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Discover a sweeter perfection than Mozart's

A guide by Sator

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Albert Einstein famously said that Mozart's music “is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it – that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”

Mozart is justly famous for works such as Mozart - Requiem / Panzarella, Stutzmann, Prégardin, Berg, Les Arts Florissants, Christie Mozart - Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) Piano Concertos 16 24 - 27 Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro Clarinet Cto / Clarinet Quintet Mozart: Great Piano Concertos Vol. 1, Nos. 19 20 21 23 24 Mozart: Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) ~ Klemperer / Schwarzkopf / Ludwig Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35, 36, 38- 41

Mozart's music is loved for conveying a sense of sweet perfection - a perfection beyond any technical mastery of harmony or counterpoint, for there are plenty of composers that are recognized as far greater masters of such things, and by comparison to whom Mozart can seem divinely naive. The question then is whether in our age of a greater awareness of earlier music, there are other masters who achieved a similar spiritual radiance of untroubled perfection - of an intensity perhaps even more brilliant than that of Mozart. In an age that is beginning to question the centrality of the Austro-German musical tradition in music the question is becoming all the more pertinent and necessary.

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
For exuding a radiant sense of perfection, Corelli seriously rivals anything Mozart ever did, while demonstrating his virtuostic writing for strings - plus a grasp of counterpoint of a kind that puts Mozart in the shade. Corelli's themes too have that heavenly sense of melodic perfection. Corelli: Concerti Grossi Op 6 Corelli: Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo, Op. 5 Arcangelo Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 - Ensemble 415. Above all there is such a sense of proportion and of a serene nobility to the music that it richly rewards discovering.

Gregorio Allegri (1585 - 1652)
The Miserere Allegri: Miserere; Messe Vidi Turbam Magnum; Motets by Allegri is such a breathtakingly beautiful work that copying it or performing it outside of the Sistine Chapel was once forbidden. This was music as treasured as any of the other great works in the Sistine Chapel as those by Raphael or Michelangelo. Legend has it that Mozart memorized it in full after hearing it just once and wrote it all out - although no such copy has survived, suggesting the story may be apocryphal. If true perhaps this is the sort of angelic purity to which Mozart aspired - though listening to the Miserere you may seriously wonder whether Mozart managed to attain the same heights.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643)
There is something about Monteverdi's writing that has such Elysian sweetness despite all of its great depth. Just listen to that divine sweetness as Clorinda dies singing in the madrigal Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda Monteverdi: Combattimento Di Tancredi E Clorinda / Ballo Delle Ingrate for it has a heavenly quality that arguably surpasses Mozart. What is more, Monteverdi dramatically changed that history of music in a way that Mozart never did. Monteverdi truly pioneered the concept of grand opera on an epic scale - even if it the true father of opera was Caccini writing at around the same period. Monteverdi - L'Orfeo / Rolfe Johnson, Dawson, von Otter, Argenta, M. Nichols, Tomlinson, Chance, Baird; Gardiner Monteverdi - L'incoronazione di Poppea / McNair, von Otter, Hanchard, Chance; Gardiner. Whether it be Don Giovanni, Aida, the Ring or Lulu - Monteverdi made all this possible. Then also listen to the sheer sense of perfect mellifluous eloquence that Monteverdi commanded in his Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine / Missa In Illo Tempore Vespers- what effortless masterly of complex polyphonic writing! How heavy and muscular Mozart's Masses seem by comparison.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (ca. 1525-1594)
In terms of the sheer heavenly sense of celestial perfection in the infinitely thoughtful placement of every note, Palestrina surpasses any composer in history. The subtle avoidance of any dissonance coupled with the soaring melismata of his thematic material and his subtle use of counterpoint are extraordinary in the stillness of their ultra-refined artfulness. By comparison to this absolutely anything seems effortful. Tallis Scholars Sing Palestrina Vergini: Spiritual Madrigals Missa Ave Regina PALESTRINA: Master of the Renaissance 4CD Box Set (Pro Cantione Antiqua). Even in Mozart's time, when the Italian tradition still dominated over a slowly emerging flegling Austro-German school, his teachers would have likely held Palestrina up to him as model from which to learn counterpoint andin setting text to music.

Orlando Lassus (1532 -1594)
So gifted was Lassus as a child that he was kidnapped several times by various choral groups. After the last time his parents gave him up to the care of Ferdinand de Gonzaga, commander in general to Charles V of Spain's army. As a child prodigy who grew up to write music of sensuous beauty and effortless charm, Lassus is peerless. Quam Pulchera Es / Veni in Hortum Meum Masses/MotetsLassus: Il Canzoniere Di Messer Francesco Petrarca Lamentations of Jeremiah Lagrime De San Pietro. Even Palestrina’s artful perfection seems almost calculated by comparison to the sheer virtuostic aplomb of Lassus’ compositions.

Heinrich Isaac (c.1450 - 1517)
Of all of the composers of the Prima Prattica, Isaac's music stands out for the sheer soaring grandeur of his music. Missa Paschalis Missa De Apostolis / Motets. It is a sweet grandeur like a sweeping lush, landscape - so serene, yet so sublime at once. His contemporary Josquin writes music so much darker, melancholic, and restless by comparison - like Beethoven in comparison to Mozart. There is such a celestial perfection to Isaac's music that perhaps no music in history can rival it. Just listen to the motet Angeli Archangeli on Missa Mi-Mi - truly angelic music. So Isaac must be the final and possibly greatest composer listed here, whose celestial heights leave Mozart and just about any other composer you might care to name far, far behind.

Is any of this music truly more perfect than Mozart's? That is for you to decide. Many will be horrified by the mere suggestion and will vigorously disagree. And passionate disagreement is welcome, but whatever the case the age of the unquestioned dominance of the Austro-German composers is over and we must be receptive to the fact that before them there was an Italian - and before the Italian, a Flemish tradition in music that has lapsed into neglect. As the mastery of these earlier composers becomes better known the extraordinary beauty of their achievements makes it impossible to talk of Mozart as George Bernard Shaw naively once did that his is "the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God."

p.s. See my reviews on select individual items for further details on the music and the composers

Products mentioned include:
1.  Mozart - Requiem / Panzarella, Stutzmann, Prégardin, Berg, Les Arts Florissants, Christie  by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
$17.92 Used & New from: $1.52
4.5 out of 5 stars   (8)
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2.  Mozart - Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)  by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
$53.82 Used & New from: $8.02
4.6 out of 5 stars   (30)
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3.  Piano Concertos 16 24 - 27 [Import]  by UCHIDA / ENGLISH CHAMBER ORCH / TATE
$13.26 Used & New from: $5.49
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4.  Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro [Box set]  by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
$45.00 Used & New from: $4.46
4.7 out of 5 stars   (45)
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5.  Clarinet Cto / Clarinet Quintet  by W.A. Mozart
$17.47 Used & New from: $0.99
4.6 out of 5 stars   (21)
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6.  Mozart: Great Piano Concertos Vol. 1, Nos. 19 20 21 23 24  by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
$14.98 Used & New from: $3.38
4.7 out of 5 stars   (48)
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7.  Mozart: Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) ~ Klemperer / Schwarzkopf / Ludwig [Original recording remastered]  by Christa Ludwig
Used & New from: $31.58
4.4 out of 5 stars   (35)
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8.  Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35, 36, 38- 41  by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
$16.35 Used & New from: $3.52
4.5 out of 5 stars   (59)
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9.  Corelli: Concerti Grossi Op 6  by Arcangelo Corelli
Used & New from: $49.90
5.0 out of 5 stars   (3)
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10.  Corelli: Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo, Op. 5 [Import] [Original recording reissued]  by A. Corelli
$10.22 Used & New from: $3.99
5.0 out of 5 stars   (6)
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11.  Arcangelo Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 - Ensemble 415  by Corelli
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12.  Allegri: Miserere; Messe Vidi Turbam Magnum; Motets [Import]  by Gregorio Allegri
Used & New from: $15.82
5.0 out of 5 stars   (8)
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13.  Monteverdi: Combattimento Di Tancredi E Clorinda / Ballo Delle Ingrate  by Claudio Monteverdi
Used & New from: $22.06
5.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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14.  Monteverdi - L'Orfeo / Rolfe Johnson, Dawson, von Otter, Argenta, M. Nichols, Tomlinson, Chance, Baird; Gardiner [Box set]  by Claudio Monteverdi
$27.44 Used & New from: $13.80
4.8 out of 5 stars   (17)
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15.  Monteverdi - L'incoronazione di Poppea / McNair, von Otter, Hanchard, Chance; Gardiner  by Claudio Monteverdi
$36.09 Used & New from: $15.30
4.1 out of 5 stars   (7)
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16.  Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine / Missa In Illo Tempore [Import]  by C. Monteverdi
Used & New from: $40.49
5.0 out of 5 stars   (5)
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17.  Vespers  by C. Monteverdi
$32.21 Used & New from: $13.98
4.9 out of 5 stars   (8)
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18.  Tallis Scholars Sing Palestrina [Import]  by G. Palestrina
$18.64 Used & New from: $9.99
5.0 out of 5 stars   (17)
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19.  Vergini: Spiritual Madrigals Missa Ave Regina [Import]  by G. Palestrina
Used & New from: $23.96
5.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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20.  PALESTRINA: Master of the Renaissance 4CD Box Set (Pro Cantione Antiqua)  by Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina
Out of stock
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21.  Quam Pulchera Es / Veni in Hortum Meum  by O. Lassus
Used & New from: $15.99
5.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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22.  Masses/Motets  by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
$11.32 Used & New from: $4.05
5.0 out of 5 stars   (4)
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23.  Lassus: Il Canzoniere Di Messer Francesco Petrarca [Import]  by Orlande de Lassus
Used & New from: $84.31
4.8 out of 5 stars   (4)
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24.  Lamentations of Jeremiah [Import]  by Orlande de Lassus
Used & New from: $23.89
5.0 out of 5 stars   (5)
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25.  Lagrime De San Pietro  by O. Lassus
$11.57 Used & New from: $0.35
4.2 out of 5 stars   (4)
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26.  Missa Paschalis [Import]  by H. Isaac
Out of stock
4.7 out of 5 stars   (3)
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27.  Missa De Apostolis / Motets [Import] [Original recording reissued]  by Heinrich Isaac
$19.24 Used & New from: $9.17
4.2 out of 5 stars   (5)
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28.  Missa Mi-Mi  by Johannes Ockeghem
Used & New from: $72.09
5.0 out of 5 stars   (4)
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About this Guide

 

Author

Sator
Qualifications: Passionate Early Music Lover
Last updated: 7/28/05
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