Classical Views: 'Requiem' for Amadeus
The story of Mozart's "Requiem" is a tragic one. He did not live to finish the piece.
We have glorified the situation through Peter Shaffer's 1979 play and Milos Forman's 1984 movie, "Amadeus," where Mozart is feverishly dictating instructions to his student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, about how to finish the piece. Yet, I doubt it was really like that. Death is never easy, and writing a "Requiem" mass in the midst of struggling for your life is difficult to imagine.
What I do know, however, is that "The Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - '91) is one of the most beautiful, transcendent, heartfelt pieces ever written. Somehow, extreme clarity of purpose comes when one faces the ultimate end. What Mozart left us, was indeed, a musical masterpiece.
There is much speculation regarding how much of the "Requiem" is Mozart's writing, and how much is the composition of Süssmayr, his 25-year-old student.
We know that Mozart finished the vocal parts up through the "Hostias' movement, but for the "Lacrimosa," he only wrote the first eight bars. In fact, at his funeral it is said the "Requiem" was performed up to that point and stopped at the eighth bar, right in the middle of the phase.
The music for the last two movements ("Lux aeterna" and "Cum sanctis tuis") is basically the same as the first two movements, just with different words. This was at Mozart's request.
But someone had to write the "Sanctus," "Benedictus" and "Agnus Dei" movements in order for the piece to be performed. Mozart's widow, Constanze, originally asked Joseph Eybler to finish the "Requiem," and he did orchestrate the "Dies irae" and the "Confutatis" movements, but then for some unknown reason, returned the score. At that point, Constanze asked Süssmayr to complete the composition.
Süssmayr was a good student and a solid composer, but no musical genius. Has anyone today ever heard a piece by Süssmayr? I certainly have not.
Therefore, there is much speculation as to whether or not he really composed any of the vocal melodies for the extra movements, as he claims, or if rather, there were additional sketches that Mozart made of the melodies for these movements that were later destroyed.
I tend to believe the latter. When one hears these movements, they exhibit the same musical genius that appears in all of Mozart's writing; a beautiful sense of musical line that is engaging and at the same time new and fresh.
The task was made a little easier by the way Süssmayr repeated some of the sections, so that fewer melodies had to be utilized. Still, it was a daunting project. Süssmayr worked on it for many months after Mozart's death in 1791. When the "Requiem" was finally published in 1800 as "Missa pro defunctis" by Mozart, there was no mention of Süssmayr's contributions to its completion.
Even though there were many compositional problems with the way Süssmayr finished the piece, including wrong voice leadings, awkward intervals, heavy and unusual instrumentation, the piece has basically been performed in its original version for the last 200 years.
During the past 40 years, however, new editions of the piece have been created, and now 12 different editions of the Mozart "Requiem" exist, each trying to be truer to what they think Mozart would have written. All of these editions keep the basic vocal melodies that Mozart wrote, so the changes involve a few notes here and there and the use of the accompanying instruments.
For the performance with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, 8 p.m. March 8 and 3 p.m. March 9, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown, we will be using a relatively new edition of the "Requiem" by Franz Beyer. This edition was first published in 1971 and then revised in 2005. It is lighter in texture, uses the brass less, and lightens up the sound in the strings. I believe it brings a new freshness to the piece.
The March 8 and 9 concerts feature the new Allentown Symphony Chorus with chorus master Eduardo Azzati. This is a professional chorus with auditioned members from the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
The chorus begam rehearsing about seven weeks prior to the performance. Each member was expected to learn the music before the rehearsals began. The Allentown Symphony Chorus is an excellent group of musicians and we are so proud to have them involved with the concert. We will feature the chorus in a concert each season. Auditions will be held every fall for new members to join.
The soloists for the Mozart "Requiem" are soprano Maeve Högland, alto Krysty Swann, tenor Charles Reid and bass Matthew Anchel. (Their biographies are included on the Allentown Symphony website: AllentownSymphony.org.)
The concert also features the winner of the 2013 National Leigh and Edwin Schadt String Competition: Columbian-American cellist, Christina Lamprea, the top winner in the National Sphinx Competition. She will perform Samuel Barber's "Cello Concerto" in A minor (Op. 22), which is full of haunting melodies and virtuosic passages.
To open the concert I chose an audience favorite, the Overture to "The "Marriage of Figaro" from the opera of the same name by Mozart. This piece was written in 1785. With Mozart pieces bookending the concert, we hear the variety of his musical output.
As a composer, Mozart had an incredible influence on the world. His final "Requiem Mass" is a piece that certainly has transcended time. Come and experience this piece in person as it is performed by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in this new edition.
Diane Wittry is Music Director-Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia; and author, "Beyond the Baton" (Oxford University Press).
Concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715