Mozart composed Ave Verum Corpus just six months before he died. In June 1791, his wife Constanze was pregnant with their sixth child. As was her habit when pregnant, she left Vienna to take the waters at the nearby spa in Baden. Mozart joined her a few days later and composed this short motet for an old friend – the music director of a tiny church in the town, who had looked after Constanze during her frequent trips to Baden.
Throughout his life, Healey Willan claimed he was born with the ability to read music. As a choir boy in England, he studied singing, piano, organ, harmony and counterpoint and by the age of eleven was conducting choir practices. Willan continued on the path of a church musician in London, delighted by his natural gift for music.
The tradition of reading, reciting or performing the story of the passion of Jesus Christ, according to the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, during Holy Week, is ancient. Centuries ago, the long gospel tales were recited or chanted by a single clergy member in a declamatory, narrative style. But with all the different characters in the story, often in dialogue, a better method was devised where the pace of recitation was altered to distinguish the words of the characters, like Christ or Peter or Pilate.