The Requiems of Mozart and Fauré

April 23, 1988, 08:00 PM
John Currie, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Requiem in D Minor, K. 626 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Susan Montgomery , Soprano
Elin Carlson , Mezzo Soprano
Agostino Castagnola , Tenor
Craig Kingsbury , Bass/Baritone
Requiem Gabriel Urbain Fauré
Catherine McCord Larsen , Soprano
LeRoy Villanueva , Baritone


The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the creation of Mozart's Requiem in D minor, K. 626 will probably never be fully unraveled, and I have always advised the listener and the musician to trust to the evidence of what we hear, and the internal evidence in the score itself. The authentication of a work of art does not make it any better or worse. I have studied at least two of the more recent attempts to make "authentic" versions of the work, and both of these decrease the stature and lower the temperature of the performing experience compared to the standard "received" version, whoever wrote or did not write certain parts. I like to think that Sophie Haibel, Mozart's sister-in-law, was truthful when she spoke years later:
"Süssmayr was at Mozart's bedside. The well-known Requiem lay on the quilt and Mozart was explaining how, in his opinion, he ought to finish it when he was gone ... His last movement was to attempt to express with his mouth the drum passages in the Requiem. That I can still hear.”
But there can never be a final opinion on how much of the work, if any, is by Süssmayr. On the evidence of earlier works like the fine Litaniae Lauretanae, K. 195, and earlier settings of the Mass by Mozart, I have a strong feeling that somewhere towards the end, probably in the Agnus Dei, there would have been a ravishing soprano solo, and my knowledge of The Magic Flute convinces me that the Benedictus is a great movement, surely a reworking by a master craftsman of material by Mozart.
At all events, particularly since Amadeus, the play and the film, it is to be regretted that the life of Mozart has, for the general public, has become more important than the music.
The work is one of Europe's great masterpieces. The opening movement is essential Mozart of the late period: the two basset-horns (like clarinets, but softer, darker) and bassoons weep, while the choral and string parts are alive with classical strength and optimism. The Dies Irae is the wrath of chariots and the flight of swift horses, truly classical, rather than the theatrical terror of Don Giovanni. Later, the Recordare is one of Mozart's most heavenly ensembles (again with crucial basset-horns) while Confutatis dissolves in deeply disturbing harmonic shifts at "gere curam". Although the ninth bar of the beautiful Lacrimosa, we are told, was the last Mozart wrote, explicit and detailed sketches existed for later parts of the work. It is these that some other skilled hand has realized to give us whole experience of the Requiem setting as we hear it tonight.
The world-wide popularity of Fauré's Requiem is due to its wonderful simplicity and tunefulness. Beneath its surface, however, there are levels of profundity and formal beauty which separate it from the very many sweet, not to say sugary French settings of sacred texts. To discover these larger dimensions in this work of genius, four pointers may be helpful.
Firstly, the idea of eternity or timelessness is frequently present - Fauré even adds the word "sempiternam" (forever) - and this is often conveyed by slow, very strict tempos and very square formal phrases. This atmosphere of timelessness is at its most intense in the final movement in which the harp and organ endlessly repeat their patterns like the mechanism of some celestial clock, while the angels sing "In paradisum.”
Secondly, Fauré was a secular composer (the Requiem is his only important church work) and he writes tunes which, like many French folktunes, have no climax, simply rising and falling around one note. This underlines the ideas of timelessness and ecstasy, and sometimes sounds like plainsong.
Thirdly, we have become accustomed to very theatrical requiems - Mozart, Verdi, Britten - and it is essential to understand that Fauré's is untheatrical in the extreme. Much of its intensity is romantic and deeply personal - it was written in 1886-87 between the deaths of his father and mother - and avoids the theatrical representation of judgment and terror. The calm undulating "Pie Jesu" is typical. This last, incidentally was written for a child's voice, and is too often heard these days presented by mature, fruity sopranos.
Add to the above the deep sense of restraint everywhere apparent - the only dramatic climax lasts for a few happy and triumphant bars at "Osanna" - and you have some of the keys to help your ears unlock the mysteries of this great work of consolation and humanity.
Among the great Requiem Mass compositions which grace the standard repertoire, those of Mozart and Fauré have in recent years been subjected to close scrutiny with respect to their origins and present performing editions.
The standard, "received" traditional version of the Mozart Requiem which is being performed in this concert was completed in the spring of 1792, months after Mozart's death on December 5, 1791, by Franz Xavier Süssmayr (1766-1803).
Ever since Beethoven's day, when in 1800 he flared up at a critic of the work with the caustic remark "O, you arch ass,” Süssmayr 's achievement has come under increasingly strong criticism. Such criticism culminated with the assertion by the editors of the modem critical edition of Mozart's works, the Neue Mozart Ausgabe that Süssmayr’s version cannot be seen as representing Mozart's intentions. Indeed, Süssmayr himself felt that his work did not do justice to these intentions.
For us to understand the problems connected with Mozart's Requiem it is necessary to know its compositional circumstances. Between July and November, 1791, Mozart completed in full score, voices and orchestration, the Introit "Requiem aeternam" and probably the "Kyrie eleison.” He wrote out the voice parts, the figured bass, and some instrumental leads, but no full score, for the Sequence "Dies irae" up to the eighth measure of the poem's last verse, "Lacrimosa.” He did similarly with the Offertory, "Domine Jesu Christe.” There are no autographed manuscripts at all for the "Sanctus”, "Benedictus”, or “Agnus Dei.” Thus these finished and unfinished movements, together with some sketches (how many we do not know), constitute the compositional status of the Requiem at Mozart's untimely death.
Joseph Eybler, a respected pupil of Mozart, at Constanza Mozart's request, undertook to complete the work on December 21, 1791. He scored most of the "Dies irae" before he gave up before the magnitude of the task. His instrumentation is highly regarded and causes regret that he did not pursue the task to its completion. Most observe that it is much more perceptive of Mozart's intentions than Süssmayr’s.
Only in March, 1792, did Süssmayr undertake to complete the Requiem and this after Constanza had probably failed to persuade Abbe Stadler or Albrechtsberger to do so. Süssmayr hurriedly produced his version to satisfy the Commissioner of the work, Count Walsegg's demands and because he was encumbered with his own musical projects, the staging of his first opera, Moses, and a commissioned Te Deum.
Walsegg was to put his own name to the work and conduct it for his wife in 1793 and again in 1794. Ultimately he had to admit the fraud.
The crux of the matter lies in the enduring disputes respecting what constitutes Mozart's authentic composition, what were his intentions and how authentically Süssmayr carried them out.
Opinion fluctuates between those ably represented by the conservative German scholar, Friedrich Blume, writing in 1962 and more radical views. Blume examined the available manuscript evidence together with the often contradictory testimony of witnesses from Constanza and Süssmayr down to the 1840's. He concluded that the whole work is essentially Mozart's.
On the other hand, Richard Maunder of Cambridge University, among others, embraces a more radical view. In Maunder's recently published Oxford University Press edition of the Mozart Requiem, he omits the Sanctus and Benedictus altogether after a searching harmonic analysis of these movements and taking Süssmayr  at his word that he composed them. He likewise revised considerably the work's orchestration, which he has based on a meticulous analysis of Mozart's own practices in the orchestration of the contemporaneously composed operas, The Magic Flute and La Clemenza di Tito. He has furnished the "Lacrimosa" ending of the "Dies irae" with a new conclusion based on the themes of the Introit and a 16-bar surviving authentic sketch for the Requiem of an “Amen" fugue found in Berlin in 1962. “Amen" appears only once in the whole requiem Mass at this point.
From a performer's standpoint, perhaps Nikolaus Harnoncourt in his recorded performance of Franz Beyer's moderate 1972-79 revision of Süssmayr’s work offers a compromise view. He remarks: " . . . in spite of the Requiem's fragmentary origins and although its completion by Mozart's pupil Süssmayr  has been widely castigated, I was completely aware of the context, the overall design, the architecture of the work . . . as essentially Mozartian.”
The whole dispute finds expression in the title of Blume's article referred to above. It expresses something of the ironic and irreconcilable nature of the controversy: "Requiem, but no peace.”
Recent research has put to rest several “legends" about Mozart's composition of the Requiem.
No ghostly gray-manteled harbinger of death a la Amadeus commissioned the work in May, 1791, but rather an agent of Count Walsegg, son of a well-known manufacturer and former mayor of Vienna. Nor was Mozart obsessed with thoughts of impending death as he commenced composition. Rather he appears during the fall of 1791 to have enjoyed reasonably good health and ebulliant spirits resulting from the success of The Magic Flute.
Contrary to popular belief, moreover, Mozart had little regard for his pupil Süssmayr, "that fatuous ass,” who was out of Vienna much of the fall, though he happened to be on the scene when Mozart was in his death agony when he received instructions from the master as to his intentions respecting the repetition of the Introit-Kyrie themes in the "Lux aeterna" movement. Constanza Mozart's third or fourth choice to complete the commission was Süssmayr.
The playwright of Amadeus, Peter Shafer, writing in The New York Times Magazine for September 2, 1984, sees Mozart in a light wherein we can discern the essential greatness of this truncated, mauled, mangled, and majestic masterpiece. "Finally, this is how Mozart actually appears to me. Trained superbly by his expert and relentless Father, Wolfgang Amadeus was fitted from the age of 16 for one supreme mode of existence, to be the magic flute at the lips of God. His death at the age of 35 does not seem to me to be tragic in the least. He died after gigantic labors of sublime transcription, because the Player had finished playing with him; that is all. How lucky to be used up like that, rather than, as most of us are, by the trillion trivialities which whittle us away into dust."
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) may be classified as one of those composers who developed slowly, reaching compositional maturity relatively late in life. It was not until 1890 that he began to realize some of his ambitions and to achieve international recognition as a composer of distinction in the field of song writing and small instrumental forms.
The style of his Requiem is rooted in his earliest training at the Ecole Niedermeyer, where he prepared for a career as a choirmaster and organist. Immersed in the study of plainsong, the Renaissance choral classics, and great organ literature, he had by the age of 20 assimilated these elements into a style which won for him the school's first prize in composition with his Cantique de Jean Racine, a work clearly presaging the style of the Requiem.
Fauré elaborated his Requiem in three stages, each separated by a period of five or six years. The customarily performed concert version produced in 1898 for full orchestra received its premiere in July, 1900, at the Trocadero Palace during the Paris World Exposition. This version, published by Hamelle, may have resulted from that publisher's urging Fauré to prepare a concert version of the work to insure more frequent performances.
Some Fauré scholars, among them John Rutter, the currently prominent English composer, conjecture that Fauré, as was his occasional practice, probably left the elaboration of the full orchestration for this concert version to his pupil, Roger-Ducasse, who had made the piano reduction of the vocal score. These critics because of the hundreds of misprints and inaccuracies in the orchestral parts and score, do not see Fauré's meticulously vigilant hand in this version. Indeed in 1900 he wrote to Ysaye, who was to conduct the Brussels premiere, lamenting the misprints in the vocal score.
This evening's performance utilizes John Rutter's edition of the 1893 version. Robert Orledge in his biography and study, Gabriel Fauré, states concerning this and the original version of 1888 that "Hearing Fauré's Requiem as he originally intended it to be performed would be a revelation to most people.” Orledge's analysis of the work's genesis from the small intimate "Low Mass" conception of 1887-88 largely depending on organ and low string accompaniment, to the full-blown concert version is thorough in its research and critique.
Fauré began the composition of the Requiem "purely for the pleasure of it" as he observed 23 years later in 1910. Nor did he deny the possible influence the death of his father in 1885 and his mother in 1887 may have exercised on him. He clearly desired to contrive something quite unconventional. In 1902 he remarked, “As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper. After years of accompanying the burial service on the organ I knew it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.” Fauré's work survives in manuscript only in the 1888 version. It comprises the Introit and Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, and the In Paradisum. This latter movement (along with the subsequently added Libera me) concludes the ceremony at the blessing of the casket after the Mass. At that first service for the funeral of M. Joseph La Soufache in the Madeleine, Fauré's choir would have been no more than 20 to 30 men and boys, the essential organ supplemented with divided violas, cellos, and basses, to which was added timpani in the Introit, and a harp and solo violin in the Sanctus and In Paradisum.
Subsequently in 1893, some of the above noted movements had horn, trumpet and bassoon parts added. It was this later version which was customarily performed at the Madeleine until the turn of the Century.
For the most solemn ceremonies, Fauré added also in 1893 the exquisite Offertory "Domine Jesu Christe,” composed in 1889, and the much earlier Libera Me, written in 1877 as an independent work. Both additions call for baritone solo. Again, too, the Libera me provides the only segment of the Requiem where with the words "Dies irae . . .” Fauré writes in a highly dramatic fashion.
The subsequent addition in the published version of 1900 of full orchestral accompaniment seems a far cry from the 'petit Requiem' Fauré envisaged in his letter of 1888 to a friend, Paul Poujaud.
As is well known, Fauré's conception of the Requiem Mass is characterized by restrained and sombre instrumentation conveying less the drama of Judgment Day than of the eternal rest enjoyed by the dead. Fauré emphasizes the word "requiem'' (rest) seven times in the work's progress.  "It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death,” he wrote. "But it is in this that I see death, as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above, rather than a painful experience.”
John Rutter's scholarly edition of Fauré's masterpiece performed this evening by the Chorale, will permit us to savor Orlege's revelation. Fauré's Requiem has achieved astounding and widespread popularity, due to its technical, choral, and harmonic interest and accessibility. Striking, in its sublime simplicity, a sympathetic chord in the hearts of the sensitive, it has become one of this choral genre's most enduring and beloved works.

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