by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
The Te Deum, composed at the age of 13 while Mozart was still under the tutelage of his father Leopold and of Kappelmeister Michael Haydn, gives expression to the rapidly developing and even advanced scope of his genius. Obviously dependent on a similar work of Michael Haydn, as one might expect from a dedicated apprentice, Mozart's Te Deum only achieved unhesitating agreement on its authenticity when, some years ago, authentic performing parts were discovered.
Mozart's respected biographer, Alfred Einstein, judges this Te Deum to be "sure in construction, enchanting in its choral declamation, possessing a certain rustic South German grandeur even in the closing double fugue." It marks "a good finish to Mozart's activities as a composer of church music before leaving his native Salzburg on his extended and instructive Italian journeys."
The sublime eucharistic motet Ave Verum was composed for the Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated in a suburban Viennese church of Baden. Because of the church's limited resources, Mozart scored it for chorus, strings and organ. With its fervent and classical beauty, it initiated the new liturgical style Mozart embraced in 1791 and which reaches its culmination in the Requiem, presented in the second half of tonight's concert.
Mozart's extraordinary and highly dramatic Incidental Music to King Thamos marks his only venture into this musical genre, prevalent from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. It also marks the longest overall time Mozart devoted to a composition. We are familiar with two other prized examples of this genre: Beethoven's music to Goethe's play Egmont, and Mendelssohn's to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Incidental music embraces instrumental interludes between the acts of a stage play designed to provide the audience with an introduction into the mood, spirit and character of the following Act. Choruses and sometimes arias were likewise added to permit the cast opportunity for some general or specific emotional expression of a situation arising from the action.
The heroic drama King Thamos, authored by Tobias Philipp Freiherr von Gebler (1726-86), premiered in 1773 at Pressburg (Bratislava, Slovakia, today) furnished with music of another composer which he did not like. For his 1776 production in Salzburg he approached Mozart, who provided highly dramatic music. Subsequently in 1779-80, Mozart reworked the three choruses because he greatly valued this unique music, much of it in his expressive minor keys presaging later harmonic developments in Vienna as in the famed D Minor and C minor Piano Concertos (K460, K481) and his German Singspiels The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute.
While the drama finds its incidental setting in ancient Egypt, it chiefly depicts in its plot a struggle by the ambitious Pheron, supposed friend of the Pharaoh, to dethrone King Thamos. The subplot involves Pheron's efforts likewise to divert Princess Sais' love from Thamos to himself in both instances, as expected, he fails.
Act I opens solemnly with a chorus of priests and virgins placed in the Temple of the Sun, entitled "Before thy light, Sun God, thy foe, darkness, takes flight." The second chorus (#6) is sung in the same temple by priests and virgins assembled for the coronation of Thamos and entitled "Godhead, mighty above all, ever renewed, ever glorious." The closing chorus (#7) reiterates segments of the previous two and proceeds with "We, children of dust, tremble and quake."
While the contemporary concertgoer has implicitly acknowledged Mozart's Requiem (K 626) to be among the greatest masterpieces of Western musical literature, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the course of the past two centuries the work's authenticity in whole or in part has periodically been impugned. Prolonged scientific musicological research into this question has resulted in the production of several new editions or "completions" of it, particularly since 1960.
The evening's performance presents the Requiem in one of these editions, that of the German musicologist, Harvard professor and eminent Mozart performer, Robert D. Levin. It is therefore incumbent on me to explain why the "traditional" edition produced in 1792 by Franz Xavier Süssmayr should here be replaced.
In 1825 the learned but amateur German musicologist Gottfried Weber produced a treatise questioning the Requiem's authenticity. This attempt elicited, from a furiously annoyed Beethoven, the remarks: "O! you archdonkey, you double donkey!"
Only by 1839, when all pertinent manuscripts of the Requiem had at last found their way into the Austrian National Library, was serious methodic research made fruitful. These analytical studies may be said to have culminated in 1994 with the publication of Christoph Wolff's Mozart's Requiem, Historical and Analytical Studies.
Laying aside the Amadeus-fostered "gray messenger" myths surrounding the Requiem's commissioning, Mozart, probably in June, 1791, received a visit from an agent of a Viennese lawyer known to him, Johann Sortchen. Sortchen's client offered him 50 ducats to compose a Requiem Mass. The identity of the client was to remain secret. In fact, he was an Austrian noble, Count Franz von Walsegg-Stuppach. He proposed to perform the Requiem at an anniversary Mass for his recently deceased wife, Countess Anna, who had died February 14, 1791. The reason for the imposed secrecy was that Walsegg, in commissioning music from various composers, recopied them in his own hand. He then tried to pawn them off in performance at his local soirees as his own compositions.
Because of his commissions to compose two operas, La Clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute, Mozart probably did not seriously commence work on the Requiem until early October, 1791. He was also to compose, around this same time, the famed Clarinet Concerto (K 622) and his last complete work, the Masonic Cantata (K 623). His health now began seriously to break down. The resulting induced depression elicited from him rather obsessively bleak remarks that he was composing his own Requiem and that he had been poisoned. His wife, Constanze, found it necessary under these conditions to take the work away from him periodically until he had recovered his psychic balance. From mid-November onward Mozart was bed-ridden and only occasionally fit to compose, probably by dictation. He expired at 12:55 a.m. on December 5, 1791, aged 35 years, 10 months, 8 days, the rapidly decomposing victim of his life-long struggle with rheumatic fever.
As presaged by his superbly beautiful motet Ave Verum (K 618) of the previous June and the somewhat earlier Kyrie in D (K 368a), Mozart approached the composition of the Requiem enthusiastically, sparked by the joy of having been appointed to succeed the old but not yet retired Kappelmeister of Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral. Church music, he noted, has always been his favorite form of composition. Along with the Ave Verum he saw his Requiem as a new type of liturgical music, "a higher form of church music." Wolff enumerates the three qualities of this new style: its enhanced harmonic refinement, latent contrapuntalism and formal audacity. He applied also to this style the contemporary but now archaic word "pathetic," designating a deeply emotional content. The famed Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffman cited Mozart's Requiem in 1814 as the supreme example of sacred music.
The crucial question now arises: what was the compositional status of the Requiem at Mozart's death? Complete only in its vocal and instrumental scoring was the Introit Requiem aeternam. From the Kyrie on through the whole of the Dies Irae and the Offertory Domine Jesu, Mozart had composed only the essential vocal score with instrumental figured bass and sundry other instrumental notations indicative of the direction the orchestration would take. Considering then the Requiem to be primarily a choral work supported by a dark hued instrumental accompaniment demonstrated in the scoring of the Requiem aeternam movement, scholars see the existing autographs comprising basically complete movements.
No such autographs exist for the Sanctus!Benedictus and Agnus Dei movements. As for the Communion Lux aeterna, Mozart's probable instructions to Süssmayr to repeat the themes of the Requiem aeternam and the Kyrie double fugue appear authentic.
Constanze now had the daunting task of effecting the completion of the whole Mass in order to secure the second half of Walsegg's fee, but more significantly she strove then and afterwards to sustain Mozart's reputation, while working to support his two sons.
Two pupils, Franz Jakob Freystadler and Franz Xavier Süssmayr, appear to have finished the undemanding task of completing the doubling instruments in the Kyrie fugue. Constanze then employed another pupil, Joseph Eybler, who undertook the instrumental scoring of the Dies Irae. He carried this through to one measure beyond where Mozart had left off in the final Lacrimosa movement and then withdrew. His scoring is universally regarded today to be much superior to Süssmayr's. Constanze may have had the Abbe Maximilian Stadler, a close friend of Mozart, score the Offertory Domine Jesu.
She finally rehired Franz Xavier Süssmayr (1766-1803), to undertake the task. Since his handwriting was exceedingly similar to Mozart's he commenced a new autograph copy, modifying or eliminating Eybler's superior contribution and perhaps that of Stadler. He completed the whole Mass dating it curiously March, 1792, and signing Mozart's name to it. However, in 1800 he wrote to the German publisher Brietkopf and Hartel that he had composed the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei movements. Unfortunately he died in 1803, eliminating an essential source of information respecting his work and involvement.
The tantalizing question respecting the ultimate Mozartian origins and quality of the Sanctus, Benedictus and other movements Süssmayr completed revolves around the problematic existence of sketches left behind by Mozart to which Constanze gave him access.
Two such sketches were indeed discovered in 1960 in Berlin by Wolfgang Plath. One of them lays out part of the contrapuntal vocal score of the Rex Tremendae movement. The other embraces sixteen measures of a proposed double fugue on the word "Amen." It appears to have been intended for the finale of the Dies Irae after the words "dona eis requiem," the only place in the Requiem Mass text ending with "Amen." The fugue's main theme, moreover, is the inversion of that of the Requiem aeternam. An added argument for its intended incorporation at the end of the Dies Irae rests on the fact that every major section of the Mozart Requiem ends with a fugue. No certain evidence reveals that the eight measures composed for the incomplete Lacrimosa marks the point at which Mozart's death broke off composition. He may well have left that movement unfinished with the precise intention of returning to his "Amen" sketch after he had decided on the nature of the fugues to be composed for the end of the projected yet uncomposed movements.
Certainly Süssmayr did nm make use of it in his completion of the Lacrimosa. Several modern editions, including that of Robert D. Levin, complete the fugue's sixteen measures adding it to the end of the Dies Irae.
While time has lent a certain sacrosanctity to Süssmayr's completion it, together with the Eybler/Stadler contributions, furnishes us with our closest historical link to Mozart's intentions. Nevertheless, Süssmayr's work has never escaped more or less trenchantly incisive criticism from its inception through Brahms, the Requiem's editor in the first issue of Mozart's collected works, and into the present. In summary, he has been taxed for the thickness and ineptitudes of his instrumental scoring, his incorrect un-Mozartian harmonic grammar and his lack of contrapuntal skill.
Climactically in 1959 the Mozart scholar Ernst Hess indicated strongly that the time was ripe to bring Mozart's Requiem into worthy form. From that time to the present at least seven new editions/completions have appeared, ranging from those essentially preserving Süssmayr to those either moderately or audaciously rescoring the whole work.
Christoph Wolff, both by word of mouth to me and implicitly in his book Mozart's Requiem, asserts that to his mind Robert D. Levin's edition comes closest to Mozart's intentions. Moreover, in connection with a conducting seminar given by Helmuth Rilling and a symposium held in 1987, Levin was commissioned by the International Bach Academy to produce a new completion of Mozart's Requiem. This was duly performed and recorded on CD by Rilling.
The latest edition of the Requiem Robert D. Levin published in 1994. In his Introduction to the new version he produces 16 pages of scientific and detailed analyses of the sources and thematic structure of the Requiem. In addition, he presents a thorough study of its instrumentation, tempo markings, dynamics, articulation and textual pronunciation. He then analyzes, movement by movement, his revisional proceedings.
For present purposes it is worthwhile quoting his more general summary from the Program Notes in Helmuth Rilling's CD recording. "The completed version... seeks to respect the 200-year old history of the Requiem. We have tried to revise it as much but as little as possible and in a manner we feel is faithful to the character, writing, voice leading, design and structure of Mozart's music. We have retained the historical completions wherever they agree with Mozart's idiom. The more transparent instrumentation was inspired by Mozart's other church music works. The Lacrimosa underwent some light retouching and now leads into a non-modulating Amen fugue. The second half of the Sanctus resolved the curious tonal discrepancies and the Hosanna fugue has the proportions of a Mozartian church fugue (model: Mozart's C-Minor Mass K 427). The second half of the Benedictus was slightly revised and connected with a new bridge to the shortened repetition of the Hosanna fugue in the original key of D major (not in B flat major, as in Süssmayr's version, which would have been implausible in Mozart's time). Structurally, the Agnus Dei was left untouched, however, Süssmayr's errors have been deleted from the second and third sections. At the dose of the Cum sanctis tuis fugue, we have altered the wording in order to reproduce the customary setting of the text. We hope that this version, modest as it is, reflects Mozart's spirit and allows the listener to experience this magnificent torso in the framework of its historical tradition."