WDBX Opera Overnight: Strauss, Handel, Monteverdi

English: German Romantic composer Richard Strauss

German Romantic composer Richard Strauss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re going to start with an opera by Richard Strauss.  Strauss’s operatic catalog is intriguing in the variety of styles that he wrote in.  He wrote modernist music and neo-classical material, and even used waltzes in Der Rosenkavalier.  Tonight we’re going to hear one of his most modern works, Elektra.  The opera premiered in 1909, during the height of the Expressionist period in art, and makes extensive use of the sort of chromaticism and dissonance that we normally hear from composers like Schoenberg and Berg.  It was Strauss’s follow-up to his extremely popular opera Salome, which was also modernist, but Elektra finds Strauss at his most aggressive.  In fact, Strauss would moderate his future operas to be less dissonant, while still retaining the vivid chromatic harmonies that he was so good at composing.

Tonight’s recording is from 1988, and features Hildegard Behrens, Christa Ludwig, Nadine Secunde, Ragnar Ulfung, and Jorma Hynninen.  Seiji Ozawa leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

George Frideric Handel, born in the same year ...

George Frideric Handel, by Thomas Hudson (1749) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our second opera of the evening is Floridante, an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel.  It used a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli, and was premiered on December 9, 1721.  Although it received several performances between 1722 and 1733, it was not performed after that point in time until a 1962 revival.

Tonight’s recording is a 2005 recording that features Marijana Mijanovic, Joyce Didonato, Vito Priante, and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir.  Alan Curtis leads his Il Complesso Barocco, part of his excellent series of Handel operatic recordings.

Copy of a portrait of Claudio Monteverdi by Be...

Copy of a portrait of Claudio Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi, hanging in the Gallerie dall’Accademia in Venice (1640). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We shall conclude tonight’s show with a brief work by Claudio MonteverdiIl Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is an operatic scene that Monteverdi wrote in 1624 for the Venetian Carnival season of 1624-25.  This was during a period when he was employed at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and focusing more on liturgical music.  The piece was not published until 1638, and was included with Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals.  The piece is notable for several compositional innovations, including one of the earliest uses of pizzicato, and one of the earliest uses of the string tremolo.

Tonight’s recording is a 1992 recording that features Konstantinos Paliatsaras, Jakes Aymonino, and Tina Malakate.  Skip Sempé leads the Capriccio Stravagante.

The Galaxy – Wishing upon a lucky star

A crop and enhacement of a Perseid Meteor I ca...

A Perseid meteor, captured during the August 12, 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was checking out the Perseid event last night (which continues tonight, although it may not be as good as last night, it is still a great experience), and it occurred to me that this would be a great theme for tonight’s show.  Of course, I’m not sure if I have anything that covers shooting stars specifically, and I’m fairly certain that I don’t have anything on meteors, but I think I have a few songs which should fit the mood nicely.

We started off the set with some Madonna.  I rarely play Madonna, but as far as pop music goes, her early ’80s pop was far more musical than a lot of the material that we see nowadays.  Now, not all of the songs we’re selecting here match up with the theme, but they do match up with her music, and Lucky Star was the song that I considered to be the perfect opener for tonight’s show.  We heard Lucky Star, Holiday, and Borderline.

This photo from a US Government website (http:...

This photo from a US Government website (http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/afp/afp1297.htm) shows Maj. Glen Miller during his service in the US Army Air Corps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Madonna, we heard some Glenn Miller.  One might find it odd that my thought process would have jumped from Madonna directly to Glenn Miller, but that is actually how I conceived the show, as I remembered that I have a lovely rendition of When You Wish Upon a Star (Miller’s version, with Ray Eberle doing the vocals, was in fact the version that we remember from Disney’s Pinnochio).  Happily, when I looked, I found that Miller had recorded a number of songs that fit in well with our theme this evening.  So we started with Stairway to the Stars (from 1939), then we heard When You Wish Upon A Star (from 1940), The Story of a Starry Night (1941), Moon Love (1939, based on the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony), and his well-known classic Moonlight Serenade (1939).

English: Gustav Holst (1874–1934)

Gustav Holst (1874–1934) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gustav Holst wrote The Planets between 1914 and 1916, and was intended as a character interpretation, with each movement named after a planet and scored to show the planet’s corresponding astrological character, as defined by Holst.  Holst used as inspiration a book by British astrologist Alan Leo, and the titles for each of the seven movements (the number of known planets at the time).  Holst originally wrote the piece for dual hand piano, with the Neptune (“Neptune, The Mystic“) movement scored for solo organ.  He then rearranged the music for large orchestra, displaying the influence of Arnold Schoenberg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Glasunov  and Igor Stravinsky.  After its completion, it was performed privately on several occasions between 1918 and 1920, before finally receiving a complete performance on November 15, 1920.  Holst conducted it himself in 1923, and eventually made several recordings of the piece.  Tonight’s recording is a 1971 recording by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Devils Tower in Wyoming was used as a filming ...

Devils Tower in Wyoming, which was used as a filming location for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While listening to this excellent recording of The Planets, I noticed another excellent piece that fits right in with the theme that we are exploring this evening.  John Williams was awarded two Grammys for his soundtrack recording for the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1978, and the composition works very well on its own, away from the theater.  Tonight we heard a suite based on the soundtrack, also performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta.

We then heard a tune from Billie Holiday, What A Little Moonlight Can Do, featuring a combo led by Teddy Wilson with solos from Benny Goodman and Ben Webster.  We followed that song with something from Miles Davis‘ Birth of the Cool sessions, Moon Dreams (one of the more interesting albums in the history of jazz, with a lineup comprised largely of veterans of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra).  We then closed out the set with Moments in Love, from The Art of Noise.  The song really isn’t celestially themed like most of the show, but I think that the music fits in well with the sort of mood one might have when scanning a gorgeous starry night.celestially themed

The Galaxy – Congratulations!

Illinois High School Association

Illinois High School Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the young musicians of Carbondale Community High School, who placed 2nd in Class A Music Program Overall (Solo/Ensemble + Organizational) at the IHSA Solo and Ensemble Music Festival.  They received 84 Division 1 ratings and 10 Division 2 Ratings, earning 2nd Place Band, 2nd Place Strings, as well as 2nd Place Overall.  In addition, I’d also like to congratulate Carterville High School, which received 41 Division 1 Ratings and 13 Division 2 Ratings, earning 10th place Band, 8th Place Vocal, and 9th Place Overall Class B Music Program.  Both of these are substantial achievements for these schools, and can serve as an indicator of the strength of their music programs.  Good job, guys!

In addition, the following local (or at least fairly local) schools also did well:

  • Waterloo (up near St. Louis – I’m including them because I have friends up there) finished 23rd in Class A
  • Mt. Vernon HS finished 25th in Class A, tied with Mattoon HS.
  • Jacksonville HS (way up north, but my cousin is on the school board, so I should be inclusive here too) finished 32nd in Class A
  • Herrin HS finished 55th in Class A
  • Nashville placed 10th in Class B, one behind Carterville.
  • Pinckneyville placed 20th in Class B
  • Duquoin HS placed 36th in Class B
  • Christopher placed 42nd in Class B
  • Massac County placed 56th in Class B
  • Sparta placed 68th in Class B.
  • Sesser-Valier placed 20th in Class C.
  • Chester placed 33rd in Class C.
  • Trico placed 68th in Class C.
  • Egyptian HS (in Tamms) tied for 33rd in Class D.
  • Pope County HS (that’s Golconda) placed 38th.

In addition, the following soloists and ensembles were given special recognition at the regional event hosted at Carbondale Community High School:

  • Alina Tichacek, Marian Repp, Trevon Sherrill – Carbondale  (Trumpet Ensemble) 
  • Alex Taylor, Chris Glennon, Jacob Criddle, and Tyler Anderson – Carterville (Mixed Brass Ensemble) 
  • Kelsey Crawford, Amanda Halter and Marissa Roath – Anna (A.-Jonesboro) (Treble Ensemble) 
  • Pinckneyville Men’s Octet – Pinckneyville (Bass Ensemble) 
  • Murphysboro Madrigal Choir – Murphysboro (Madrigal Group) 
  • Carbondale Guitar Choir – Carbondale (String Choir) 
  • Yenna Cho – Carbondale (Flute) 
  • Aaron Kennedy – Massac County (E-Flat Alto Sax.) 
  • Rachel Brady – Murphysboro (Trumpet) 
  • David Blaise – Carbondale (Marimba) 
  • Nick Ginsburg – Carbondale (Piano) 
  • Carbondale Percussion Choir – Carbondale (Percussion Choir) 
  • Emily Fink – Carbondale (Female Voice) 
  • Shannon Nehrkorn - Pinckneyville (Female Voice) 
  • Anne Visser – Herrin (Female Voice) 
  • Marian Repp – Carbondale (Female Voice) 
  • Quinlan Monk, John Sarvela, Stephen Blair – Carbondale (Mixed Wind Ensemble)

Each of these schools and their students should be congratulated for doing so well.  Having participated in that competition myself when I was in high school, I remember the experience – the nerves, the hours of practice time.  To that end, I take  great joy in seeing young musicians striving to develop their musical potential.  In my eyes, it gives us all hope for the future.

Related reading:

Upcoming on the Galaxy!!!!! A tribute to a great master!

Gustav Leonhardt (Cité de la Musique, Paris)

Gustav Leonhardt (Cité de la Musique, Paris) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This coming Sunday night/Monday morning, we’re going to have a special edition of the Galaxy, as we’ll be paying tribute to the important musicologist and keyboardist Gustav Leonhardt, who passed away back in January 16th.  Leonhardt was a pioneer in the period instrument movement, as a soloist, ensemble member and as a conductor.  His  collaborations with Nicholas Harnoncourt, which include recording the complete set of Bach canatas (a process that took many years, and the first time that had ever been done), rank among some of the most prestigious achievements of the late 20th century.  He was a preeminent performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ, with numerous important recordings of many works of the baroque era and earlier.  He also was a noted instructor of keyboard technique, and his students include many of today’s most important keyboardists musicologists and conductors, including Christopher Hogwood, Alan Curtis, Richard Egarr, John Fesperman, Davitt Moroney, Martin Pearlman, Colin Tilney, Bob van Asperen, Philippe Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, among others, many of whom are regularly featured on this program.  His recordings and research constitute a primary influence on the direction of this show – even when I wasn’t playing his recordings (which I have on numerous occasions over the years), I have often used selection criteria that is influenced in part by the movement that he helped launch back in the 1950s.  He might not be as big a name as, say, Luciano Pavarotti, but his influence on performance and recording practices is probably much greater.

A Tribute to Gustav Leonhardt – coming up Sunday night, March 25/26, on the Galaxy on WDBX.

The Galaxy – Demonstrating the art of the fugue

A portrait which may show Bach in 1750

Bach, possibly from c. 1750 (Image via Wikipedia)

I enjoy my annual celebration of Bach’s birthday (he would be 327 years old on March 21st), if for the simple reason that it gives me a convenient excuse to take a good, hard listen to any one of his numerous masterpieces.  The one risk that I run is the trap of unwittingly playing the same pieces every year.  That is hard to avoid, as Bach wrote some of the most easily appropriate music for the Easter religious holiday, which by happenstance usually falls near the 21st (this year’s observance is three weeks afterwards), and several of his works rank among the truly great musical compositions.  So, in the end, while I do strive for musical variety, I don’t worry about it.  If I choose one week out of the year to play some of the greatest music that the world has ever heard, the greatness of said music remains undiminished.

So it is with that very lack of reservation that I bring out Bach’s Art of Fugue for this year’s birthday show, even though I think I may have done the same last year.  The very brilliance of the work makes the suggestion hard to refuse.  A little background: Bach began the composition of the piece at some point during the early 1740s, although it could possibly have been earlier.  This was a period where Bach was writing pieces that encapsulated everything that he had done up to that point (i.e. The Musical Offering), or revising earlier pieces so that the craft would be to his satisfaction (the two Passion works, Wohltemperierte Clavier, B Minor Mass).  One might say that Bach saw himself as having reached the sunset of his life, and he wanted to have made a grand statement.  He was quite successful, as he was able to produce, either through revisions or through original composition, three truly epic masterpieces within the three years prior to his death: The B Minor Mass, St. Matthew’s Passion, and the Art of Fugue.

The basic subject of Bach's Art of Fugue

The basic subject of Bach's Art of Fugue

While each work has its own special qualities, the Art of Fugue is quite interesting, from a compositional standpoint.  Bach started with a simple musical phrase, seen above, which is stated unequivocally in the first section.  He then ran through all of the different potential ways that he could rephrase and reorganize the statement.  What he did (I use here Wikipedia’s excellent discussion of the compositional methods Bach used):

1. Contrapunctus I, and

2. Contrapunctus II: Simple monothematic 4-voice fugues on main theme, accompanied by a ‘French’ style dotted rhythm motif.

3. Contrapunctus III, and

4. Contrapunctus IV: Simple monothematic 4-voice fugues on inversion of main theme, i.e. the theme is “turned upside down”

Counter-fugues, in which a variation of the main subject is used in both regular and inverted form:

5. Contrapunctus V: Has many stretto entries, as do Contrapuncti VI and VII.

6. Contrapunctus VI, a 4 in Stylo Francese: This adds both forms of the theme in diminution (halving note lengths), with little rising and descending clusters of semiquavers in one voice answered or punctuated by similar groups in demisemiquavers in another, against sustained notes in the accompanying voices. The dotted rhythm, enhanced by these little rising and descending groups, suggests what is called “French style” in Bach’s day, hence the name Stylo Francese.

7. Contrapunctus VII, a 4 per Augmentationem et Diminutionem: Uses augmented (doubling all note lengths) and diminished versions of the main subject and its inversion.

Double and triple fugues, with two and three subjects respectively:

8. Contrapunctus VIII, a 3: Triple fugue.

9. Contrapunctus IX, a 4 alla Duodecima: Double fugue

Contrapunctus X, a 4 alla Decima: Double fugue.
11. Contrapunctus XI, a 4: Triple fugue.

Mirror fugues, in which the complete score can be inverted without loss of musicality:

Contrapunctus12

Contrapunctus 12 (Image via Wikipedia)

12. Contrapunctus XII, a 4: The rectus (normal) and inversus (upside-down) versions are generally played back to back.

13. Contrapunctus XIII, a 3: The second mirror fuguein 3 voices, also a counter-fugue.

Canons, labeled by interval and technique:

14. Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu: Augmented canon in inverted motion.

15. Canon alla Ottava: Canon at the Octave. The two imitating voices are separated by an octave.

16. Canon alla Decima in Contrapunto alla Terza: Canon at the tenth, counterpoint at the third.

17. Canon alla Duodecima in Contrapunto alla Quinta: Canon at the twelfth, counterpoint at the fifth.

An arrangement of Contrapunctus XIII, see below.

18. Fuga a 2 (rectus), and Alio modo Fuga a 2 (inversus)

J.S. Bach's The Art of Fugue, breaks off abrup...

J. S. Bach: unfinished last fugue from "Kunst der Fuge", last page. Source: Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Mus. ms. autogr. Bach P 200 (Image via Wikipedia)

Unfinished quadruple fugue:

19. Fuga a 3 Soggetti (Contrapunctus XIV): 4-voice triple, possibly quadruple, fugue, the third subject of which is based on the BACH motif, B♭ – A – C – B♮ (‘H’ in German letter notation).

The aforementioned unfinished quadruple fugue was quite the fitting capstone to the piece.  One must understand how interested Bach was in numerology and musical symbolism – there are a number of pieces where Bach spells out his name musically, such as he did here.  But this is just the beginning of how brilliant the fugue is.  A number of modern musicologists have suggested that Bach may have intended to use a restatement of the original theme as the fourth, missing section.  This may be, and is certainly logical, but we shall never know.

Further Reading

Tonight’s recording, made by Gustav Leonhardt in 1953, is also special in and of itself, as it is the first full recording of the piece on harpsichord.  When he made the recording, there was some argument as to whether it was actually written for harpsichord (the autograph score does not specify).  Now, there is little doubt, but this is probably in some part due to the work of performer/musicologists such as the eminent Leonhardt.  Leonhardt culminates the discussion thusly:

“The Art of Fugue has been written with an extraordinary knowledge of the technical possibilities of ten fingers on a keyboard.  The work does not only show Bach on his immense creative height, but also as the grandiose master of the keyboard.”

English: Gustav Leonhardt at the MAfestival in...

Gustav Leonhardt at the MAfestival in Bruges (Image via Wikipedia)

(postscript: I am utterly aghast to read, during the writing of this blog piece, of the passing of Gustav Leonhardt back in January.  The contribution that Mr. Leonhardt made to music in general, and to our understanding of the brilliance of Bach, cannot possibly be overestimated.  Leonhardt was brilliant on both organ and harpsichord, and he has been the subject of many Galaxy broadcasts over the course of the 16 years that I’ve been broadcasting.  He would have a place in musical history if just for this one recording that we’ve played tonight, but his career went far beyond this one recording.  Mr. Leonhardt, you will be missed.)

Related articles

For our second piece of the evening, we heard a cantata for solo voice, BWV 82, Ich Habe Genug (trans: “I have enough”).  The cantata was written for the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, and sung on the feast day, February 2, 1727.  This was during his Leipzig period, the height of his career, and came during an extended period of amazing output (at one point he was writing a cantata every week; in this manner he wrote three complete cycles of cantatas to cover the Lutheran calendar).  Tonight’s cantata is unusual, one of a select few that he wrote for solo voice, without other soloists or choir.  It was first written for solo bass (that version in C minor), but in later years Bach revised it for other voice types – for soprano in E minor in 1730-31, and for alto in C minor.  He also revisited the cantata at some point in the 1740s, bringing it close to the form of the original.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Image from http://www.bach-cantatas.com)

Tonight’s recording, from 2002, also features a special talent, Lorraine Hart Lieberson.  She passed away from cancer a few years later, but left behind some gorgeous samplings of her ability, of which this is one (and a particularly beautiful one at that).  I don’t know if the selection of the specific cantatas was purposeful, but the libretto makes quite a statement for someone experiencing such an illness:

Ich habe genug,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genug!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.

I have now enough,
I have now my Savior, the hope of the faithful
Within my desiring embrace now enfolded;
I have now enough!
On him have I gazed,
My faith now hath Jesus impressed on my heart;
I would now, today yet, with gladness
Make hence my departure.

WDBX Opera Overnight – Wagner, Puccini

Richard Wagner, Paris, 1861

Photograph of composer Richard Wagner, Paris, 1861 (catalog number 007); this was taken when Wagner was in France for the premiere of Tannhauser.

We have another interesting show for you this evening, with two great operas featuring two great tenor/sopranos duos.  We begin the evening with Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.  Wagner based the libretto on a poem by Heinrich Heine, the same poet who inspired Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, although Wagner also found some inspiration in a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann,  the 15th century folk ballad Das Lied von dem Danheüser, and a collection of folk legends from Thuringia called Der Sagenschatz und die Sagenkreise des Thüringerlandes.  Heine published his poem in 1837, and Wagner (who wrote all of his own librettos) wrote a draft libretto in prose in 1842.  He began the composition of the music in the summer of 1843, and completed the full score on April 13, 1845.  It was premiered on October 19 of that same year, with Wagner’s niece Johanna (who had assisted him during the compositional process by singing the parts as he wrote them, thereby serving as a partial inspiration for Wagner’s vision of the lead soprano part) singing the part of Elizabeth.  The opera was not initially as successful as some of Wagner’s previous works, and he spent parts of 1846 and 1847 revising it.  He also produced a well known revision of the opera in 1860 for a special performance in Paris, and that revision was itself revised in 1875.

Grace Bumpry

Grace Bumpry, from some time in the 1960s, during a performance of Carmen

Tonight’s recording is a legendary live recording from the 1962 Bayreuth Festival.  It is commonly referred to as the “Black Venus” because of the presence of Grace Bumpry, the first black singer to appear at Bayreuth.  Along with Grace Bumpry (whose Venus is quite prominent in Act 1), we hear Wolfgang Windgassen and Anja Silja in the lead roles, along with Eberhard Wächter, Gerhard Stolze, Franz Crass, Georg Paskuda, Gerd Nienstedt, and Else-Margaret Gardelli.  The Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra is conducted by Wolfgang Swallisch, and the production was staged by Wagner’s grandson Wieland Wagner, who for years ran the Bayreuth Festival and is credited for initiating the modernist trend in Wagnerian productions (and who was in a relationship for a while with Anja Silja, tonight’s lead soprano).

Anja Silja, c. 1966

Anja Silja, c. 1966

Promotional poster for Giacomo Puccini's opera...

Promotional poster for Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot", from 25 April 1926. (Image via Wikipedia)

For our second opera this evening, we’re going to hear the last composition by Giacomo Puccini, Turandot.  Puccini began composition in January of 1921, using a libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni.  He had completed all but a final duet by March of 1924, but was dissatisfied with the text for the duet.   He finally received a version of the text that he found satisfactory on October 8th, but two days later was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He continued writing while undergoing what was then an experimental radiation treatment, but died of a heart attack on November 29th, 1924.  He left 36 pages of sketches, along with instructions for how it was to be completed and whom should complete it – the last part of which Puccini’s son objected to.  The job was eventually handed to Franco Alfano, whose contributions were edited by conductor Arturo Toscanini, who had worked extensively with Puccini in the past, and who conducted the premiere.  Although there have been a number of recent attempts at revising this last portion, none have managed to stick, and the edition with Alfano’s contribution is the version that is usually heard.

Birgit Nilsson as Turandot

Birgit Nilsson as Turandot, possibly for a Metropolitan Opera performance, date unknown

But a mere recounting of the music’s history fails to touch on the beauty that inhabits this music.  Puccini’s music, while a continuation of the Italian musical tradition established by such great writers as Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi, was fully modern for the 1920s.  He showed with traces of Wagnerian inspiration, but also suggesting hints of influences from Debussy and, later in his life, Stravinsky.  Puccini also had a taste for exotic locations and influences, as many of his operas were set outside of Italy, and two of them (Turandot and Madama Butterfly) were set in the Orient.  Puccini wrote demanding roles, and Turandot attracts the best sopranos and tenors.  He also had a gift for melody, and Nessun Dorma, the soaring tenor aria that helps lead off Act 3, is one of the more easily recognized melodies in all of music.

Tonight’s performance is a 1966 recording that features top vocalists Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli, two of the greatest voices of their era, along with Bonaldo Giaiotti, Renata Scotto, Angelo Mercuriali, and the Rome Opera House Orchestra & Chorus under the baton of Franco Molinari-Pradelli.

The Galaxy – The special music of a special man

Mozart, about 1780. Detail of Mozart family po...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, painted c. 1780 (Image via Wikipedia)

January 27th marks the 256th birthday of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  It seems only fitting that we mark the occasion with some appropriate selections from this great composer.

We started off the set with a fine recording of the Requiem Mass, KV. 626.  The story behind the work is the stuff of legend: the mysterious commission from an anonymous benefactor (which eventually proved to be Count Franz von Walsegg), Mozart’s attempts at multi-tasking (he completed Die Zauberflote, wrote his well-known Clarinet Concerto and did some other things while working on the Requem), his illness (he first became ill on 20 November 1791), and eventual passing on 5 December; the struggle by his widow, Constanze, to assemble some form of a finished product, with the help of Mozart’s closest associates (most notably Franz Xaver Süßmayr), so that she might receive the balance of the fee owed by von Walsegg.  Indeed this is the sort of stuff that makes for good movies (which, in fact, it did).  But, while the fact is that we are listening to a work that Mozart left unfinished, which was completed by others, this should not diminish in our eyes the exquisite beauty of this masterpiece.  The fact is that the Requiem represents part of a chain of events and compositions which suggests the composer was in the process of exploring a number of interesting new ideas and directions at the time of his passing.  Tonight’s recording is a 1995 recording by Les Arts Florissants, with William Christie directing.

We followed the Requiem with the aforementioned Clarinet Concerto, K. 622.  The Clarinet Concerto was actually written for a new variety of clarinet then being championed by noted clarinetist Anton Standler, a basset clarinet that extends the range of the B flat and A clarinets down to a low C.  Interestingly, Mozart’s publisher made an arrangement of the concerto with the low notes transposed into a normal clarinet’s range, but never published the original, and the original itself has been lost.  Although there have been attempts at reconstructing the original, with special clarinets built to accommodate the range required for the work, the work we hear tonight I believe to be the altered version.  Regardless, the melodies set forth by this work are instantly memorable and strikingly beautiful, truly a joy to the ear, and the work ranks among the key parts of the clarinet musical catalog.  Tonight’s recording is a 1972 recording by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner, featuring Jack Brymer on clarinet.

We closed the evening with one of Mozart’s early works, his Serenade No. 1 in D major, K100/62a.  It was written in the summer of 1769 (he was 14), and apparently was written for a party given for the retirement of a Salzburg University professor.  It was most likely written for outdoors performance (remember our discussion of serenatas from a few weeks ago?).  Here we have demonstrated his considerable technical skills, even at such a young age.   Tonight we heard a 1970 recording by the Vienna Mozart Ensemble as directed by Willi Boskovsky.