Kali Blevins

Mozart 101, Part 4 of 4: The Requiem

Who remembers the 1984 film Amadeus? Told from the perspective of composer Antonio Salieri, this delightful biopic highlights the genius, vulgarity, and dramatics of the great Mozart. At its core, the movie makes Salieri culpable for Mozart’s death, the cause of which to this day remains unconfirmed. According to the film, Salieri appeared on Mozart’s doorstep in “the guise of a frightening emissary from beyond” to commission a requiem, which eventually drove Mozart to his grave. During the final days of Mozart’s life, Salieri visited the great composer’s bedside and wrote down Mozart’s plan for the rest of the requiem. He later finished the work and attempted to claim it as his own.

Although the idea that Salieri killed Mozart is complete fiction, Amadeus didn’t stray far from the truth in its depiction of Wolfgang’s final composition. In July of 1791, Mozart was visited by what he describes as a “gray messenger.” This mysterious visitor brought a commission for a requiem from an unknown individual, who later turned out to be Count Walsegg. Walsegg was an amateur musician who notoriously hired ghost writers for compositions he would later claim as his own. In this instance, he wanted a mass to perform each year on the anniversary of his young wife’s death. Mozart, then in a fair amount of debt, quickly accepted the proposition.

After finishing up several compositions, including The Magic Flute, Mozart finally began work on the requiem in October. As he fell ill with what would be a terminal sickness, he became obsessed with the piece. He slaved over the requiem day and night. In the delirium of his illness, the “gray messenger” morphed into a herald from beyond. The composer even said to his wife, “I fear I am writing a requiem for myself.”

144792907On the day before he passed away, Mozart, along with his family and friends, sang through the work. He died eleven hours later, leaving the requiem only 2/3 complete.

Mozart’s death left his wife to deal with the family’s copious amount of debt on her own. Fairly business savvy, Constanze knew she needed the money from the unfinished requiem’s commission. Luckily, Mozart left behind the full vocal parts and baseline, plus an outline of the instrumentation for the sections he had completed. No sketches or guidelines have been found for the last three movements.

Constanze enlisted the help of Joseph Eybler, good friend and colleague of her husband. Eybler finished orchestrating portions of the requiem. However, he soon returned the work to Constanze out of respect for his dear friend. He feared he could not do Mozart’s creation justice.

The requiem next landed in the hands of fellow composer Franz Xaver Sussmayr. He is the one credited today for completing Mozart’s Requiem.  The amount of influence he had on the work remains a highly debated topic. Given that Sussmayr had no guidance for the three unwritten movements, there is no way to tell whether he followed the great composer’s wishes. However, the quality of the composition and the continuation of the common themes indicate strong influence from Mozart. As one critic put it, “how [else] could music of such grandeur and sublimity possibly [have] come from one who produced nothing else in his life of lasting value.”

Sussmayer rewrote the entire Requiem, with his additions included, in his own hand and forged Mozart’s signature. Constanze presented the completed work to Count Walsegg, secretly keeping a copy for herself. Although the Count expected to premiere the work himself in late 1793, Constanze presented Mozart’s Requiem eleven months earlier at a benefit concert in honor of her husband.

Explore the Mozart 101 Series:

Mozart 101, Part 1: Mozart’s Life
Mozart 101, Part 2: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Mozart 101, Part 3: The Magic Flute
Mozart 101, Part 4: The Requiem

Mozart 101, part 3 of 4: The Magic Flute

Mozart’s last opera has mesmerized music lovers since its premiere in September 1791. The Magic Flute, a zauberoper or “magic opera,” embodies all that was expected from the popular genre. With its intentionally jumbled plot full of comic relief and larger-than-life characters, the opera was an immediate success with audiences, who became enthralled with its quirkiness.

Critics, on the other hand, weren’t quite so pleased. The Magic Flute was called “one of the most absurd specimens of a form of literature in which absurdity is regarded as a matter of course.” So how could Mozart – a talented, successful, and highly-celebrated composer with a passion for opera – be the one responsible for such a puzzling and eccentric work?

The answer is simple: there is more to the opera than meets the eye. A lot more, actually. German poet Goethe once said about The Magic Flute, “If the multitude find pleasure only in what is actually visible, the initiated will not fail to perceive the higher meaning.” Those “initiated” are none other than the Freemasons.

Freemasonary Logo - Mormon - Books of Foundation - Peter CrawfordMozart became a Mason in December 1784 and was an active member until his death seven years later. Freemasonry in Mozart’s time was driven by a desire to spread the ideals of the Enlightenment – reason, tolerance, and humanism. Mozart found solace in these principles as he dealt with the passing of his father, troubles in his marriage, and his ever-growing debt. It is no surprise then that his later works became saturated with Masonic themes. The Magic Flute is certainly no exception.

Written at a time when Freemasonry was condemned and discredited, The Magic Flute has been called an “Enlightenment allegory, veiled in masonic ritual.” At the time of its premiere, many read the allegory as one reflecting that very moment in history. The Queen of the Night – embodying the darkness and superstition of The Middle Ages – represented Empress Maria Theresa, whose decree had closed most of the Masonic lodges. Long story short, the Queen ends up as the bad guy. In contrast, Sarastro, the benevolent leader who uses Enlightenment ideals to unite the opera’s young lovers, personified Joseph II, son of the empress and advocate of the Masonic order.

Mozart didn’t limit his Masonic nods to just the abstract allegorical level. Freemason rituals and symbolism are scattered throughout the opera. Take the number three, for example. This numeral, an important figure to the Masons, occurs again and again: the main character Tamino is rescued by three ladies and guided along his journey by three boys; he must endure three trials to join the brotherhood; the snake representing ignorance is cut into three pieces. Mozart even goes so far as to write the work in a key signature with three flats. And that’s just scratching the surface of the symbolism. You can find a more detailed listing here.

The Magic Flute, meant to epitomize the meaning of Freemasonry, was Mozart’s last completed composition. He fell ill two days after its premiere. In the delirium of that fatal sickness, Wolfgang would run through the opera in his head, experiencing the power of his own music. He died after the show’s 67th performance. One hypothesis regarding Mozart’s death is that Masons poisoned him for revealing their secrets.

Next week, we learn about Mozart’s unfinished Requiem and the mysterious circumstances behind its commission.

Explore the Mozart 101 Series:

Mozart 101, Part 1: Mozart’s Life
Mozart 101, Part 2: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Mozart 101, Part 3: The Magic Flute
Mozart 101, Part 4: The Requiem

 

Mozart 101, Part 2 of 4: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is considered to be one of Mozart’s most famous compositions. Completed August 10, 1787, while the composer was freelancing in Vienna, A Little Night Music is an upbeat serenade originally written for two violins, viola, cello, and double bass.

Consisting of just 4 movements, the piece has been dubbed a “supreme mastery in the smallest possible frame.” In reality, Mozart intended the piece to be longer, at least according to his own record keeping. The composer lists the piece with 5 movements – the first of two minuets is missing from the surviving manuscript.

You may be surprised to find that historians have little information about how this beloved work came to exist. Despite the large collection of letters, documents, and notes left by Mozart, the only mention of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is in the composer’s personal catalogue of works. No commission request is listed, and the piece was published posthumously. Hence, theories abound as to why Mozart wrote the piece in the first place.

Was it spontaneous composition? Or was the work written for a special occasion? In Mozart’s time, serenades served as festive music for social gatherings and celebrations. Because this musical form was usually performed outside, serenades were often heavy on the wind instruments. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, however, is written for all strings, which indicates an indoor event. Serenades could also be quite lucrative for composers. Since Mozart was severely in debt when he wrote this piece, money may have been a motivation.

To further add to the mystery, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik has a drastically different tone than the other works Mozart completed at that time. He was in the midst of writing his opera buffa Don Giovanni, which ends with the main character being dragged off to hell. This dark comedy seems to be a reflection of Mozart’s life in that moment. The composer was short on work, out of money, and had recently lost his father. The jubilant sounds of A Little Night Music may simply have been Mozart’s attempt to bring some light into his quickly darkening world.

 

Explore the Mozart 101 Series:

Mozart 101, Part 1: Mozart’s Life
Mozart 101, Part 2: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Mozart 101, Part 3: The Magic Flute
Mozart 101, Part 4: The Requiem

Learn More:

Mozart 101, Part 1 of 4: Mozart’s Life

Mozart 101, part 1 of 4: Mozart’s Life

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilius Mozart, known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — or Wolfie for short — was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756. The child of violinist and composer Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang showed an affinity for music from a very early age. He had an innate sense for chords, tempo, and rhythm, which encouraged Leopold to start piano lessons with the then three year old. Mozart learned to play the violin at age four. By five, he had composed his first piece – a piano minuet. At six years old, the child prodigy – along with his father and sister, also a talented pianist – was traveling Europe to perform for royalty.

Mozart

Wolfie, playing piano at age three, playing violin at four, and composing at five

When he wasn’t performing, little Wolfie caused his fair share of trouble. Mozart had an illustrious personality. He was precocious, craved attention, and loved bathroom humor. Anecdotes describe Wolfgang as immature, brash, and excitable. Even getting his haircut was a challenge. His barber could never get the musical genius to sit still. Mozart would think of a new idea and rush to the piano, with the barber brandishing scissors behind him.

As Mozart’s musical career progressed, he quickly outgrew the opportunities available to him in Salzburg. With his mother as traveling companion, he traversed Europe in search of a high-status court position. This trip was a particularly dark time in Mozart’s life. His job hunt was unsuccessful. A young singer named Aloysia Webber stole the composer’s heart, but did not return Mozart’s love. And in 1778, Mozart’s mother became sick and passed away. He returned to Salzburg broken-hearted and jobless. Eventually, Mozart packed his things and headed for Vienna, becoming one of the first-known freelance musicians.

Life in Vienna suited Mozart well. He fell in love with a different Webber sister and married Constanze in 1782, much to the chagrin of his father. He was highly successful as a pianist and composer, allowing the family to live an extravagant lifestyle filled with fancy apartments, expensive pianos, and ample servants. Wolfgang even befriended the famed Joseph Haydn, who sang Mozart’s praises: “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that [Mozart] is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” Haydn would become a strong influence on Mozart’s work.

Sadly, Mozart’s lavish lifestyle and lack of savings caught up with him. Due to the ongoing Austro-Turkish war, the Aristocracy had limited money to support the arts, which left Mozart without work. Compounding debt forced the family to move to inexpensive housing and borrow funds from friends and colleagues.

In the last year of Mozart’s life, the future looked bright. His opera The Magic Flute had seen astounding success, which enabled him to repay his debts. But while in Prague for the premiere of La Clemenza di Tito, he fell ill. Two months later, the sickness had him bedridden. Although his health was quickly deteriorating, Mozart remained mentally engaged in writing his Requiem until his final days.

Mozart died on December 5th, 1791 at 1 a.m. The cause of his death – officially listed as “severe military fever” – is a highly debated topic. The nearly 120 hypotheses include everything from strep throat and flu to vitamin D deficiency and poison. The beloved composer was buried in a common grave.

Explore the Mozart 101 Series:

Mozart 101, Part 1: Mozart’s Life
Mozart 101, Part 2: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Mozart 101, Part 3: The Magic Flute
Mozart 101, Part 4: The Requiem

How Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ Premiered with a Bang

Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks has a history almost as loud as its namesake. The work’s premiere is a story of disagreements, bonfires, and… a lot of traffic.

The Royal Fireworks suite was commissioned by King George II in 1749 to mark the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, an eight-year territorial dispute involving most of the European powers. His Majesty wanted to celebrate the treaty signing with an event of grand proportions. A 400-foot wooden pavilion was constructed for the occasion in London’s Green Park. George’s Comptroller of his Majesty’s Fireworks for War as for Triumph – I kid you not – organized a fireworks display involving nearly 10,000 rockets and 101 cannons. But what good are elaborate pyrotechnics without the right music?

George Frideric Handel

Enter Handel.

Much to the composer’s chagrin, Handel was given guidelines for the piece that would accompany the king’s beloved fireworks: not overly long, heavy on the military instruments (i.e. brass, woodwinds, and percussion), and ‘no fiddles.’ Handel was a bit irritated by that last request. He would later rescore the Royal Fireworks suite for a full orchestra, which is the version we hear most often today.

At its premiere, however, the composition did not include strings. The piece was written for 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 12 bassoons, 24 oboes, three pairs of kettle drums, and a handful of side drums.

Six days before the big celebration, 12,000 people crowded streets, roofs, and boats to hear the piece performed at the dress rehearsal. Afterwards, the audience dispersed in mass. To make matters worse, the London Bridge had fallen down – the central arch of the new structure had collapsed – so the main road was blocked. The resulting chaos caused a three-hour traffic jam of carriages!

In the end, that dress rehearsal turned out to be significantly more successful than the concert itself. On the night of the big event, despite the incredible music, the fireworks failed to wow the crowd. Rockets misfired or refused to light at all. The display was said to be “pitiful and ill-conducted, with no changes of coloured fires and shapes: the illumination…lighted so slowly that scarce anybody had patience to wait the finishing.”

However, the evening did end with a dazzling display. A stray rocket caught the wooden pavilion on fire, and most of it burned to the ground. Oops. Something tells me Mister Comptroller of his Majesty’s Fireworks was out of a job the next day.

CSO Performs Handel’s Messiah

Oratorios singers practice Handel's MessiahThe holiday season is a time for traditions: baking sugar cookies using mom’s special recipe, buying that one new ornament to add to your collection, having a gingerbread house decorating contest with the entire family. For many classical music lovers, attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah is one of those traditions.  Lucky for them, on December 12th at 7:30pm, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, along with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, is presenting its annual performance of this holiday masterpiece.

“Messiah is one of the most special compositions ever conceived,” says Scott Allen Jarrett, the Director of Choruses and Assistant Director for the CSO. Jarrett is in awe of Handel’s work, which makes the job of giving new life to the piece each year easy for him. When asked how he accomplishes this task, he says it’s a matter of finding new meaning: “We have to engage this text in a different way. ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.’ Well, what is the glory? Who is the glory?” He asks his singers to turn off their “autopilot” and think about what the words they are voicing really mean. The decades’ worth of Messiah performance dates scribbled on the chorus folders are testament to the Jarrett’s ability (and to those before him) to make this familiar music fresh. The performers keep coming back.

In Jarrett’s understanding, the yearly performances of Messiah act as a framework for life. “To me, [each performance] is a point of the year to measure one’s life. Every year, we can measure our lives, our gains, our losses, in the image of the story. The story does not change, but we do.” Conducting the Messiah becomes a very personal experience for this retrospective musician.

Jarrett has one piece of advice to impart on those of you attending the concert on Wednesday night: “I would say to a listener, first time or thirtieth time listener, listen with great openness, listen as if you’ve never heard the story before.”

Visit charlottesymphony.org for information on the soloists, songs, and tickets.

WDAV Gets into Holiday Spirit

The holiday season is a great time to be a part of WDAV, whether you’re on the staff like me or you’re a listener and supporter. First, there’s the wonderful seasonal music. As usual, we will increase the holiday selections as we get deeper into December, and let the holiday feeling linger a little longer by continuing to play Christmas music until the 31st.

There are wonderful special programs we look forward to every year, some of which we produce ourselves. This year we continue our collaboration with St. John’s Baptist Church for another live broadcast of Charlotte Lessons and Carols from St. John’s at noon on December 7th, which we’ll repeat twice more later in the month. Our special guests this year are the choral group Renaissance led by Robert Pritchard and the Wingate University Singers under the direction of Kenney Potter, plus the Ballantyne Brass Quintet. I hope you’ll plan to join us either in the warmth of the St. John’s sanctuary or on the radio.

Many international listener favorites are returning as well, including live broadcasts from King’s College in Cambridge, England and the perennially popular New Year’s Day concert from Vienna.

It all makes for a festive way to bring the year to an end, and to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish, and what we have in store for the New Year: on air, online and out in the community.

None of it is possible without the support of devoted listeners who become members. So in the spirit of gratitude and optimism that is so appropriate at this time of year, we say thanks to you, and invite you to continue the musical journey with us on into the New Year.

Wishing you all the warmth of the season,

Frank Dominguez
Interim General Manager
 

***Make sure you check out wdav.org for details on our upcoming Holiday Programming