Peter Leech
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In June 2019 you presented a very special concert dedicated to Leopold Mozart and his 300th Anniversary (1719-2019). Among the pieces performed, the world premiere of Leopold's Missa Brevis in C reconstructed by you and a series of other short works always by Leopold. Can you tell us about Leopold's sacred music and in particular the Missa Brevis you have reconstructed and the other pieces you have chosen? Why your interest in that Missa Brevis? As piece by Wolfgang Mozart you have chosen the Missa K140, written by a young Wolfgang in 1773. What the differences and similarities in the Sacred Music style of Leopold and Wolfgang?
As a musicologist and conductor, I have always been fascinated by setting the repertoire I perform in a clear context, seeking both to understand (and convey to my audiences) as much as possible about how certain composers and their styles emerged in given times and places, and what other kinds of other music were being performed in the environment in which these composers had been trained or brought up.

The revival of lesser-known composers is an important aspect of setting this context...

... Composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and other classical giants are rightly revered today for their genius, but it is important to understand the full nature of the musical world in which they lived, and what set them apart from their contemporaries, not all of whom were necessarily as inferior as they are portrayed in some standard music histories. Imagine the kind of music the young Wolfgang Mozart heard as a small child when his father was rehearsing the choir and orchestra at Salzburg Cathedral in 1760!

Leopold's sacred music (much of which still lies unedited in manuscript sources) is excellent, demonstrating a mastery of harmony and counterpoint as well as an expressive flare certainly equivalent to other Salzburg Cathedral composers (such as Michael Haydn, for example) at the same stage of their development. Leopold was particularly fond of dark diminished-7th harmonies (used at pivotal points in the mass, for example at Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis (Gloria) and at Et incarnatus (Credo).

Leopold's C major Missa Brevis is particularly interesting to me not only because it is incomplete (necessitating a reconstruction of the missing Sanctus and Agnus Dei) but also because evidence suggests it may well have been originally performed with colla-parte strings, in the Austrian 18th century church tradition, as has been demonstrated by scholars working on surviving performance materials for masses by Albrechtsberger and Georg Reutter Jnr.

In contrast, Wolfgang's G major Mass (KV 140) comprises independent string parts.

If Leopold's Mass does date from around 1760, then it is also similar to the style of Eberlin and Adlgasser, a style which relied heavily on strict counterpoint, used most typically at the closing fugues of the Gloria and Credo. Wolfgang followed this fugal tradition with his longer solemnis masses, but not so frequently in the brevis masses. KV140 is almost completely devoid of counterpoint, and is composed in a much more modern style, utilising homophonic textures akin to the choruses of his early operas. Leopold's Missa Brevis in C has no designations for soloists, whereas Wolfgang's work incorporates solo interjections throughout. In some ways it is not easy to compare these works, since they are a at least a decade apart and Leopold stopped composing around 1760, but we can nevertheless surmise that some fundamental elements of Leopold's skill must surely have been passed on to his son...

... The extent to which this took place mostly in the early years (or by a process of gradual understanding through immersion in so many different musical experiences) remains a matter for debate. Much more of Leopold's music needs to be transcribed and edited to gain a fuller understanding of his church style in particular.

Peter Leech & Harmonia Sacra:
After the Concert with music by Leopold & Wolfgang Mozart


In Dulci Jubilo: Choral Music For Advent & Christmas


The Cardinal King: Music by Bolis, Costanzi, Jommelli


Princely Splendour: Music by Bolis, Costanzi, Scarlatti


Cherubim & Seraphim: Russian Orthodox Choral Works


Aylesbury Choral: Handel, Linley, Wesley, Attwood


Peter Leech & Aylesbury Choral:
Praise be to God, and God alone by Thomas Linley

In 2016, you released a marvellous CD Album The Cardinal King: Music For Henry Benedict Stuart In Rome, 1740-91. The Album is dedicated to the music by Jommelli, Bolis and Costanzi. In 2014 you had already released another marvellous CD Princely Splendour with music by Costanzi, Casali, Bolis, Scarlatti. During the June 2019 Concert dedicated to Leopold Mozart's 300th you presented also music by Sebastiano Bolis and Giovanni Battista Casali. Just few know that all these 18th century Italian composers are, in reality, also linked to the Mozarts in various ways also through Padre Martini (Jommelli, Casali and Costanzi) or through another famous pupil of Padre Martini, like Mozart, Grétry (Costanzi and Casali), and all these composers were among the music models used by young Mozart to study and develop his own art. When did you think to start a long work of research on the music by these composers? How did you carry on this type of research? Can you tell us about the works and music of these composers? How do you see now the two Mozarts and MozartEra in the light of your discoveries? In your opinion, what is, in reality, the Mozartian classical style?
Thank you for your praise!

My interest in the Roman school of composers emerged as long as 12 years ago, when Sebastiano Bolis first came to my attention when I rediscovered the strong link between him and Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart (1725-1807). What fascinated me utterly from the moment I began transcribing Bolis's music is how truly classical it sounded.

The tremendous variety of Bolis's church compositions is extensive, in that he could turn it to any effect (whether an unaccompanied stile antico design for Lent, or a highly operatic, orchestrally-supported aesthetic for Christmas and Easter), but we still know so little about him and precisely from whom he absorbed the classical style. It is believed that he studied with Giovanni Battista Casali (1715-1792), maestro at S Giovanni in Laterano from 1759. We also know that in 1774 Bolis passed his Accademia di S Cecilia exam and that by 1778 he was working for Cardinal Henry. It soon became clear to me that Bolis represented a kind of Roman style of classical church music which has scarcely been explored by musicologists, Italian or otherwise. It has therefore not been set in context, and since many scholars consider Rome to have been a backwater in church music after 1725, I have been determined ever to establish the importance of Bolis and his Roman contemporaries as Italian equivalents, at least in church music, to the first Viennese school of composers. Thus began my process of rediscovering, from Roman archives, the church music of Casali, Jommelli as well as lesser-known names such as Cavi, Terziani and Jannacconi and of course Costanzi, the last of whom had been Bolis's predecessor at S Lorenzo in Damaso. (Bolis was also maestro at Frascati Cathedral).

A common link between all of these composers is Cardinal Henry (a patron of Jommelli who also knew Casali well too, and an employer of Baldassare Galuppi at S Maria in Campitelli during the 1750s).

Henry clearly supported more modern styles of church music that were worlds away from the austere counterpoint of the Papal Chapel.

It is my plan to write a cultural biography of Cardinal Henry which will shed light on this Roman classical church music school of composers, setting them in the context of wider European developments. My research chiefly involves painstaking transcriptions of the works of these composers from original manuscripts, and, where possible, comparing various sources in order to create definitive performing editions. I have championed many of these new composers with recordings and performances; for example in September 2019 Harmonia Sacra will perform Bolis, Costanzi and Galuppi in S Lorenzo in Damaso, Rome again, and, for the first time, taking Bolis back to Frascati Cathedral. Only by performing the music have I been able to arrive at an understanding of the Roman classical style. It is certainly not easy to fully quantify Bolis in isolation - sometimes his music is utterly classical sounding, whereas at other times he uses an orchestra, for example, as underpinning for a double-choir work; a kind of fusion of old Roman polychoralism with rococo exuberance.

My discoveries in Roman classical music, along with those of other scholars, have shown that there is still a great deal more to be known about Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart and their possible influence beyond Central Europe into the other spheres, and the Italian peninsula in particular. The Mozartian classical style, at least to me, is, as far as sacred music is concerned, one in which standard liturgical texts become energised with a new vigour - liberated from more serious Baroque formality into a joyous, uplifting and playful idiom which is utterly infectious and a delight to perform.
Peter Leech & Harmonia Sacra perform Dextera Domini by Sebastiano Bolis
in San Lorenzo in Damaso, Rome. First modern performance in the original
venue. 16 September 2017.
Your main interest in 18th century music led you also to explore another particular repertoire: choral works composed by Italian and Russian composers between 1765 and 1825 (starting from the reign of Catherine the Great). With music by Bortnyansky and, especially, by Giuseppe Sarti, this CD has again also a direct connection with Mozart, since we know that Sarti and Mozart were both pupils of Padre Martini and that Mozart was particularly friendly with Sarti in Vienna and dedicated to him a famous section of his Don Giovanni (1787). On the other hand, you have produced another CD with music of other famous composers directly personally linked to Mozart: Linley, Attwood and (only in part linked to Mozart) Wesley. From your point of view, how do you see the music of the second half of the 18th century from England to Italy to Austria and then to Russia? What the chains of influence? And what the Mozart effect on that world, firstly considered a touchstone as a child prodigy (Burney) and then a magnificent (but not always well accepted, as one might think) model?
One of my major research interests has always been cross-cultural exchange. Over the years my research into music of the international diaspora of the Jesuits has revealed how they were particularly skilled at transporting European musical culture to far-flung corners of the world, whether by establishing Latin American choir schools, or building pipe organs in China.

During the mid-18th century, Italian composers worked all over the world and could be found as distantly as Ireland, Mexico or St Petersburg, employed both as church musicians and opera composers. I studied the German, Italian and Russian languages and have also specialised in Russian Orthodox music as a conductor.

The links between Russia and Italy were very strong in the reign of Empress Catherine the Great (1762-96), a ruler who paid vast sums of money to her Italian musicians such as Galuppi and Sarti. One fascinating link, which has not yet been fully explored, is that between Sarti, Mozart, Galuppi, Catherine the Great and Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart. Shortly before his time in Russia, Galuppi had been working for Cardinal Henry. Henry had also entertained Grand Duke Paul (Catherine's son) in Rome in 1782, not long before Sarti took up his post in St Petersburg (having met Mozart en-route). What this demonstrates is the highly cosmopolitan nature of late 18th century Europe, a Europe where travelling composers, working in the emerging classical style, knew no national boundaries. It was a style that clearly evolved partly through exchange, and could be felt in 1770s England in the hands of Thomas Linley (who knew Mozart and studied in Italy), or in 1780s Russia with Sarti, or in 1780s Rome with Sebastiano Bolis.

The full extent of the Mozart effect on all of this still needs more work, but as we learn from Burney and others, it was not unusual for composers who travelled to meet each other in different places, especially those involved with the unending maelstrom of activity that was the world of Italian international opera seria.
You are at the very centre of many important and very interesting musical projects, choirs and ensembles: Harmonia Sacra, Cappella Fede, Costanzi Consort, Spectra Musica, SWEMF, Musica Jesuitica. In particular, in 2008 and 2009 you founded the two major groups Harmonia Sacra and Cappella Fede, you worked with to produce your critically acclaimed CDs (BBC Radio 3). What the story and origin of Harmonia Sacra and Cappella Fede? And what about your work with the Costanzi Consort? You are also a composer: how do you think your profound knowledge of the 18th century music, of the music of the two Mozarts and of the many pupils and contemporaries of Padre Martini influenced and is alive in your work as a composer today in the 21st century?
Thank you very much again!

Harmonia Sacra is a hand-picked amateur chamber choir formed in 2009 comprising singers I had worked with from many other choirs from the previous 10 years or so. I was determined to establish a non-profit choir that would have honourable aims and objectives, performing music from c.1600-1800, but which would also uncover hitherto unknown musical repertoire as well as support young emerging composers. I am very proud of the work we have done, and the choir is so pleased to be at the forefront of many aspects of my music research. We have developed a very special relationship with Nimbus records in particular, who have supported our projects from the outset, bringing lesser-known works of the 18th century to wider audiences.

Cappella Fede
is my professional ensemble who came together by invitation for an international conference concert in Liverpool in 2008, and have since gone on to perform at many prestigious venues in the UK and, last year, in Rome. Like Harmonia Sacra, they have also performed and recorded music which I have edited and transcribed from original sources. Next year Cappella Fede will appear in concert in Cardiff in a programme of music by Isabella Leonarda, which will also feature music by the Roman female composer Maria Rosa Coccia (1759-1833). She was a contemporary of Bolis (they both sat the St Cecilia exam in 1774) and her church style is also highly classical, not just in the traditional Neapolitan sense (a label which is often placed on Roman church music of the 1750-1770 period) but also in a very distinctive way; like Bolis she wrote polychoral Vespers settings, alternating strict contrapuntal choruses with virtuoso solo arias.

Costanzi Consort (named after Giovanni Battista Costanzi, another  unjustly neglected 18th century composer) was formed to be a high quality chamber choir in the North Somerset area where I live. The group has championed music by lesser-known 18th century Italian composers and future plans include a project to perform and record music by Giovanni Battista Casali.

So, as you can see, the church music (in particular) of the Roman mid-to-late-18th-century school has become something of a major interest for me, and a major departure from my original PhD work as a specialist in 17th-century British court music.

My knowledge of 18th century music does indeed affect my own work as a composer. My style has changed considerably over the years, in that I now accept and acknowledge that counterpoint, if used in a deliberate and uninhibited way (sometimes a combination of Fux's traditional rules of consonance and dissonance with more wide-ranging chromatic explorations) create my own distinctive musical language, one which choirs seem, thankfully, to enjoy.

Peter Leech Composer at BBC

Lux Memoriae: Contemporary British Choral Works


Peter Leech conducts J.J. Fux, Benedixisti Domine (excerpt).

Peter Leech & the Cardiff University Chamber Choir China Tour (15 June-4 July 2019). With music by Sebastiano Bolis, Maria Rosa Coccia and Dimitry Bortnyansky.
Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.
Mozart: Vesperae solennes de Dominica KV 321,

Joseph Haydn: Die Schöpfung

Because the Dominica Vespers, less well known than Mozart's KV 339 set, is resplendent with the harmonic intensity and rhythmic vitality of Mozart's Church music style in the later Salzburg years and which looks forward to the style of the much later Requiem.

The Haydn represents, to me, the composer at his mature best, ranging from the modern chromatic darkness of the chaos music to the vibrant choruses which echo the Gloria and Credo movements from the late masses such as the Nelson.

Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you'd like to see re-evaluated?
Giovanni Battista Costanzi (1704-1778; at imslp with list of works).

Because he was a link between the late Baroque Roman Church style of Alessandro Scarlatti and Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni and the later Roman classical composers such as Casali (1715–1792; at imslp), Bolis and Jannacconi.

Costanzi was an important teacher and although we certainly know a few of his important pupils, there were undoubtedly more, who will be discovered through more detailed research.

His biography in music texts is pitifully small for such a long-lived composer.

The surviving music of his early Christmas cantatas composed for Cardinal Ottoboni in the 1720s is superb.
And certainly another interesting fact about Costanzi (who was also a famous cellist) is that he is probably the real composer of the Cello Concerto in D major IGC 1 (= Hob. VIIb: 4; 1772?), a piece for long time attributed to Joseph Haydn.

Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you'd like to see performed in concert with more frequency.
Sebastiano Bolis (c.1750-1804): Dixit Dominus in D major for double choir - full orchestral version.

Because it would display fully Bolis's compositional skill with its contrasting movements, orchestration and contrapuntal ingenuity, not to mention a strong sense of choice of appropriate harmonic colour for different texts.
Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?
Ruth Halliwell, The Mozart Family - Four lives in a Social Context (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1998).

It gives such a vivid insight into the day to day lives of the Mozart family and their interactions with so many personalities, both musical and non-musical, and the way in which Wolfgang managed his hectic life. 
Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.

Because no other film has been made, either directly or indirectly about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart which puts the music first, above the drama and plot, regardless of any factual inaccuracies there may be. The Salieri intrigue, whether real or imagined, does not detract from the dramatic impact of the music upon any watcher. This film single-handedly changed my mind from wanting to be a historian who performed music to being a professional musician, but who continued to love history.
Do you think there's a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?
Difficult to answer...

Vienna certainly,...

... but also Mannheim and Naples.

These cities were home to a variety of composers who, at a certain time in the 18th century, and before the post-1789 revolutionary period, worked in vibrant musical environments which were dependent upon courtly and ecclesiastical patronage to survive. Stylistic changes ebbed and flowed in patronage systems which were also the frameworks within which composers from all over Europe constantly moved and interacted.

Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
Thank you!