Mozart’s Requiem, K.626 (1791), has a long, puzzling, distressing and wonderful history. It attracts great conductors, including Abbado, Barenboim, Be Read More
Mozart’s Requiem, K.626 (1791), has a long, puzzling, distressing and wonderful history. It attracts great conductors, including Abbado, Barenboim, Bernstein, Böhm, Britten, Christie, Davis, Gardiner, Giulini, Harnoncourt, Hogwood, Marriner, Mehta, Muti, Norrington, Scherchen, von Karajan, Walter, and one other I shall mention shortly. It has also been performed for memorial and commemorative services in honor of Mozart himself, Haydn, Napoleon I, Chopin, von Karajan, and in 1994 (Mehta) to raise funds for the sufferers of the Siege of Sarajevo. The Requiem has assumed a special mourning role for Americans. On 19 January 1964 it was a central part of the memorial Mass for John F. Kennedy at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. In what has become known as 'The 9/11 Requiem', on 18 September 2001 the eminent French Canadian Robert Labadie’s La Chapelle de Québec and Les Violons du Roy performed the Requiem at New York’s Lincoln Center. On 20 September Labadie’s group repeated the performance in Troy, New York, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The live recording is a Dorian CD, Catalog number DOR-90310. It uses the Robert Levin completion and is widely regarded as among the very best and most moving of recordings. The New York Times said of the Lincoln Center performance that, under such circumstances, discussion of 'musicological niceties' was irrelevant: 'it was the music’s emotional sweep that carried the moment'. Jeffrey Kahane’s Los Angeles Requiem on 19 February 2015 was moving in its own right, and a benign educational success in which the Requiem recalled human loss and hope rather than inhuman atrocity.
The performance also took place in a building with its own story and its own artistic contribution. Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium supplemented Mozart’s music, its excellent conductor Jeffrey Kahane, his Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The Ambassador Auditorium is a stately, handsome, and acoustically 'perfect' musical venue set amid a reflecting pool and amiable grounds. Though there are no overtly religious symbols, the Ambassador has a religious genealogy. The auditorium was conceived and built by the Worldwide Church of God and was its worship home from 1974 to 1995. Those twenty seasons included two thousand five hundred concerts for two and one half million attendees. By the middle of the 1990s, however, the Worldwide Church determined that such performances were not part of its spiritual mission and moved its headquarters.
The city of Pasadena then attempted to maintain the building and grounds as a performing arts center, but after an expensive decade admitted failure and almost did the unthinkable – destroy the impressive building and sell the land for various commercial and real estate developments. Fortunately, in what can be called a religious act in its own right, the Charismatic Christian HRock (Harvest) Church and the Marantha Christian High School, purchased the land and the building and made it their own home. On Sundays HRock hosts some 1,000 parishioners for its 1,262 eminently comfortable auditorium seats. The Ambassador, of course, is again made available for musical performances, as it was for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 'Discovery' series that, on 19 February 2015, featured Mozart’s Requiem. Jeffrey Kahane is the long-serving conductor of the Chamber Orchestra, and Grant Gershon is the Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, here ably reinforced by soprano Alison King, alto Emily Fons, tenor Nicholas Phan, and bass Aubrey Allicock. Each half of the evening was exemplary.
The Discovery began with a fatigued young Mozart (John Sloan) speaking with a middle-aged Salieri (JD Cullum), side stage left. Each wore a black T shirt and black trousers. The scene is drawn from Alexander Pushkin’s short play Mozart and Salieri, written in 1830 and published with his four-play collection, The Little Tragedies (1832). Rimsky-Korsakov made it into a short opera that was performed in 1898. In the scene before us, Mozart complains that a mysterious masked man who has commissioned a requiem periodically returns to his door and demands progress, troubling Mozart who can show little movement on his commission. Tired and anxious, Mozart tells Salieri that he is going to bed. Not to worry, says Salieri dropping poison in his wine, you will have a long sleep. Here is the genesis of the Mozart-Salieri relationship that Peter Shaffer amplified and mythologized in Amadeus for the drama in 1979 and the film in 1984.
Jeffrey Kahane set himself several tasks in the first half of the Discovery, which mingled lecture and performance. One task was to make plain that however much he admired Peter Shaffer’s scripts, they bore little relationship to reality. Among other errors, Mozart and Salieri were not enemies but at the least respected and admired acquaintances. Salieri became the musical tutor of Mozart’s son – an unlikely act if Constanze Mozart thought that Salieri had murdered her boy’s father and stolen his work. As an aside, Mozart was left-handed but is right-handed in the film. He says that he does not like Handel, but in fact he admired him, listened to his work when possible and re-orchestrated Messiah.
The central part of the Discovery portion of the program, however, was discussion of what we reasonably know that Mozart composed of the Requiem, what small portion was added by Joseph von Eybler before he gave up in despair, and what was done by the major amender, twenty-five year old Franz Xaver Süssmayr. He included some of Eybler’s additions and added much from the Kyrie onward, completed the Lacrymosa, and added several sections consistent with a requiem’s structure – Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and a final more controversial section, Lux aeterna, based on Mozart’s opening two movements. Both Süssmayr and Constanze claimed that this followed Mozart’s own directions, a claim doubted by modern scholars. Kahane made clear that he preferred Robert Levin’s 1991 version, which Helmuth Rilling premiered at Stuttgart’s European Music Festival.
Accordingly, Kahane’s artists presented a Süssmayr and then a Leven portion, the better to educate us regarding their differences and Levin’s superiority. One key contrast was the 'Amen' fugue that Helmuth Plath discovered in 1962. By placing it after the Lacrymosa, Levin adheres to the Requiem’s design-pattern, in which each large section ends with a fugue. Throughout, Kahane was at once authoritative and avuncular, and as comfortable speaking collegially to his large audience as turning to his performers to coax the best out of them.
That best appeared after the interval, when the orchestra and chorale performed the complete Mozart-Levin rendering. It was moving, precise and often subtle rather than romantic and overstated. It clearly communicated grief and fear–'Exaudi orationem meam' – together with confidence–'quia pius es... quia pius es'. It is difficult for all but the most experienced musicologist immediately to differentiate between Süssmayr and Levin without listening to each in its entirety and consecutively. My impression, based upon recollection of Süssmayr's and Richard Maunder's completions, however, is that Levin is less emendatory than, say, Maunder's completion in Christopher Hogwood's very good rendition. Levin seems to correct and polish rather than abandon Süssmayr. He also is better at relating parts, is less aggressive, more willing to let the mingled grief and hope speak for itself, and is more liturgical than operatic. If that act of memory is correct, Levin may have shared Samuel Johnson’s learned and earned belief in tactful and minimally invasive editing. Johnson says in the preface to his edition of Shakespeare (1765): “Conjectural criticism demands more than humanity possesses...As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less... Upon this caution I now congratulate myself; for every day encreases my doubt of my emendations.”
However that may be, Jeffrey Kahane and his Angeleno orchestra and singers brought Mozart back to life for an evening in Pasadena. As we heard in the Confutatis, 'voca me cum benedictus'.
Discover Mozart's Requiem took place on 19th February 2015 at the Ambassador Auditorium with The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and The Los Angeles Master Chorale.