Mostly Mozart on Good Friday

What a music month April was for me. I got to see a live performance of the Beethoven 9th and then on Good Friday I got to see a live performance of the Mozart Requiem! My friend John A and his son Jim A (of the Polk audio event) asked me to attend their Church Concert on Good Friday. Jim performs in the Choir. The Concert consisted of a performance of the Albinoni Adagio in G -Minor, the Mozart Requiem, and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618. The church had hired an entire orchestra in order to perform these compositions.

The evening started with the Albinoni Adagio. This is a very beautiful and quiet piece. It is scored for solo violin, strings and organ. The adagio has a haunting melody that floats over the quiet muted sound of the organ. The piece builds to a climax that leads into a highly emotional and beautiful cadenza from the first violin. The first violin’s solos were just fantastic. She is quite a good musician. The entire adagio was admirably performed with quiet dignity and introspection, setting up the reverent atmosphere for the performance of the Requiem.

Although this piece is attributed to Albinoni, it is largely the work of his 20th century biographer, Remo Gizaotto. Remo found a small fragment of the composition in the Saxon State Library in Dresden, Germany shortly after the end of World War II. The Library had been destroyed in the Fire Bombing of Dresden but the staff had already evacuated and preserved most of its collection. It is believed that the fragment was a portion of Albinoni’s Sonata de Chiesa Opus 4 written around 1709.  I think it is an interesting programing choice because it is really an unfinished composition that was finished by someone other than the composer; just as Mozart’s Requiem was finished by his student, Sussmayr.

The Mozart Requiem is one of the true masterpieces of music.  It is scored for 4 Soloist, Choir, I and II Violins, Viola, Cello, Bass, 2 Basset Horns, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Timpani, and Organ.  The entire evening was directed by Jody Lindh, who is the director of music ministries for the University Park United Methodist Church.  Two soloist were from the SMU school of music and two were from the church choir.

This composition is extremely challenging to professional singers let alone a church choir and student soloists.  But this group was up to the challenge. Each soloist did a great job.  I thought the standouts were the soprano, Tiffany Roberts Silva and the baritone, Ken Carroll.  The orchestra played flawlessly, and choir was extremely well rehearsed for the occasion.  There were a few ragged moments and some phrases were not ended as cleanly as they could have been and you could occasionally hear the strain on the choir in some of the more difficult parts, but overall it was a magnificent effort!  The Director, Jody Lindh had the right mix of forward looking Romantic era emotion and structured Classical era restraint.  At the request of the music director, applause was reserved until the completion of the Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618.  This was probably because of Easter and the need to celebrate the resurrection, not just remember the death or Jesus Christ.

Congratulations to all involved in this moving ceremony on Good Friday!

PART II

I thought this was a great opportunity to blog about the controversy surrounding the composing of the Mozart Requiem.  The controversy has even become more fueled by the romanticized fantasy of the play and movie Amadeus.  How much of the Mozart Requiem is Mozart’s own work and how much had to be filled in by Sussmayr?

Sussmayr claimed to have written the last three movements in their entirety. (Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus dei, Communion).  Hmm….

Let’s go back and revisit the history.  In the summer of 1791a mysterious messenger came to Mozart with a commission to compose a Requiem Mass.  Mozart, being in difficult financial straits and failing health accepted the offer.  He was already very busy composing his last two operas:  The Magic Flute, and La Clemanza di Tito. The operas overwhelmed his task to write the Requiem so he set it aside to complete the two operas.  In September of 1791 he began anew the effort to complete the Requiem, after another visit came from the mysterious messenger.   In Mozart’s fragile physical condition he began to imagine that the commission from the mysterious visitor was from the other world and that the Requiem was for himself.  It turned out to be from Count Franz von Walsegg, who wanted to remain anonymous because he intended to pass the work off as his own composition in honor of his recently deceased wife.  A short distance from his home where he lay ill, The Magic Flute was having a very successful run.  Mozart worked as quickly as his failing health would allow.  Occasionally some of the cast would come over and sing through some of the portions of the Requiem.  The last time this happened was on December 4th, 1791.  Mozart sang the alto part and they got as far as the Lacrimosa.  Later that night he lapsed in to a comma and died the next day.  The Requiem was unfinished.

Constanze(Mozart’s wife) was left with many debts.  She desperately needed the money from the commission.  She turned to Josef Ebler, a local musician.  He felt he could not fulfill the task.  She appealed to Albrechtsberger and Stadler. (Albrechtsberger taught Beethoven and Stadler was one of Beethoven’s friends).  They could not or would not help.  As a last resort she turned to Mozart’s 25 year old student Franz Sussmayr.  Constanze stated that she gave Sussmayr all of the sketches that Mozart had left.  In addition, Sussmayr stated that on Mozart’s death bed he had carefully explained his intentions on completing the Requiem.  Sussmayr said that Mozart’s last breath was expended phrasing a drum passage.

The autograph manuscript contained only the completed Introit and Kyrie and the vocal parts and figured bass (a type of musical short hand) of the Dies Irae sequence (Movemetns II-VII) up to the 9th bar of the Lacrimosa.  The Offertory (Domine Jesu and Hostias) had only the vocal parts and figured bass.  Nothing has ever been found in Mozart’s own hand of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.  This is one of the reasons that Sussmayr claimed that he had written these movements himself.  Constanze, who gave him what she described as “slips of paper” on which Mozart had written his ideas for the Requiem,  insisted that Sussmayr only did what anyone else could have done.

One thing is certain, the quality of the music far exceeds anything Sussmayr ever came up with before or after.  Was he really capable of echoing the masters voice so faithfully with any real guidance?  I doubt it.  This music is far too complex for a  mortal to have come up with.  The Requiem looks back to Bach while looking forward to Beethoven, Shubert, and Brahms.  Just as in the final Symphonies Mozart inserts amazing fugues and double fugues, summoning up the spirit of Bach.  But the emotional content is distinctly forward looking to the more emotional, expressive content of the Romantic era.

Sussmayr had two duties:  first he had to provide the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei with the Communio.  He also had to score a lot of the Requiem.  Mozart chose the specialized scoring.  (Strings, organ, trumpets, drums, trombones, bassoons, and basset horns.)  The omission of flutes, oboes, and horns is carefully calculated to create a more austere and archaic tone and mood.

There is an alternate version of the Requiem that was produced by Franz Beyer, a professor of Music from Munich, Germany.  His goal was to restore the Requiem to it’s more pristine colours  and to correct the factual mistakes in the score.  He felt that Sussmayr had some very incorrect instrumental accompaniment and enriched harmonies that attempted to prettify the work instead of it’s more stark intention.  An obvious misrepresentation is in the Tuba Mirum where the trumpet continues to sound even after the dead are already called to Judgement.  Beyer extensively reworked the basset horns and trombones to bring it into line with   practice.  He fixes the tuba mirum trumpet miss-step.  He makes some small corrections to the vocal lines, the dynamic marks and tempi indications and adds an extra cadence to fix the fore shortened Osanna fugues.

I offer to you now both versions of the Requiem.  The original Sussmayr (the version I heard on Good Friday) and the newer Beyer edition.  The Sussmayr is performed by Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic and the Beyer edition performed by the The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner.  I am placing the movements side by side so that you can more easily compare them.

The Neville Marriner -Beyer perfomance is my own LP and the Bruno Walter-Sussmayr performance is an LP I borrowed from my brother Joe.

So is the Requiem written by Mozart or not?  My opinion is the same as Beethoven.  When Beethoven was asked about the Mozart Requiem he said, “If Mozart did not write this music, then the man who wrote it was a Mozart!”  Sounds almost like a Yogi Berra comment doesn’t it?


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Marriner – Beyer Edition Introitus –Requiem
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Marriner – Beyer Edition Kyrie

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Walter -Sussmayr Edition Introitus and Kyrie

It is interesting that Walter envisions the first two movements as one movement.  He leads the orchestra directly into the Kyrie without pause.  Marriner makes sure to signal that they are separate movements.

 

 

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Marriner – Beyer Dies Irae

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Walter – Sussmayr Dies Irae

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Marriner – Beyer Tuba Mirum
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Walter – Sussmayr
Tuba Mirum

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Marriner – Beyer Rex Tremendae Majestatis
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Walter Sussmayr
Rex Tremendae Majestatis

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Marriner – Beyer Recordare
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Walter – Sussmayr Recordare

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Marriner – Beyer Confutatis
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Walter – Sussmayr
Confutatis

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Marriner – Beyer Lacrimosa
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Walter – Sussmayr
Lacrimosa

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Marriner – Beyer Domine Jesu
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Walter – Sussmayr Domine Jesu

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Marriner – Beyer Hostias
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Walter – Sssmayr
Hostias

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Marriner – Beyer Sanctus
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Walter -Sussmayr
Sanctus

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Marriner – Beyer Benedictus
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Walter – Sussmayr
Benedictus

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Marriner – Beyer Agnus Dei
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Marriner – Beyer
Communio
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Walter – Sussmayr Agnus Dei and Communio
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Once again Walter envisions the last two movements as one movement; where as Marriner envisions them as two distinct movements.

So what do you think?  Is the Requiem Mozart or Mozart/Sussmayr?  Which edition of the Requiem do you prefer?  Let me know your thoughts.  Personally, I prefer the Beyer edition.  I think it is more true to the intention of Mozart.  He did not want the Requiem to be Operatic. His intention was to look back to the time of Handel and Bach while looking forward to the highly emotional  Romantic era.  Any thoughts?

 

 

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About John

I taught myself how to play the piano and read music when I was 9 years old. I've been been consumed by music ever since. I majored in Piano performance in College and I still play, although not as well as when I had time to practice 4 -6 hours per day. This blog is about music. Music is the sound track of our lives. All it take is one song, one composition; and we are transported across time and space. I think it was Beethoven that said: "Music is the landscape of the soul."
This entry was posted in Classical Music, Live Performance Reviews, Vinyl and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Mostly Mozart on Good Friday

  1. Tim says:

    I really enjoyed your blog about Mozart’s Requiem. It is truly one of his greatest works.
    When I went there I read your article about Daniel. Sounds like an interesting guy.
    I haven’t listened to his music yet, but I will shortly. I have always been a fan of the Avant Garde.
    Have you heard William Duckworth or Kyle Gahn or Glenn Branca? Branca is phenomenal but not for everyone.
    But I wanted to get back to Mozart. There is another version that I like even better than Beyer. That is the newest one from Robert Levin.
    When I was in the Lubbock Chorale a number of years ago we sang the Levin version and it is incredible.
    The recording I have is a CD put out by Telarc with Martin Peralman and the Boston Baroque

    Here are a few quotes from the liner notes of the CD I own.

    ————————————-

    Martin Pearlman: “It is not often that one can present an important and thorough re-thinking of a well-known masterpiece.
    What is particularly attractive about this new Mozart Requiem completion by Robert Levin is its respect for the history of the work, its effort to repair and improve upon the familiar Sussmayr version, rather than to replace it.”

    ….

    “… it, (Sussmayr), has long been criticized for being weak and un-Mozartean in many passages and for containing erros in musical grammar.
    The repairs made by Robert Levin in this new version range from many small details to significant changes in the orchestration, as well as bold left turns in the harmony that will surprise those who know the work well.
    Among the largest scale alterations are teh extension of Sussmayr’s timid attempt at a Hosanna fugue and the entirely new Amen fuge at the close of the Lacrimosa.”

    “Inevitably, people will disagree about the details of any completion, whether by Sussmayr or by a modern editor.
    The notes that Mozart himself wrote have taken on a canonical status; they seem fixed and inevitable.
    This is, of course, partly because his genius is in them, but it is also because we do not question Mozart in the same way that we question a collaborator, no matter how good that collaborator may be.
    ….

    ” A case in point is the new Amen fugue in the present completion.
    It is based on a rather severe contrapuntal sketch Mozart made for the opening bars.
    Did Sussmayr mistakenly overllok the sketch or did Mozart himself decide to discard it?
    We will probably never know.
    But if we do decide to include it in a new version, the best course for a modern collaborator is to work out the material of the sketch into a completed fugue, as in the present completion.
    Mozart himself may have done exactly that – or he may eveentually have mixed this material with a more modern, homophonic music, as he sometimes did elsewhere.
    We can admire Robert Levin’s solution while at the same time acknowledging that we cna never know what Mozart, finally, would have done.”

    ————————————-

    John, the Amen fugue is absolutely beautiful and incredible. Sussmayr did not include a realization of this fugue in his version, but rather, ended the Lacrimosa with a two chord Amen.
    Give Levin’s version a listen to, it is really awesome!

  2. Tim says:

    Here is some YouTube videos of Robert Levin talking about Mozart.
    It is called the Robert Levin Mozart Lecture
    If you want to see an example of the genius that was Mozart this is a glimpse you must witness.

    Part 1 is here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWKbOGMqDVw&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1
    Part 2 is here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-DEhpPgtSY&NR=1
    Part 3 is here:

  3. Tim says:

    Here is a short biography of Robert Levin that I hope you find interesting.

    http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Levin-Robert.htm

  4. Tim says:

    For an interesting take on the many possible deaths of Mozart, you got to hear this episode of John Schaefer’s Sound check. Click on the “Listen” button and listen to this 22 minute interview with a couple of experts on the subject. Here is the link:
    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/2011/may/31/

    • John says:

      The manage subscriptions always shows up when you click on the comment or reply button. No matter what page you are on it works that way. FYI. Thanks for the great comment and very interesting additional information about the Mozart Requiem.

      John

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