacle of all choral literature. Its beauty is uncontestable.
The original Latin lyric, Ave Verum Corpus, has a slightly different meaning than the English one used in this edition. The English is somewhat more affirming of the hope of faith in the hour of death, while the Latin is more oblique and introspective. The English only is presented in the downloadable file, but the Latin is readily available elsewhere on the internet.
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Jesu, Word of God incarnate
Of the virgin Mary born.
On the cross Thy sacred body
For us men with nails was torn.
Cleanse us by the blood and water
Streaming from Thy pierced side.
Feed us with Thy body broken
Now, and in death's agony.
Now, now and in death's agony.
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To sing this piece, or to play it on the organ with a choir, is to experience one of the highest points in music history, and to be part of man's endless struggle to express his relationship with God.
The choice to offer this piece only in English and to leave the string parts behind is deliberate. Purists may be able to find a string quartet to go with their choir, as Mozart intended, and to find an audience that prefers Latin, but this is an English-language site that seeks to serve choirs in the present day. Today, it is sometimes difficult enough to find a decent church organ.
Note that this piece may be performed a capella. Simply stay in rhythm and seque directly from one choral passage to another, omitting the brief organ interludes. There is no specific direction in the downloadable on how to do this, but since you are printing the music yourself, a little work with scissors and tape should be all that is needed.
MP3 sound sample: Minnehaha Academy Singers, 1977.
JESU, WORD OF GOD INCARNATE, (translated from the Latin "Ave Verum Corpus") by W. A. Mozart, for SATB choir and organ, comes in a PDF file of 551K that contains a five page full score plus a license page, six pages in all. Performance time should be around 2:30.
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Last update: 8 February 2017