Program 6

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Overture to The Impresario, K. 486

“Spring Festival on a Mid-Winter’s Day,” it was called: an elaborate reception given by Emperor Joseph II in honor of Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen, Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands, and his wife, the Archduchess Maria Christine, on February 7, 1786. The site chosen for this Mayish revel was one of the few green spots in Vienna at that time of the year — the Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace, on the outskirts of town. Along with the preparations for the banquet and the plans for the decorations of exotic flowers, blossoms and fruits, the royal stewards issued orders for the evening’s entertainment, which was to consist of a newly composed, one-act opera buffa by Court Composer Antonio Salieri (Prima la musica e poi le parole — “First the Music and then the Words,” a theme treated again 150 years later by Richard Strauss in his last opera, Capriccio) and a one-act farce by the playwright Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger (Der Schauspieldirektor — “The Impresario”) with a few interpolated musical numbers by Mozart. (Stephanie and Mozart had worked together four years earlier, when they produced The Abduction from the Seraglio.) Mozart’s feelings upon receiving the commission early in 1786 were mixed. His greatest ambition was always to compose operas, perhaps even some day to take over Salieri’s position at court, and this chance to compose specifically for the imperial ear was welcome. On the other hand, he was frantically busy with preparations for his own concerts. He had just finished the Piano Concertos K. 467 and 482, and was readying two more such pieces (K. 488 and 491) for his Lenten programs. Most pressing, however, were the preparations for The Marriage of Figaro, which was scheduled for its premiere at the Burgtheater on May 1st. He put Figaro briefly aside, however, and composed an overture, two soprano arias, a trio and an ensemble finale for The Impresario between January 18th and February 3rd. The music was written for and specifically tailored to the voices and styles of four singers well known to Mozart. The soprano parts were taken by Aloysia Lange, his sister-in-law and the recipient of some of his finest concert arias, and Caterina Cavalieri, who created the role of Constanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio. The tenor was Valentin Adamberger, the first Belmonte in that opera, and the bass was sung by Joseph Lange, Aloysia’s husband, who painted the most famous, though unfinished, likeness of the composer in 1782.

On the afternoon of February 7, 1786, according to several press reports, the invited noble guests left their winter lodgings in Vienna aboard elegant carriages for the four-mile ride to the Habsburg summer palace, Schönbrunn. There they were treated to a rich feast, consumed to the strains of a wind band playing selections from Salieri’s opera La Grotto di Trofonio, premiered at the Burgtheater during the previous season. Two stages were erected at opposite ends of the Schönbrunn Orangerie for the “Spring Festival,” one for Stephanie’s German comedy with Mozart’s music, the other for Salieri’s miniature opera buffa. (This double bill was given publicly three times during ensuing weeks at the Kärntnertor Theater.) The Impresario, performed by the German troupe of the Burgtheater, was a long-winded and heavy-handed farce on the trials of an opera producer in settling the disputes and calming the rivalry between the two competing sopranos.

The Overture to The Impresario, according to Alfred Einstein, is a work marked by “the purest buffo style [whose] form is full of surprises.”

Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, “Jupiter”

Composed in 1788.

Mozart’s life was starting to come apart in 1788 — his money, health, family situation and professional status were all on the decline. The beginning of the year seemed to hold a promise of good things. When Gluck died in November 1787, his position as composer to the court of Emperor Joseph II fell vacant. Mozart had sufficiently ingratiated himself with the aristocracy to win the job, but with the offer came a salary of only 800 florins, less than half the 2,000 florins Gluck had been paid. For that amount, Joseph, who apparently did not care much for Mozart or his music, required only some dances for his grand balls and not the career-advancing operas and symphonies that the composer was hoping to provide. The position at court, so long sought, did little to alleviate Mozart’s financial worries. He was a poor money manager, and the last years of his life saw him sliding progressively deeper into debt. One of his most generous creditors was Michael Puchberg, a brother Mason, to whom Mozart wrote a letter which includes the following pitiable statement: “If you my worthy brother do not help me in this predicament, I shall lose my honor and my credit, which of all things I wish to preserve.”

Other sources of income dried up. His students had dwindled to only two by summer, and he had to sell his new compositions for a pittance to pay the most immediate bills. He hoped that Vienna would receive Don Giovanni as well as had Prague when that opera was premiered there the preceding year, but it was met with a haughty indifference when first heard in the Austrian capital in May 1788. (“The opera is divine, finer perhaps than Figaro, but it is not the meat for my Viennese,” sniffed the Emperor, to which Mozart tartly replied, “We must give them time to chew it.”) He could no longer draw enough subscribers to produce his own concerts, and had to take second billing on the programs of other musicians. His wife, Constanze, was ill from worry and continuous pregnancy, and she spent much time away from her husband taking cures at various mineral spas. On June 29th, his fourth child and only daughter, Theresia, age six months, died.

Yet, astonishingly, from these seemingly debilitating circumstances came one of the greatest miracles in the history of music. In the summer of 1788, in the space of only six weeks, Mozart composed the three greatest symphonies of his life: No. 39, in E-flat (K. 543) was finished on June 26th; the G minor (No. 40, K. 550) on July 25th; and the C major, “Jupiter” (No. 41, K. 551) on August 10th. It is not known why he wrote these last three of his symphonies, a most unusual circumstance at a time when every piece was intended for a specific situation. There is no record that he ever heard the works, nor are they mentioned anywhere in his known correspondence after they were completed. They may have been intended for a series of oft-delayed concerts originally planned for June that never occurred. Or perhaps in these glorious symphonies, as in many other aspects of his art, Mozart looked forward to the Romantic era and its belief in artistic inspiration divorced from practical requirements. Or perhaps he needed, at that stressful time in his life, to prove to himself that he could still compose large-scale instrumental works. Or perhaps, wrote R.L.F. McCombs, “he felt he had, at this point in his life, achieved maturity as an artist and mastery as a craftsman — an occasion at least as worthy of celebration as a twenty-first birthday. These symphonies are the monument with which he commemorated that crisis in his creative life.” Or — perhaps — we are richer for allowing the mysterious creative urge which produced these works to hover, unknown, above them forever, a perceptive point of view espoused by Robert Schumann when he wrote, “There are things in the world about which nothing can be said, as Mozart’s C major Symphony, much of Shakespeare and pages of Beethoven.”

The Symphony’s sobriquet, “Jupiter,” did not originate with Mozart. The composer’s son Franz Xavier Wolfgang said that it was the invention of the impresario Salomon, famous as the instigator of Haydn’s London visits. Weightier evidence for author of the subtitle, however, points to John Baptist Cramer, a German musician who moved to London and opened a publishing house. He may have been the first to deify this work when he appended the word “Jupiter” to its title for a concert of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on March 26, 1821. The cognomen has no meaning other than to indicate the Symphony’s grand nobility of style, and Sir Donald Tovey dismissed it as “among the silliest injuries ever inflicted on a great work of art.” Philip Hale even warned that the sobriquet might lead away from the true nature of the music, “[which] is not of an Olympian mood. It is intensely human in its loveliness and its gaiety.” Mozart would probably have agreed.

The “Jupiter” Symphony stands at the pinnacle of 18th-century orchestral art. It is grand in scope, impeccable in form and rich in substance. Mozart, always fecund as a melodist, was absolutely profligate with themes in this Symphony. Three separate motives are successively introduced in the first dozen measures: a brilliant rushing gesture, a sweetly lyrical thought from the strings, and a marching motive played by the winds. After a unison held note, yet another idea is presented, this comprising an octave leap followed by a quick scale passage in the woodwinds. These motives are woven together to form a climax leading to the formal second theme, a simple melody first sung by the violins over a rocking accompaniment. This, too, accumulates several component motives as it progresses. The closing section of the exposition (begun immediately after a falling figure in the violins and a silence) introduces a jolly little tune that Mozart had originally written a few weeks earlier as a buffa aria for bass voice to be interpolated into Le Gelosie Fortunate (“The Fortunate Jealousy”), an opera by Pasquale Anfossi. Much of the development is devoted to an amazing exploration of the musical possibilities of this simple ditty. The second portion of the development is dominated by the rushing figure that opened the movement. The thematic material is heard again in the recapitulation, but, as so often with Mozart, in a richer orchestral and harmonic setting.

The second movement is one of the most intensely expressive essays in Classical-era music. “There is spiritual seriousness; there is perfect form, exquisite proportion, and euphony,” wrote Philip Hale. This ravishing Andante is spread across a fully realized sonata form, with a compact but emotionally charged development section. The third movement (Minuet) is a perfect blend of the lighthearted rhythms of popular Viennese dances and Mozart’s deeply expressive chromatic harmony.

The finale of this Symphony has been the focus of many a musicological assault. It is demonstrable that there are as many as five different themes played simultaneously at certain places in the movement, making this one of the most masterful displays of technical accomplishment in the entire orchestral repertory. But the listener need not be subjected to any numbing pedantry to realize that this music is really something special. Eric Blom, good sensible Englishman that he was, wrote of this movement, “There is a mystery in this music not to be solved by analysis or criticism, and perhaps only just to be apprehended by the imagination. We can understand the utter simplicity; we can also, with effort, comprehend the immense technical skill with which its elaborate fabric is woven; what remains forever a riddle is how any human being could manage to combine these two opposites into such a perfectly balanced work of art.” Mozart was the greatest genius in the history of music, and he never surpassed this movement.

Of this remarkable work, Charles O’Connell wrote, “Mozart put aside the exigencies of time and circumstance, and, we imagine, wrote a symphony after his own heart. There has been nothing, and there are no indications that there will be anything, in music to surpass it in its special virtues. In it, the inner Mozart spoke. He wrote not for the age, but for the ages.”

Requiem Mass in D minor, K. 626

Composed in 1791.

In early July of 1791, while he was busy composing The Magic Flute, Mozart received a letter testifying to the glories of his music and alerting him that he would be having a visitor with a proposal on the following day. The letter was unsigned. The visitor, “an unknown, grey stranger,” according to Mozart, appeared on schedule and said that he represented the writer of the letter, who wanted to commission a new piece — a Requiem Mass — but added the curious provision that Mozart not try to discover the patron’s identity. Despite the somewhat foreboding mystery surrounding this venture, Mozart was in serious financial straits just then and the money offered was generous, so he accepted the commission, and promised to begin as soon as possible. The Magic Flute, however, was pressing, and he also received at the same time another commission, one too important to ignore, for an opera to celebrate the September coronation in Prague of Emperor Leopold as King of Bohemia — La Clemenza di Tito, based on one of Metastasio’s old librettos — that demanded immediate attention. As if these duties were not enough to fill his thoughts, Mozart’s wife, Constanze, was due to deliver another baby at the end of the month. She had been in the local spa town of Baden since the beginning of June, trying to preserve what little health she had left after nine years of almost constant pregnancy since her marriage to Wolfgang in 1782, and Mozart went to bring her back to the city and to her doctors in mid-July. Just as he was entering the carriage for the trip, the “unknown, grey stranger” approached him, inquired about the progress of the Requiem, was told that it was going well, and left, apparently satisfied. On July 25th, Constanze gave birth to Franz Xaver Wolfgang, who became a composer and music teacher.

Mozart worked on the Requiem as time allowed. From mid-August until mid-September, he, Constanze and his pupil Franz Süssmayr, who composed the recitatives for Tito, were in Prague for the opera’s premiere. When they returned to Vienna, Schickaneder pressed Mozart to put the final touches on The Magic Flute, which was first staged on September 30th. Mozart’s health had deteriorated alarmingly by October — he complained of swelling limbs, feverishness, pains in his joints and severe headaches. On November 17th, with the Requiem far from finished, he took to his bed, and was treated by Dr. Thomas Closset, one of Vienna’s best physicians, with the prescribed remedy for what was diagnosed as “miliary fever” (perhaps rheumatic fever or uraemia, though the evidence is inconclusive) — cold compresses and unremitting bleeding. Mozart became obsessed with the Requiem, referring to it as his “swan-song,” convinced that he was writing the music for his own funeral: “I cannot remove from my mind the image of the stranger. I see him continually. He begs me, exhorts me, and then commands me to work. I continue, because composition fatigues me less than rest. Moreover, I have nothing more to fear. I know from what I feel that the hour is striking; I am on the point of death; I have finished before I could enjoy my talent.... I thus must finish my funeral song, which I must not leave incomplete.”

Mozart managed to finish only the Requiem and Kyrie sections of the work, but sketched the voice parts and the bass and gave indications for scoring for the Dies irae through the Hostias. On December 4th, he scrawled a few measures of the Lacrymosa, and then asked three friends who had come to be with him to sing what he had just written. He tried to carry the alto part, but broke into tears as soon as they had begun, and collapsed. A priest was called to administer extreme unction; at midnight Mozart bid his family farewell, and turned toward the wall; at five minutes to one on the morning of December 5, 1791, he died. He never knew for whom he had written the Requiem.

Constanze, worried that she might lose the commission fee, asked Joseph Eybler, a student of Haydn and a friend of her late husband, to complete the score. He filled in the instrumentation that Mozart had indicated for the middle movements of the piece, but became stuck where the music broke off in the Lacrymosa. Franz Xaver Süssmayr, to whom Mozart had given detailed instructions about finishing the work, took up the task, revising Eybler’s orchestration and supplying music for the last three movements. Süssmayr recopied the score so that the manuscript would show one rather than three hands, and it was collected by the stranger, who paid the remaining commission fee.

(The version of the Requiem being heard at this concert is the revision by the Bavarian scholar Franz Beyer, who attempted in the 1970s to bring the orchestration of the work into closer accordance with the instrumental style seen in Mozart’s other late liturgical compositions and in the finished Introit than did Süssmayr’s completion.)

The person who commissioned Mozart’s Requiem was Count Franz von Walsegg, a nobleman of musical aspirations who had the odious habit of anonymously ordering music from established composers and then passed it off as his own. This Requiem was to commemorate Walsegg’s wife, Anna, who died on February 14, 1791. The “grey stranger” was Walsegg’s valet, Anton Leitgeb, the son of the mayor of Vienna. Even after Mozart’s death, Walsegg went ahead with a performance of the Requiem, which was given at the Neukloster in the suburb of Wiener-Neustadt on December 14, 1793; the title page bore the legend, Requiem composto del Conte Walsegg. A few years later, when Constanze was trying to have her late husband’s works published, she implored Walsegg to disclose the Requiem’s true author. He did, and the score was first issued in 1802 by Breitkopf und Härtel.

Buried away in Otto Erich Deutsch’s Documentary Biography of Mozart is a fascinating but virtually unknown tidbit of information that may (or may not) have been a factor in Walsegg’s commission. One of Mozart’s brothers in Freemasonry was Michael Puchberg, who earned many fond footnotes in the composer’s biography for his generous financial support to the composer (Mozart euphemistically called these emoluments “loans”) during Wolfgang’s last years. Puchberg lived and managed a textile firm at Hoher Markt 522. This address, it seems, just happened to be located in the Viennese house of Franz von Walsegg, and it is certainly not impossible that Puchberg encouraged Walsegg, in his curious way, to help Mozart in his time of distress.

It is difficult, and perhaps not even advisable, to dissociate Mozart’s Requiem from the circumstances of its composition — the work bears the ineradicable stamp of otherworldliness. In its sublimities and its sulfur, it appealed mightily to the Romantic sensibility of the 19th century, and continues to have a hold on the imagination of listeners matched by that of few other musical compositions. (Perhaps it is significant that the Requiem is performed annually in Vienna for the Feast of All Saints, the day after Halloween.) Manifold beauties of varied and moving expression abound throughout the Requiem: the ethereal strains of the Recordare; the vehemence of the Confutatis; the bitter plangency of the Lacrymosa; the old-fashioned, Bachian profundity of the fugal Kyrie; the feigned joy, so quickly terminated, of the Hosanna.

The words of Lili Kraus, the Hungarian pianist closely associated throughout her career with the music of Mozart, apply with special poignancy to the wondrous Requiem: “There is no feeling — human or cosmic, no depth, no height the human spirit can reach — that is not contained in his music.”

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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