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02 Dec 2019

MOZART: Exsultate, jubilate

by Michael Clive

Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate used to be everywhere; recording it and performing it in recital was nearly mandatory for lyric sopranos, and while it is by no means a rarity, programming and listening patterns have made it scarcer. It is a three-movement religious motet originally composed for the castrato singer Venanzio Rauzzini in 1773, while Mozart was staying in Milan for the production of his opera Lucio Silla. Rauzzini had been cast as the leading man in Silla, which ran for a month in Milan starting the day after Christmas in 1772.

The sheer joy of expression in Exsultate, jubilate brings to mind the exhortation from Psalm 100 to make a joyful noise and to come before His presence with singing. In composing music as an expression of exultant praise, composers often turn to the soprano voice, which can soar as if reaching for the heavens. Bach’s cantata for solo soprano and trumpet “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” (“praise God in all lands”) and Handel’s aria “Let the Bright Seraphim” stand with Mozart’s Exsultate as glorious examples in this category — especially with its third movement. This is the Allelujah, is the best-known and most difficult section of Mozart’s motet. Its ecstatic beauty requires the soprano to negotiate difficult, ornate passages while projecting sheer joy.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart