“Exsultate, jubilate” was one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s foremost compositions, and still holds its mantle of a masterpiece. This scintillating motet was created for soprano and is the only work representing Wolfgang’s early vocal music that is still performed regularly. It’s not an opera and oozes an infused Italian style. The piece was first performed just a few days before Mozart’s seventeenth birthday.
The word “motet” is usually associated with choral music of the Renaissance era. It is not something that pieces like “Exsultate” are generally associated with. However, Mozart himself termed this piece as a motet. In Italy, the term is associated with sacred Latin “solo cantatas,” and generally contains 2 recitatives and 2 arias, finally closing with an Alleluia.
The fun fact is, not one, but three versions of the “Exsultate, jubliate” were crafted. The journeys associated with their creation is both fascinating and enchanting and explores the most uncharted musical byways. The originals version, termed “Milano” is most proficiently used, while not much is known about the two alternate versions - termed “Salzburg 1” and “Salzburg 2.” They are not even accredited to the collection of Mozart’s complete work.
Mozart had set out for Salzburg with his father in 1769, just before his 14th birthday. This 15-month spanning trip was memorable for various reasons. He was inducted into the “Accademiae filarmonicae” in Verona and Bologna and also christened with the “Order of the Golden Spur.” In 1770, during the trip, he had also reproduced “Miserere of Gregorio Allegri” just from his memory. He had heard the piece while visiting the Sistine Chapel. This remarkable feat is considered magical, as the work constituted of 4 to 5 parts, including a 9-part chorus at the end and was considered as an exclusive asset of the “papal choir.”
The most significant fact of this trip was the production of his very first opera seria “Mitridate,” re di Ponto (k.87) in Milano. The response was astounding, with the opera being performed 20 times. At the conclusion of his Italian trip, Mozart came back to Salzburg, where he received orders from the Empress to craft a piece for his son’s wedding. He crafted the “Ascanio in Alba (K. 111),” a serenata teatrale which proved to be extremely popular. However, disaster struck as the Prince passed away and was subsequently succeeded by the infamous Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo.
In 1772, Mozart visited Italy for the third time and crafted the “Lucio Silla (K. 135)” for the Milano opera. On December 26, 1772, the opera premiered and went on to had 20 performances. However, it did not receive the same critical acclaim as its predecessor “Mitriade.” It was considered to be a mediocre piece, albeit with flashes of ingenuity. The quality of this 2nd opera had an adverse effect, and Wolfgang received no further commissions. In 1773, they returned to Salzburg. “Exsultate, jubilate” is considered to have been crafted somewhere between December 26, 1772 (premiere of Lucio Silla) and January 17, 1773.
It was written for Venanzio Rauzzini, an eminent Italian castrato, who subsequently performed it. The florid coloratura method utilized in the piece along with its aptitude paints a picture of Rauzzini’s class. The piece rests quite low in the “soprano register,” and only rises to the “A” above the treble clef. The original date and the name of the lyricist still remain unknown. However, the low-quality Latin text suggests a period preceding its date of listing. Researchers speculate that, as Rauzzini was the lead singer at the Munich court between the period of 1766 to 1772, he might have provided Wolfgang with the text.
Salzburg 1 & 2
Hieronymus Colloredo had instructed Mozart’s (father and son) to only spend their time in Salzburg, and Wolfgang’s own compositions were barred from being considered legitimate. They were completely absconded from leaving the court, barring a brief trip to Vienna. In 1777, the father-son duo was discharged from their duties when they applied for a leave. However, after submitting a petition, Mozart’s father Leopold was reinstated. Wolfgang left for the trip, which later proved to be an ill-fated one when his mother passed away in Paris. In 1779, Mozart returned to Salzburg, and during this period crafted the Salzburg 1 and Salzburg 2 versions of the motet. In May 1781, he left Salzburg for good.
The motet is crafted exquisitely, and duly shows off its selected “instrument.” The young Mozart then pulls out further rabbits from his hat.
Exsultate, jubilate [Allegro]
It is the first section, and is presented in an embryonic form; with a codetta in “F major.” The main themes of section A are gradually introduced, in the opening 20 bars and are subsequently repeated, coinciding with the singer’s entrance in the opening theme. The “B” section does restate the theme, but in “C major,” the dominant key. The first movement is followed by a recitative secco that starts in “D major” and ends in “d minor.” This orchestration is classified as “parlando” – offering a speech-like style, with a quickish tempo. The Aria is used to depict the feelings involved in the events taking place while the recitative is used typically to depict the events.
Fulget amica dies [Secco Recitative]
The second is also in binary, while here the dominant key (d minor) creates a key relationship with “A major.” The AB themes are used as introductory in the A section, introducing “A major” and ending in “E major.” The B section offers a reverse theme, starting in “E major” and closing in “A major,” with a cadenza. It is followed by 10 traditional orchestra chords, going back to “F major.”
Tu virginum corona [Andante]
Here, Mozart pulls the first rabbit out of his hat, offering a gorgeously fluid theme resembling the first movement’s central subject. This is followed by a micro-cadenza as he brings out the second rabbit – the music is directly modulated into Alleluia’s central subject, instead of taking the familiar course of the second recitative. Here, he has pre-empted Beethoven, who is generally acclaimed as the first composer to link 2 concerto movements.
Alleluia [Molto allegro]
The fluid theme returns, with Mozart’s rondo-finale bearing the family resemblance. This gives birth to a musical “trinity” that puts basic moto themes to the sword.
Exsultate was crafted due to various reasons. The popular conjecture remains that Rauzzini had probably shared the words with Mozart, hoping he would incorporate music into it. Also, Rauzzini himself was available to perform it. However, the most important reason is considered to be the prevalent musical atmosphere of Italy in that period. The musical ambiance of Milano was hugely contrasting to that of Salzburg, and it came as a refreshing new challenge for the seventeen-year-old Wolfgang. Italy was the living beacon of Music in that era, while Salzburg was still devoid of the full effects of the artistic culture.
The Salzburg version utilizes Austrian flutes, while the Italian version uses Italian oboes. There is a widely accepted theory that the Salzburg 1 version was crafted for a Trinity Sunday, the Trinity church in particular. It is a testament to the fact that the piece was transposed up to “G Major,” as the organ in the church was tuned at a higher tone than usual. The second Salzburg version was created for Christmas.
The Milano version is a bit vague in exuberating praise and joy, albeit being theologically sound. The text in the piece is liturgically fitting for a Nativity motet. The Salzburg 1 had new words, which indicate that the Archbishop wanted it for a separate reason. However, it is still unclear why Salzburg 2 was crafted, as it’s also a Nativity piece similar to the Milano. Nowadays, Exsultate is considered as “concert piece,” rather than a religious work the original is.
There are also noted similarities between Johann Sebastian Bach's solo cantata “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” and “Exsultate, jubliate.” Wolfgang's aria form gradually evolved into instrumental concertos. However, he undertook this genre only after crafting Exsultate. Early Italian operas have since grown scarce, and “Exsultate, jubliate” remains the only example of the genre. Mozart’s legion of devotees, who worship his operas, his instrumental work as well as his sacred vocal music, still find grist for their musicological cravings in this marvelous work.
- About Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate K-165 on San Francisco Symphony
- About Exsultate, jubilate's motet for soprano & orchestra on All Music
- About Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate on Classic FM
- About Exsultate, jubilate K-165 by Mozart on Britannica
- About Exsultate, jubilate by Mozart on Baerenreiter
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