Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Jen-yen Chen (Occidental College, USA)

The virtue masses of Johann Joseph Fux: “constancy and fortitude” in sacred music at the court of Charles VI

The approximately one hundred Masses of Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) include nine titled after exemplary human traits, or virtues: the Missae Charitatis, Confidentiae, Constantiae, Fidelis, Fortitudinis, Humilitatis, Bonae Spei, and Temperantiae (two Masses). The naming of these nine works presents something of a mystery, for neither their known liturgical uses nor their musical style relate to the virtues in an obvious way. In this paper I propose an explanation that takes into consideration the composition of this music for the Catholic court of Habsburg Emperor Charles VI, whom Fux served as Kapellmeister for a quarter-century. All eight Masses belong to the category of either the Missa ordinari or the Missa a cappella, rather than to that of the highly ceremonial Missa solemnis. They functioned as generalized expressions of piety, with repeated performances reinforcing the religious character of the Viennese imperial court. Two virtues in particular, constancy and fortitude, formed the motto of the Emperor and thus merit special attention. The best known example of their representation in music is Fux’s opera Costanza e fortezza of 1723, written for the coronation of Charles as King of Bohemia. The Missa Constantiae and Missa Fortitudinis offered an analogous representation in sacred music.  However, rather than helping to constitute a distinctive celebratory occasion, they instead assumed a markedly impersonal manner. Their non-specific liturgical function corresponded to a conception of the Catholic faith as a universal religion which transcended boundaries of time and place and thus quintessentially embodied Charles’ motto.

Last updated on 01 June 2004