Program Notes by Robert Stevenson
Like both operas written in his last year, Die Zauberflote and La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart's sublime Requiem was a commissioned work. Count Franz Walsegg zu ,Stuppach (1763-1827) who commissioned it to commemorate his wife's death February 14, 1791, insisted however on hiding his identity and on dealing with Mozart through his estate manager, Franz Anton Leitgeb. (Legend later turned Leitgeb into a "mysterious cloaked stranger" who knocked at the composer's door with his death warrant.) The count, a fanatic music lover, had already paid many another composer for works that when recopied at
the count's country seat he liked to palm off as "anonymous" works. His musical employees, asked to guess the composer, united in the pleasant fiction of always "guessing" him to be the anonymous composer, thus ensuring their continued livelihood.
When finally retrieved from the count's legacy and another source, the autographs for as much of the Requiem as Mozart orchestrated or sketched in vocal score were bought by the Austrian National Library (Codex 17561). They include the Introit and Kyrie but only orchestrated fragments of some other movements. The Dies irae, Rex tremendae, and start of the Lacrymosa autographs contain "filling" supplied on Mozart's widow's request by a young associate whom he had highly recommended in a testimonial dated May 10, 1790. Joseph Eybler (1765-1845) - vouched for as a talent rarely matched and a composer equally at home in chamber and church style - signed a receipt for Mozart's Requiem manuscripts on December 21, only 16 days after his death "of a kidney disease terminating in uremic coma" in the first hour of December 5, 1791. Although promising to complete it by mid-Lent of 1792 without letting anyone else view so much as a note of it, Eybler defaulted on his written pledge to the moneyless widow, Constanze. Upon finishing only the instrumentation through the Confutatis, he had to quit. Constanze then engaged Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803), a pupil who had helped Mozart with the scoring and rehearsing of La Clemenza di Tito in 18 days of September, 1791, and was his companion at the hour of death.
The Requiem, as completed by Eybler and Süssmayr, was first performed February 2, 1793, for the benefit of Constanze and Mozart's two sons at a concert arranged in a Vienna church by Baron van Swieten (to whom Beethoven dedicated his first symphony). The proceeds were "300 golden ducats." It was next performed at the Count Walsegg's country residence December 14, 1793. When Breikopf und
Hartel published the score at Leipzig in 1600, Süssmayr claimed credit for having orchestrated the whole Requiem – which on the evidence of the Mozart autographs still in the Count's possession in 1800, is not true. Friedrich Blume correctly assessed current Requiem research when in his Musical Quarterly article of April 1961 denied Süssmayr any real part in composing the music of the Requiem, "at least up to the end of the Offertory." Despite ascription of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei movements to Süssmayr in the new Mozart complete works edition (Bärenreiter, 1965), Blume also contended that these most controversial movements should be considered "in essentials Mozart's until the contrary is proved." Blume staked his case on the discovery that in his last period Mozart did work from sketches. Süssmayr wrote nothing provably his own that compares in quality with the controversial Requiem movements. Since he misrepresented what Mozart had done in orchestrating the Requiem, he may conveniently have lost the sketches for those controversial movements.
It was Süssmayr, not Mozart, who decreed the continuous unrelieved use of basset horns (alto clarinets) throughout all movements of the Requiem. Much as they add to the dark-hued intensity of the Introit and Kyrie, these unusual instruments - used most sparingly in Die Zauberflote and La Clemenza di Tito - cannot have been the only woodwinds that Mozart would have prescribed had he lived to complete the orchestration. It was Süssmayr who continued the solo trombone long after Mozart's autograph of the Tuba mirum authorizes its use. Mozart himself intended for the Rex tremendae to end with three measures of unaccompanied choral singing, but Süssmayr continued strings to the end. In the Recordare Süssmayr failed to follow Mozart's introductory pattern of basset horns answered by strings when the voices enter.
Nonetheless, Süssmayr does deserve the perpetual gratitude of posterity for having finished to the best of his ability a work that in the words of Johann Adam Hiller- the cantor of St. Thomas who translated the text for the first performance of the Requiem in German at the Leipzig Gewandhaus April 20, 1796- is the opus summum viri summi ("the supreme work of the supreme man"). Other Latin requiems exceed Mozart's in length. But none soar to greater heights of conception. "If Mozart had written naught but his violin quintets and his Requiem, they alone would have immortalized his name," declared Haydn. Chopin requested it for his funeral. Throughout the 19th century this was the work sung to commemorate sovereigns and princes from Berlin (1805, 1833, 1839, 1840, 1861) to Rio de Janeiro (1819).
The Mozart Requiem is music fit to commemorate kings. On the other hand, Stravinsky's Les Noces invites the listener to share in the earthy joys of a Russian peasant wedding. Unlike the Requiem conceived in haste with death's fell clutch at his throat, Stravinsky's highly unified and taut score for Les Noces occupied him in various versions from mid-1914 when he began it at Clarens until completion of the final score at Monte Carlo April 6, 1923. Dedicated to Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929), this unique dance-cantata in its final version combines jabbing percussion with unbroken vocal music almost to the very end. At the premiere June 13, 1923 (Théâtre de la Gaité Lyrique, Paris) the four pianos were stationed like ebony mammoths at the four corners of the stage, while the singers and percussion (4 kettledrums, xylophone, tuned bell, 2 crotales, tamborine, triangle, 2 pairs of cymblas, 2 side drums, military drum with and without snare, bass drum) remained hidden in the pit. Stravinsky himself compiled the text of the four tableaux from a collection of Russian folk poetry by Kireievsky. As with most folk sayings, the culture from which they sprang needs to be known. In Expositions and Developments (1962) Stravinsky cited as an example the Russian word for "red" which in the last tableau means in context "beautiful".
In part I (tableaux 1 through 3) songs alternate with laments, in part II (tableau 4) with jests. Within the cultural context, the laments are however merely ritualistic. Although solos crop up regularly, no one soloist represents a character such as bride or groom. The story line runs thus: I Natasia's hair is combed and plaited by her mother and bridesmaids who in chorus urge her not to weep. II The bridegroom's friends assemble to congratulate his parents on the fine match and to invoke divine blessing on the union. III After being blessed by her parents, the bride leaves home for the ceremony, followed by her weeping mother and father. IV The orgiastic wedding feast proceeds unrestrained, interrupted only now and then by such guests as an old drunkard who sings of a lost gold ring with a ruby in it. At the close the couple retires to the nuptial couch already warmed for them, while the groom sings of his joy in his wife.
In 1962 Stravinsky recalled that when he first played Les Noces for Diaghilev at his home near Lausanne he cried and called it the "most beautiful and most purely Russian creation of our Ballet." According to Stravinsky, Diaghilev always thereafter preferred the 23-minute Les Noces above all his other works.
Britten's 19-minute Cantata Misericordium with Latin text by Patrick Wilkinson based on the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan was composed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Red Cross, and was first performed in Geneva September 1, 1963. Scored for mixed chorus, two male soloists, string orchestra, string quartet, piano, harp, and drums, this cantata quickly found favor as one of his loveliest creations, showing once again how he could take the most time-honored of subjects and invest it with new ethereal meaning. To unify the cantata, the F sharp minor sections that begin and close the work mirror each other. Between comes the story of the traveler stripped, robbed, and beaten. Priest and Levite pass him by, and he lies ready to die until a Samaritan notices his pain, delivers him to a nearby innkeeper, gives brisk orders for his treatment, and departs. The chorus meditates on this lesson: "When one mortal relieves another in distress, then indeed they are neighbors. Go and do thou likewise."