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Sunday March 13th 05 7pm
Mozart - Requiem
Elizabeth de Lacey - Conductor
 
Anna Kirby - Soprano
Patricia Helen Orr - Mezzo soprano
Nathan Vale - Tenor
Håkan Ekenäs - Bass
 
Mozart - Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola K364
Sandy Kim - Violin
Matthew Quenby - Viola
 
 
Programme Notes
    As death, if we think about it soberly, writes Mozart in a letter to his dying father, is the true and ultimate purpose of our life, I have over the last several years formed such a knowing relationship with this true and best friend of humankind that his image holds nothing terrifying for me anymore; instead it holds much that is soothing and consoling! (Mozart's letters, Mozart's life - Robert Spaethling)
In reality, the deaths of those dear to him, and the circumstances surrounding his own untimely death could hardly have been more tragic. All but two of Mozart's six children died in infancy. Mozart's immediate family was torn apart when his mother died while on tour in Paris with her son. The pain he suffered on that occasion was magnified by the feelings of guilt engendered by his father who accused him of neglect: I hope that after your mother had to die in Paris, you will not also burden your conscience by expediting the death of your father.
Most people know the story of how Mozart received the Requiem commission from the hands of a grey stranger, and how Mozart became obsessed with the idea that this would turn out to be his own Requiem. Equally well known is the fact that, at the hour of his death, the Requiem lay unfinished. Exactly who completed the work, and with how much instruction from the dying Mozart, remains uncertain. Though much of it is credited to Mozart's pupil Sussmayer, it is known that Sussmayer lied about certain parts of the Requiem which he had claimed were all his own work.
The question then must be asked: if this is not all Mozart's work, is it great music? Most people seem to agree that the music is too good to be the work of a lesser composer. Certainly it is difficult to believe that Mozart had no hand the in audacious striding bass line with its octave leaps in the Lachrimosa; the rich trombone sonorities in the Benedictus, so reminiscent of the Magic Flute ; the wind-swept Agnus Dei which seems to describe the snow and blizzards raging outside as Mozart lay dying - weather like the end of the world.
The conclusion we must surely come to is that it doesn't really matter. The Requiem is, in its present form, so well-loved that it needs no apology. Like all recognised works of art, it exists in its own right. It is not for us as performers to try to second-guess how Mozart might have completed it, or how he would have wished to have heard it; our job, as always, is to attempt to do what the music itself demands.
Mozart was passionate about the theatre, a fact which is reflected in his love for writing opera. From his friend, the actor and director Schikaneder, he received free passes, and attended as often as he could. We know from his letters that he saw, amongst other things, Shakespeare's Hamlet. We know also that productions of King Lear and Macbeth took place around the same time in Vienna (1780) so it is probable that he would also have seen those. It is perhaps not too fanciful to suggest that something of Macbeth's three witches seems to have got into the music for the Dies Irae - not inappropriately for music which speaks of the Day of Wrath as fortold by the Prophetess.
In the Requiem imagery abounds; the juxtaposition of major and minor in the running string semi quavers in the Confutatis suggesting the sifting of souls - the wheat from the chaff; the gradual bringing together of the scattered voices in the fugal Quam Olim Abrahae as lost souls are gathered together into the light; the loud praises and the gentle prayers of the Hostias.
It is tempting to speculate that the entreating melody floating heavenwards which Mozart writes in the Recordare - remember me is really a parting love-song to his wife Constanza - in an unfinished piano sonata Mozart actually writes the name Constanza above the notes of a similarly falling phrase.
Mozart loved to dance - we hear in his letters of his delight in the masked balls which, at Carnival time, used to go on throughout the night, and for which Mozart wrote music for the contredanses. The beautiful lilting Recordare is a really a sarabande, a dance in three time with an accent on the second beat; the Hostias, a minuet, again in three time, but a more stately court dance accented on the first beat.
It is difficult to grasp that Mozart was working on the Requiem at the same time as the Magic Flute - two seemingly so diametrically opposed works - but there are common threads. The Magic Flute was clearly intended as a allegory of the beliefs and practices of the Freemasons, a society to which both Mozart and Schikaneder belonged. Masonic imagery also creeps into the Requiem - the significance of the number three, which in Masonic lore stood for Strength, Wisdom and Beauty (Rex! Rex! Rex! ); the ceremonial knocking which we hear so often on the drum; the bass soloist leading the other soloists in the Tuba Mirum and the Benedictus, reminiscent of Sarastro in the Magic Flute, Grand Master and personification of wisdom and goodness.
One of the most characteristic features of the Requiem is the frequent shifting of mood and dynamics. This was the very essence of MozartĀs own personality, for, as we have seen, he could never be angry or unhappy for long without the mischievous side of his nature returning to the fore - noone who knows me can say that I am morose or dejected in company - and for this blessing I thank my Creator every day.
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The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola is a wonderful example of this. Written in the year following his mother's death, it takes us from a warm, sunny first movement where the plucked strings seem to be blowing kisses - through the heartbreakingly beautiful but melancholy slow movement, which, somewhat unusually for Mozart's slow concerto movements, is in a minor key - and then to the presto finale where all is once again joy and light.
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© This material is the copyright of Elizabeth de Lacey