Catholic Christianity has been blessed with a vast array of artists of every sort whose manifold talents have brought glory to God. There are poets as different as Dante Alighieri and Gerard Manley Hopkins, we have Carravaggios and Michelaengelos in the visual arts, and there are a whole list of Catholic composers including Monteverde, Vivaldi, Haydn and countless others.
There is no other artist, however, Catholic or otherwise, quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was a child prodigy who showed off his keyboard skills on a tour of the noble courts of Europe at six years old and who composed his first symphony at eight. Before his death at thirty-four years old he had produced over six hundred major compositions in which he displayed mastery of every major musical genre of his time, including both sacred and secular music.
Mozart’s musical brilliance, unfortunately, did not carry over into his personal life. He was not a good manager of his personal affairs, and his family always struggled financially. Also, while he always considered himself a Catholic, his relationship to the Church was at times rather complicated. Nevertheless, Mozart seemed to have a deep and personal understanding of the allure of sin and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. This intuitive grasp of the drama of salvation and damnation permeates not only his religious music (particularly his Requiem Mass, which remained unfinished when he died), but even secular works such as the magnificent opera Don Giovanni, which concludes with a band of demons hauling the wicked old sinner Don Juan off to Hell.
The clip below features the Agnus Dei from Mozart’s Coronation Mass in C major. The composer finished the Mass on March 23rd, 1779. It was performed at the crowning of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II in 1792, and became a standard feature of coronations over the next century (from which it derived its nickname).