Once again, we come upon a rather auspicious occasion, one that I enjoy giving its proper due. Yet another birthday of the master composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Tonight we celebrate his January 27th birthday with two of his major choral works, his Great Mass in C Minor (K. 427), and his Requiem Mass, K. 626.
The Great Mass in C Minor was written between 1782 and 1783. Mozart wrote a letter to his father Leopold, dated 14 January 1783, where he tells of writing something in thanksgiving for the recovery of his fiancee Constanze from an illness, and that it was already halfway completed. The Kyrie and Gloria were first performed in Salzberg, Austria on 26 October 1783, within the context of a regular Roman Catholic mass. Interestingly enough, the work remains incomplete, missing a significant part of the Credo, along with its instrumentation, and all of the Agnus Dei. The Sanctus is also incomplete and requires scholarly reconstruction in order to be performed. It is thought that Mozart likely spliced in bits and pieces from his other masses in order that the piece would be performed, but the question of why the work was left unfinished is the subject of much scholarly speculation. Even thought the piece was left unfinished, Mozart felt highly enough about the work that he reused the Kyrie and the Gloria in his cantata Davidde Penitente (K 469), and the Et Incarnatus Est is frequently used by soprano soloists for recital performances.
If the Great Mass is the subject of some speculation, even more speculation is directed at his Requiem Mass. Famously left unfinished at the composer’s death in 1792, the piece was commissioned anonymously by Count Franz von Walsegg to commemorate his wife’s death. A completed work was delivered by Mozart’s associate (who has been referred to as a student of Mozart’s, but that is not entirely certain) and one-time copyist Franz Xaver Süßmayr within 100 days of Mozart’s death (I am using the German spelling here). The manuscript (a portion of which is shown above) has portions in Mozart’s handwriting and other portions in Süßmayr’s handwriting, but it is believed that Süßmayr had extensive notes of Mozart’s to go on, as well as personal conversations with Mozart about the piece. It is also thought that Süßmayr made contributions of his own to the piece, although how much was his remains unclear (he claimed the Sanctus and the Agnus as his own work).
Walsegg may have intended to pass the Requiem off as his own composition, and he is in fact known to have done this with other musical works. But if this had been his intention, the plan was thwarted when the piece was performed as part of a public benefit for Constanze, now a widow. If this is the case, Süßmayr’s editing of the work also should take some credit for the work’s attribution to Mozart, and in fact Süßmayr’s edition is still the version most frequently played, although there are now a number of other scholarly editions available. Of course, various aspects of the story have reached the status of legend, especially after the movie Amadeus, where a fair amount of attention was placed on the composition of the Requiem, in some cases substituting legend or allegory for fact.
We concluded the show with an organ piece. Mozart wrote a limited number of pieces for organ, and there are also a number of pieces that are transcriptions of works for other instrumental settings. He also wrote some pieces for a type of mechanical organ that had become rather popular during the latter half of the 18th century. The instrument usually consisted of two ranks of 8-foot and 4-foot pipes fitted into a clock, with action similar to a regular organ except that the keys were replaced by rolling cylinders with pins (in this manner, these organs may have been similar to our more recent player pianos). These organs, called Flötenuhr, drew the attention of a number of the major composers of the day, with Haydn, Beethoven, Handel and C.P.E. Bach all writing pieces that could be used in these clocks. Mozart was commissioned to write several pieces for these clocks by a certain Count Deym-Muller, who ran a museum that featured the instruments. At one point Mozart wrote a letter in which he complained of the task, which he found uninspiring, and eventually he was able to persuade Count Deym-Muller to procure a larger instrument for the museum. It was at this point, May of 1791, that Mozart wrote the piece we heard tonight, the Andante in F Major, K. 616