The Levin edition of Mozart's compelling Requiem is performed in thrilling splendour by Sir Charles Mackerras and the SCO. This is Sir Charles Mackerras' first recording of the Mozart Requiem. His history in conducting Mozart is considerable—during his lifetime he was acclaimed as one of the world's greatest living Mozarteans.
This recording uses the score prepared by Harvard professor Robert Levin. Levin aims to improve on Franz Sussmayr's familiar edition by making the music closer to what Mozart might have written.
In making his completion, Süssmayr could draw on the partial completion of the sequence done by Joseph Eybler soon after Mozart’s death. He may have had access to a further important source – a sketch leaf which includes contrapuntal studies for the ‘Rex tremendae’ as well as the beginning of an ‘Amen’ fugue to close the ‘Lacrimosa’. However, Süssmayr did not include a realisation of this fugue in his version; he set the ‘Amen’ with two chords at the end of the ‘Lacrimosa’.
The key question about Süssmayr’s version is whether any of the portions of the Requiem that are not in Mozart’s hand were based on his ideas. Although Süssmayr claimed to have composed these alone, they display the tight motivic construction of Mozart’s fragment, in which a small number of themes recur from movement to movement; Süssmayr’s own music lacks such motivic interrelationships. Perhaps, then, the ‘few scraps of music’ Constanze remembers giving to Süssmayr together with Mozart’s manuscript contained material not found in Mozart’s draft. Mozart may also have suggested certain ideas to Süssmayr on the piano.
A clear evaluation of the movements Süssmayr claimed to have composed is clouded by unmistakable discrepancies within them between idiomatically Mozartean lines and grammatical and structural flaws that are utterly foreign to Mozart’s idiom. First attacked in 1825, these include glaring errors of voice leading in the orchestral accompaniment of the ‘Sanctus’ and the awkward, truncated Hosanna fugue. Furthermore, Süssmayr brings back this fugue after the ‘Benedictus’ in B flat major rather than the original D major, in conflict with all church music of the time.
The version heard in this performance seeks to address the problems of instrumentation, grammar and structure within Süssmayr’s version while respecting the 200-year-old history of the Requiem. A clearly drawn line of separation, in which everything except the contents of Mozart’s autograph was to be considered spurious per se, was explicitly rejected. Rather, the goal was to revise not as much, but as little as possible, attempting in the revisions to observe the character, texture, voice leading, continuity and structure of Mozart’s music. The traditional version has been retained insofar as it agrees with idiomatic Mozartean practice. The more transparent instrumentation of the new completion was inspired by Mozart’s other church music. The ‘Lacrimosa’ has been slightly altered and now leads into a non-modulating ‘Amen’ fugue. Other completions of the fugue modulate extensively. The second half of the ‘Sanctus’ resolves the curious tonal discrepancies of Süssmayr’s version, and the revised Hosanna fugue, modelled after that of Mozart’s Mass in C minor, K427/417a, displays the proportions of a Mozartean church fugue. The second half of the ‘Benedictus’ has been slightly revised and is connected by a new transition to a shortened reprise of the Hosanna fugue in the original key of D major. The structure of the ‘Agnus Dei’ has been retained, but the infelicities of Süssmayr’s version have been averted in the second and third strophes. In the final ‘Cum sanctis tuis’ fugue, the text setting has been altered to correspond to the norms of the era.
It is hoped that the new version honours Mozart’s spirit while allowing the listener to experience Mozart’s magnificent Requiem torso within the sonic framework of its historical tradition.
Robert D Levin © 2003
Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546
Mozart neither disparaged Bach, nor considered it in any way retrogressive to be influenced by Bachian counterpoint. In 1782, as director of Baron van Swieten’s Sunday concerts in Vienna, he played Bach fugues, made transcriptions of Bach fugues and wrote fugues of his own in tribute to his connoisseur patron’s enthusiasm for Baroque music. In 1789, en route to Berlin, he visited Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig where he improvised for an hour on the chorale Jesu meine Zuversicht. Bach’s Leipzig successor, Cantor Doles, sat beside him at the organ, pulling the stops and saying ‘old Sebastian Bach has risen again.’
The visitor, it was observed, was ‘a young, modishly dressed man of medium height,’ who played ‘beautifully and artfully for a large audience.’ The choir sang Bach’s fine motet, Singet den Herrn, in his honour, and Mozart examined Bach’s autographs: ‘The parts spread all around him, held in both of his hands, on his knees, and on the adjoining chairs.’ Two years later, in The Magic Flute, he would give the Two Armed Men stern, beautiful, hauntingly Bachian music to sing.
The Fugue in C minor dates from six years earlier, when Mozart was first immersed in contrapuntal studies. Originally written for two pianos, it was arranged in 1788 for strings and given the slow, sombre introduction which so strikingly adds to its intensity, yet which Mozart described as no more than ‘a short adagio for two violins, viola, and bass, for a fugue I wrote a long time ago.’ The Adagio is filled with bold, expressive harmonic progressions. The Fugue, once set in motion, rolls on relentlessly to its close. The music, playable by string quartet or string orchestra, has a hard-edged severity quite uncommon in Mozart, but confirming how the Baroque and the Rococo could co-exist in Classical Vienna. A dark, somewhat spooky, conductorless performance of it was given at Herbert von Karajan’s funeral in 1989.
Conrad Wilson © 2003