Playing Music like Mozart did

Dr Ernst Hintermaier, diocese archivist

With the ‘Fundation einer fürstlichen Chormusik’ (Foundation of princely choir music) at Salzburg Cathedral in 1597, Archbishop Wolf Dietrich created the instrument entrusted to accompany liturgical church services, which was combined with court music for celebrations. Around this time, polychoral music, in the style that had become popular in northern Italy – primarily in St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice – in the second half of the sixteenth century, had become commonplace in Salzburg.

Santino Solari had certainly taken that into consideration when designing the interior of the new cathedral. It is, however, unclear why he initially only built two galleries around the east transept organs, especially as one must assume that musical pieces with up to four parts were played in the parish church. One decisive reason may have been the customary use of two parts and the possibility of incorporating balustrades for cathedral oration. Stefano Bernadi certainly made use of not only the two transept galleries but also all ten marble balconies in the longhouse to play magnificent music for Christmas celebrations in 1628.

It was likely during Solari’s lifetime that the choir master, Abraham Megerle, had the two west transept galleries built, which were completed by 1647 at the latest. The use of all four galleries, including the organs as continuo instruments in connection with the choir in tutti in the sanctuary, is impressively documented in Megerle’s ‘Ara musica’, a collection of spiritual liturgical music dedicated to Paris Lodron.

The monastery anniversary celebrations in 1682 were the highlight of baroque magnificence. For this occasion, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber composed two brilliant pieces for 54 parts with two 8 part vocal and several instrumental choirs. The works’ five and seven part distributions impressively reflect the Salzburg Cathedral music. Both compositions, which were once erroneously attributed to Orazio Benevoli, a mass and the hymn ‘Plaudite tympana’, survived by chance in an oversized transcript of scores.

The principle of the choral distribution of vocal and instrumental bodies across wide distances was maintained until the galleries were removed in 1859.

There were definitely no changes made in this division during Mozart’s time. It is thus possible to reconstruct the fine details of the liturgy at Salzburg Cathedral, where both father and son Mozart worked as musicians for many years and created numerous works.


+ The function of the new transept organs

+ A blessing for the liturgy

+ The harmony of the organs with the architecture