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Detail from Henry Ossawa Tanner's painting of the Annunciation to Mary.

And He Was Made Man

The Annunciation as Interpreted by Mozart

Colin Fields


Mozart wrote his C Minor mass in 1782 and 1783 as a wedding gift to his wife Constanze, and it was she who sang the soprano aria “Et incarnatus est” at the premiere of the mass in October of that year in the church of St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg. Among the many glories of Mozart’s music, this piece is uniquely and sublimely beautiful; Pope Francis told a Jesuit magazine in 2013 that, “The ‘Et incarnatus est’ from his Mass in C minor is matchless, it lifts you to God.”

It starts quietly as a soprano solo reflectively introduces history’s most tremendous event: Et incarnatus est. And he was made incarnate. As the music progresses, the voice soars and is joined and adorned by a trio of woodwinds – evoking the soul aspiring to God – in harmonies that are increasingly exultant yet always expressive of simplicity and wonder.

Et incarnàtus est
de Spìritu Sancto,
ex Marìa Vìrgine,
et homo factus est.

And he was made incarnate
of the Holy Spirit
by the virgin Mary,
and was made man.

If there is a more luminous recording than that made by Sylvia McNair under John Eliot Gardiner’s direction in 1988, I have yet to find it.

painting of  The Annunciation
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation (detail). View full painting.