“Does it not seem as if Mozart’s works become fresher and fresher the oftener we hear them?”
— Robert Schumann
The brief text of Inter Natos Mulierum is drawn from vespers — the evening service — for the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, June 24.
Although the work is designed to honor the saint, the saint’s name is not mentioned until the third line of the text, about 20 measures in. Mozart works around that issue by giving the Latin name — Iohanne Baptista — its own musical theme and using that theme to frame the entire work. The violins have the Iohanne theme in the second measure, and the sopranos echo the theme in the Alleluia that concludes the work even though the name itself is not sung. Each section of the chorus sings the name three or four times, beginning with the sopranos.
One story, likely apocryphal, is that the young boy Mozart composed the Iohanne theme and sang it as a greeting for Johannes von Haasi, a monk at the monastery of Seeon in Bavaria. Most scholars agree, however, that Inter Natos Mulierum was written in 1771 at the earliest, when Mozart was already an adult. (Mozart is said to have dedicated the piece to von Haasi.)
The Ecce Agnus Dei theme provides a bit of contrast, a more reverent approach to a much more familiar part of the text.
Inter Natos Mulierum (K. 72, 1771) Matthew 11:11 and John 1:29
Inter natos mulierum
non surrexit maior
qui viam Domino praeparavit
Ecce Agnus Dei,
qui tollit peccata mundi.
Among those born of women
there arose none greater
than John the Baptist,
who prepared the way of the Lord
in the wilderness.
Behold the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world.
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