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.
- WDBX Opera Overnight – Johann Adolf Hasse, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (wdbx.wordpress.com) – our discussion of the composition of serenatas from a few weeks ago