The Music of Mozart’s Last Months: La Clemenza di Tito at Emmanuel, Die Zauberflöte at Salzburg under Furtwängler, 1951, and Beecham’s Requiem from Pristine.

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The arrival of the Queen of the Night. Stage set by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) for an 1815 production

The arrival of the Queen of the Night. Stage set by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) for an 1815 production

Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito

Saturday, April 14, 2012 – 8 pm
Pre-Concert Talk at 7 pm by John Harbison

Emmanuel Church, Boston

The Orchestra and Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Ryan Turner, conductor
Tito – William Hite, tenor
Vitellia – Deborah van Renterghem, soprano
Sesto – Krista River, mezzo-soprano
Annio – Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano
Servilia – Susan Consoli, soprano
Publio – Aaron Engebreth, baritone
Susan Larson, narrator

The primary occasion for this writing was Emmanuel Music’s fine performance of Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, under Music Director Ryan Turner. However, two extraordinary recordings of works Mozart composed during those busy final months of his life have appeared, as downloads from Pristine Classics, and they are not only magnificent in themselves, but they provide an enlightening context for this somewhat elusive opera seria. These recordings are of the legendary 1951 Salzburg performance of Die Zauberflöte under Wilhelm Furtwängler in the spectacularly improved sound we have come to expect from Andrew Rose, and a magnificent studio recording of the Requiem under Sir Thomas Beecham from 1954-56.

The three works are of a piece, since Mozart interrupted his work on Die Zauberflöte to complete La Clemenza for a tight deadline, finished Die Zauberflöte, and, that done, wrote his Clarinet Concerto before finally setting to work on the Requiem. Unfortunately, the composer, already in weak health generally, came down with an especially nasty illness, which was making the rounds in Vienna that fall, and died, hastened along by his physicians’ errors. The sequence actually begins in the spring of 1791 with the commission of Die Zauberflöte for his friend Schikaneder’s popular suburban theater, the Freyhaustheater. Mozart took this up as his major project by April. In July he received an anonymous commission to write a Requiem mass, which he accepted without committing himself to a deadline. Shortly thereafter, he received the commission for an opera for the festivities surrounding the coronation on September 6 of Leopold II as King of Bohemia, from Domenico Guardasoni, impresario of the Prague National Theater. Mozart was second choice after Salieri, whose music was more to the taste of the Italophile emperor and his Neapolitan empress, Maria Luisa. However, Salieri was too busy and turned it down. Mozart must have seen this as a splendid opportunity to make an impression on the Emperor and to secure his future patronage, and for that matter the fee was twice what he usually received in Vienna. He put his Singspiel for Schikaneder aside and plunged into La Clemenza di Tito, for which he only had six or seven weeks before the scheduled performance. He travelled to Prague on August 25, where he completed, rehearsed, and conducted La Clemenza on the appointed date. A few days later he was back in Vienna and back at work on the Flute, which premiered on September 30th. On October 7 he finished the Clarinet Concerto. Following that he took up the Requiem. He became bedridden on November 20 and died on December 5, leaving the work largely incomplete. Mozart had received a substantial fee for the Requiem, and his widow, Constanze, was not about to refund it. The secretive patron was Count Franz von Walsegg, then 28, a masonic connection of Mozart’s, who paid handsomely for scores from the best composers, which he performed on his country estate as his own work. He was genuinely distraught by the death of his twenty-year-old wife in January, 1791 — he never remarried — but it did not break him of his deceptive habit. Constanze returned falsehood for falsehood, having the Requiem completed by her late husband’s pupils, Joseph Leopold Eybler, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and others. That flawed version has remained the standard through the twentieth century. Stanley Sadie has observed that Mozart hadn’t composed liturgical music, opera seria, or Singspiel in almost a decade.1

The close connection between Die Zauberflöte and La Clemenza di Tito becomes clear enough, as one listens to the operas and hears the intervallic and motivic parallels. Yet, writing Tito sandwiched in the middle of his work on Die Zauberflöte, Mozart applied his sources of inspiration, as well as the simplified style he had recently developed in different ways. While his Singspiel stretched out over a range of different musical and dramatic veins, some popular and some solemn and ceremonial, his revisitation of the opera seria, a genre which had inspired him to his very roots in Idomeneo, tended towards a pure distillation of the style he had developed in this earlier masterpiece. As in the Flute, the individual numbers are extremely short, many under two minutes long, and their lines and textures are spare. Using all his subtlety, Mozart brought rich dimensions of harmony, color, and feeling to this music: he wrote a connoisseur’s opera, which may well be part of what he meant when he said that his librettist, Caterino Mazzolà, had reduced the famous and often-set libretto of Metastasio to “vera opera.” It might be no surprise if the public rejected this sophisticated music as they had rejected the string quintets, as over-intellectualized. However, La Clemenza di Tito was by no means a failure. Although the Empress Maria Luisa is known to have detested it, purportedly calling it a “porcheria tedesca,” and its initial reception was unenthusiastic, its reception improved, and it enjoyed considerable popularity as the second most-performed opera of Mozart until after 1830. Die Zauberflöte, by contrast, was an immediate hit and has held a high place in the repertoire since its premiere, although critics at the time found its libretto lacking in comparison to the music, and, in the Romantic era, its popularity gave way to Don Giovanni. It elevated the Singspiel to the point where it entered the opera house, making possible Fidelio and Der Freischütz and leaving its mark on Der Fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger.

After the decline of opera seria, La Clemenza was largely ignored, dismissed as a uninspired work, written unenthusiastically in a outmoded genre to satisfy a commission an ailing and indebted Mozart couldn’t refuse. On the contrary, Idomeneo has been one of the peaks of his career, and he is likely to have had considerable enthusiasm for revisiting the genre in his mature style. One theory about Tito‘s gestation posits that Mozart and the Prague impresario, Guardasoni, following their successful collaboration on Don Giovanni, contemplated the Metastasian subject in 1787, leaving Mozart time to form it in his mind over the years until the opportunity came to produce it. At the opposite extreme, there are the contemporary reports that he wrote it in as little as eighteen days. He was even sick during his time in Prague and found it necessary to delegate the recitativi secchi to another, far inferior hand, possibly Süssmayr. It has been thought that Vitellia’s second act rondò, “Non più di fiori vaghe catene,” was at least adapted from a concert aria performed in April 1791, but that is not certain. Most scholars today accept that Mozart received the subject in July and wrote the opera in haste. This is clear enough in Mozart’s delegation of the recitativi secchi and in the simplicity of some of the writing. Andrew Porter has observed the prevalence of common thematic formulae and tonic triads in the writing, as well as the effectiveness with which Mozart put them to work.2 In his preliminary talk, John Harbison stressed that Mozart’s style was tending towards simplicity and openness in any case — the stylistic markers of his new style3 — but his tight deadline and the foreknowledge that his singers would be learning their parts in a hurry may well have pushed this even further.

As La Clemenza di Tito gradually returned to the repertory beginning in the 1960s, some critics and listeners accepted it with reservation, while others embraced it rapturously, finding in it an unrecognized masterpiece. Andrew Porter singles out the 1974 Covent Garden production as the crucial event, which was complete enough, straightforward enough, and of sufficiently high quality to convince a broad audience of its greatness.4 Since then, it has found a more or less consistent place in the repertoires of most mainstream opera houses, although it is not nearly as often performed as Idomeneo. Opera Boston performed it in October 2006 — with singular success, according to Lloyd Schwartz.5 There are also a few excellent recordings available. Hence La Clemenza di Tito is not at all the rarity is once was, although that reputation still lingers on.

Ryan Turner elicited the kind of warm, musical performance we have now come to expect from him and his forces at Emmanuel Music, and whatever shortcomings there were tended to recede into the shadows of the church in the pleasure and good spirits of the event. I am especially partial to the responsiveness, musicianship, and intelligence of the orchestra, as well as to the sympathy Turner, a singer himself, feels for his soloists and chorus — both much in evidence in this performance. I have been especially impressed with the way Turner manages the reverberant Emmanuel acoustics. His B Minor Mass, which began the 2011-12 season, never lacked for clarity. This time, in the overture, I perceived a certain insecurity of tempo and ensemble, as he and the players got used to their sound in the well-populated space. They settled into an energetic, if rather broad range of tempi, which served the music and the unfolding action effectively. At Emmanuel the music has to breathe and expand, or it only dissolves into a cloud of more or less pleasant reverberation.

A concert performance like Emmanuel’s is entirely welcome, given the mischief La Clemenza has inspired in some stage directors, who find it difficult to accept — and present — the serious drama of a noble, virtuous ruler without extricating flourishes of irony or downright mirth from its fabric. It can be challenging to maintain interest in consistent, virtuous characters on stage, but Mozart, through pacing, harmony, and musical color, makes Tito rather less problematic than, say, Wagner’s Rienzi. There were mercifully no attempts to poke fun at him, or at the extravagances of Vitellia, which are actually quite restrained in comparison to Medea in Idomeneo or Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. Turner decided to omit the recits which were not written by Mozart. An English prose narrative, ably read by the distinguished singer Susan Larson, connected the arias and choruses and told the story with reassuring clarity. This expedient had both its advantages and its disadvantages. It made it possible to make fewer cuts in the musical numbers and side-stepped the potential for boring the audience with musically undistinguished recitative, but it also deprived us of an integral dramatic and textual element of the opera as Mozart left it and created a disconnect between Ms. Larson’s spoken word and Mozart’s eloquent music. Occasionally it felt just a bit like school.

An outstanding cast balanced care for the musical beauties of their vocal lines with complete characterizations. Deborah van Renterghem’s Vitellia was never at any moment entirely a villainess, and certainly never camp. In retrospect the humanity of her performance is especially impressive. She is more confused by her passions, alternately for the throne and for Tito, and morally unequipped to regulate them. It was a large-scale, but finely nuanced performance which was consistently beautifully sung. Susan Consoli’s Servilia was also beautifully sung — actually a bit too much so. Her characterization was by no means lacking in emotion, but in the execution, she seemed to waver between expressiveness and control, and she usually opted for the latter, with elegant lines, neatly articulated ornaments, and a glowing, silver voice. In spite of her constraint, her singing was most enjoyable. Krista River also sang with elegance, and played Sesto most absorbingly, as a potentially decent man troubled as much by his own hollowness as the tribulations of his love-life and the grave betrayal it led him to. Pamela Dellal gave an especially vivid portrayal of Annio, with her solid, handsomely glowing mezzo and some of the most beautiful singing of the evening.

William Hite didn’t seem at all fazed by the limitations of his part. He inhabited his imperial role with total assurance and a clear understanding of what it was about. This in itself lent interest to the role, and he saw no need to retreat into a righteous shell or to decorate his part with invented contradictions, ironies, or just plain tomfoolery. His splendid tenor voice has a dark foundation heightened with gleaming bronze overtones. His line was always solidly supported, and he turned his phrases with style and precision. His high notes are nicely colored with the subtle nasal covering favored by some Austrian and German tenors, especially of an older generation, reminiscent of Anton Dermota at his best, whom I shall discuss below. Aaron Engebreth’s Publio, in his brief moments of singing, was very much the steady, righteous Roman, and sang most attractively with his dark baritone voice.

The audience was overjoyed with the performance, rightly so, and there was lengthy applause for all, especially van Renterghem, Dellal, and Hite. It was a happy moment at Emmanuel Church, with everyone elated by Mozart’s great music and the musicians’ respectful, expressive, and dramatically absorbing realization of it. Few, I think, would have been in the mood to argue that Tito was less than a masterpiece. The music, words, and drama communicated that directly through Emmanuel Music’s hands and voices. It is a great work, and one’s passion for it grows with each listening. I still prefer Idomeneo, a quite different kind of opera seria, and I must confess that at times I’m tempted to consider it Mozart’s greatest opera. As things stand today, when both operas are back in the repertory, La Clemenza di Tito needs a little more of a case to be made for it. In general terms this performance did everything right. Above all, it accepted its genre and its characters on their own terms, much to the advantage of the plot and the psychological and moral vicissitudes that lie at its core. It failed really only in the substitution of narrator for recitative, although, if the choice was to omit the simple recitatives or make cuts in the musical numbers, this was certainly the lesser evil. However, what the opera really needs is a complete performance with the recitatives, as musically weak as they may be, delivered with declamatory conviction.

A fair bit has been written about the parallels and resonances between La Clemenza and the Flute. The opera seria appears to embody Masonic ideals as completely as the Singspiel. Metastasio’s libretto is a classic example of the clemency opera, a genre which expressed especially aptly the principles of monarchy and which was therefore especially well suited to a coronation, but for Mozart the Masonic concept of mercy brought the theme and the character of Tito to life with special potency. The similarities between Sarastro and Tito go beyond their words to the music, notably Tito’s “Del più sublime soglio” and Sarastro’s “In diesen heil’gen Hallen,” and the Little Masonic Cantata comes in to the discussion as well.6

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Mozart – Die Zauberflöte
Broadcast recorded at the Salzburg Festival, 6 August 1951

Josef Greindl – Sarastro
Anton Dermota – Tamino
Paul Schöffler – Sprecher
Fred Liewehr – Erster Priester
Franz Hobling – Zweiter Priester
Wilma Lipp – Königin der Nacht
Irmgard Seefried – Pamina
Christel Goltz – Erste Dame
Margherita Kenney – Zweite Dame
Sieglinde Wagner – Dritte Dame
Erich Kunz – Papageno
Edith Oravez – Papagena
Peter Klein – Monostatos
Hannelore Steffek – Erster Knabe
Luise Leitner – Zweiter Knabe
Friedl Meusburger – Dritter Knabe
Hans Beirer – Erster Geharnischter
Franz Bierbach – Zweiter Geharnischter

Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

Mozart – Symphony 39 in E flat major, K543
Broadcast performance recorded at the State Opera House, Berlin, 8 February 1944

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

In other ways there could not be a greater contrast between La Clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte. While Mozart in his revisitation of opera seria strove for a simplified, concentrated style. (Many of the numbers are extremely brief, but he brought wonderful, original ideas into them with limited means.) In his suburban Singspiel he encompassed a vast range of expression and styles, from the hieratic to popular ditties of extraordinary perfection. When Wilhelm Furtwängler took up Die Zauberflöte as the second opera production in Salzburg’s outdoor Felsenreitschule in 1949, Germany, Austria, and the rest of Europe were in great need of healing and reconciliation, and the renewed Salzburg Festival was seen as very much an international gathering. There was every reason to take Die Zauberflöteseriously, and it had yet been degraded by opera marketers into American-style family entertainment — or at least I don’t think so.

Furtwängler thought postwar times needed simplicity:

Universal validity of the message: one thing above all belongs to this: will and power to create monumentality, or, better, simplicity. The simplicity of childhood, that of Haydn and Mozart, is denied to us epigoni. Conscious simplicity, however, the ability to bring meaning to its simplest form, to concentrate it, is, today as ever, an imperative in art.
Wilhelm Furtwängler, Journal, 1948.7

Another salutary example for opera producers of our own day was the simplicity the Felsenreitschule offered. The open air situation offered stage directors natural effects, and, as far as Die Zauberflöte was concerned, even a naturally growing tree for Papageno to hang himself on. Oscar Fritz Schuh, who directed Die Zauberflöte and most of the other Mozart operas at Salzburg immediately after the War, was known for the humanity of his productions and their concentration on the actors (or singers) on stage.

Furtwängler said:

Today more than ever we feel a need to categorize — a need that also applies to works of art. For example, we rack our brains over The Magic Flute, wondering whether it is a fairy tale or a sacred festival play, to a Singspiel or a grand opera, to a folkloric play or an opera seria, whether it has more free phantasy or Freemasonry in it…The Magic Flute is life itself; all classifications are doomed to fail. It is truly mistaken to see in it a Bühnenweihfestspiel à la Parsifal with the Sarastro scene. And it is just as mistaken to regard the comical scenes, in particular those with Papageno, as mere Viennese-style farces. Sarastro’s earnestness is more relaxed, human, noble, but certainly no less profound than Parsifal’s; and Papageno’s tunes have little of the Viennese flavour that we associate with the later Vienna operetta. The reason is that Mozart is primarily not a Viennese, nor even an Austrian phenomenon, but a universal one…opera, down to its very last fiber, in its outer appearance, but in its very last fiber also a sacred festival play, a sanctification of life, a force that instills life into everything that is high and noble.8

This many-sided, balanced view of Die Zauberflöte is the key to Furtwängler’s interpretation. The comic scenes with Papageno flow with natural tunefulness and high spirits, aided by the great Viennese singing actor, Erich Kunz, while Furtwängler’s broad, flexible tempi, and his constant attentiveness to his singers, lead Joseph Greindl into the core of his noble role. We find ourselves equally immersed in Tamino’s aspiring music and Pamina’s anguish. The chorus of priests sing not only with breadth and reverence, but passionate conviction and a rich, visceral tone in all voices. The weight and Viennese richness of timbre of the orchestra enhance the folkish comic scenes as much as the serious parts, and the tempi leave room for a human warmth, usually crowded out by brisker, more “modern” performances. Furtwängler’s broadest tempi are also replete with an energy which shapes the line, and they never drag or seem overly solemn. Furtwängler has been admired above all for his interpretive penetration of all aspects of large, complex works like Wagner’s Ring and his ability to project the musical and dramatic structure and shape of them. The Singspiel, with its music restricted to individual numbers separated by dialogue, which is often cut and reworked in production, would seemed intractable to Furtwängler’s approach, which achieved such impressive results in Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, but his understanding of form and structure comes through just as powerfully in Die Zauberflöte. His powerful, even emphatic, assertions of the cadences at the end of dramatically conclusive numbers provide structural punctuation of the characters’ progression through their trials. He seems to have achieved this not only through the power and vividness of his own contributions, but through his collaboration with Schuh, who must have been a sympathetic personality for him. We have only what we can hear of the production and a few photographs, and it is not always easy to grasp the meaning of the long pauses in the dialogue. In some cases the silence exists for its own sake, in others some action on stage, not always audible, must have occasioned the pause. As one becomes absorbed in the performance, the complementarity of Schuh’s and Furtwängler’s structural rhythms becomes apparent.

The march through fire, accompanied by Tamino’s magic flute, is a telling example of the coordination of music and action. Furtwängler elicits a hesitation and unsureness of balance in the music, so sensitively played by the Vienna Philharmonic flute, which, to those of us who never saw the production, conjures up both the atmosphere of the scene and the movement of Tamino and Pamina, while the simplicity and nobility of the music presides over the adventure. The tone of the flute and the individual voices come through so much better in the Pristine remastering that this is a good place to compare the two:

EMI Festspieldokumente: Mozart Die Zauberflöte – Marsch durch Feuer und Wasser

Pristine – Zauberflöte – Marsch durch Feuer und Wasser

In addition to the phrasing of the flute part, and the rests between phrases, note how Dermota’s melodic line is audible in the Pristine version, while it is reduced to a strange one-note ejaculation in the EMI.

Andrew Rose decided to remaster the 1951 revival of the Schuh/Furtwängler Zauberflöte, which was released commercially by EMI as part of the officially sanctioned Festspieldokumente series in 1994. There is a good-sounding release of the 1949 production available as part of the same series from Orfeo, but critics mostly agree that the 1951 cast was superior, with Wilma Lipp replacing Elisabeth Höngen as the Queen of the Night, Erich Kunz replacing Karl Schmitt-Walter as Papageno, and Anton Dermota Walter Ludwig as Papageno, and the 1951 cast in fact is outstanding in every way, but Furtwänglerians will of course want to have both versions. In this new refurbishing one can for once appreciate the beauties of these performances and of Furtwängler’s work as well.

As I have said elsewhere, Pristine Classical’s remasterings are restorations. Andrew Rose uses a variety of software, his extensive knowledge of the history of performance, and his impeccable ear to eliminate noise, equalize frequency response, minimize distortion, correct pitch, and, since last year, when the software became available, even out wow and flutter. This final breakthrough enabled him to eliminate one of the most egregious roadblocks that have stood between music-lovers — especially trained musicians — and basic musicality in analogue recordings. There was always some pitch variation, even in the best professional equipment, and the recording engineers of yore had what seems to us a cavalier attitude towards pitch. As Rose has learned, the pitches on recordings are anything but consistent, often varying from side to side or even within a side. His solution is to base his tuning on the AC hum on his originals. For Die Zauberflöte he decided that the Vienna Philharmonic were tuning to A = 445 Hz, which seems rather high, given that the conventional wisdom is that the VPO tune to A = 443 or 442. In an interview9 Claudio Abbado stated that they tune to A = 447 (!) in the Musikvereinsaal to counterbalance its warmth. The Felsenreitschule, which was not designed for music, had its own peculiarities, especially back then in the early days of its use for opera, and a high tuning may be understandable under the circumstances. In any case it is quite a revelation to hear the famous E Flat chords and the fugato passages of the overture with steady pitch and clarified textures. One’s perception of Furtwängler’s shaping of the chords and the rests between them is quite different. It is no longer a grand introduction, but rather something more like the exploratory beginning of a journey, a seeking state of mind, floating in a half-shadow, until the active, purposeful contrapuntal sections intervene. The sense of the orchestra in space is greatly expanded and clarified; one can hear the distinct colors of the separate string sections, including the glorious depths of the VPO double-basses. Once the small fluctuations in pitch are steadied, tempi, phrasing, and intonation all come together.

The singers equally benefit from Rose’s work. The late Alan Blyth, who reviewed the EMI issue in The Gramophone, clearly held this performance in the highest esteem, even above Beecham’s great 1937-38 studio performance — also available in superb sound from Pristine. He did, however, note intonation problems in the singing of Lipp and Greindl. These are very greatly reduced in the Pristine release, demonstrating that the flaws were due mostly to the device that made the original recording  —  we don’t know what, because the performance was pieced together from off-the-air recordings, the broadcaster’s master tape having been erased for re-use. The difference is not subtle. If you listen to the Queen of the Night’s first aria on the EMI release, Lipp’s singing, while quite expressive and beautiful, seemed somewhat laborious and insecure in phrasing and pitch. Following Furtwängler she seemed to hold the final notes of important phrases even beyond their full value, and it sounded arbitrary. There was a faint fluttering sound around some of her phrases in a higher tessitura. After Rose has removed these artefacts, Lipp’s high register can blossom with an absence of distortion and plenty of acoustic space around them. Those held final notes are now entirely convincing as the terminations of beautiful, arching lines that were difficult to take in, when the pitch was unsteady. This is just one example of many that shows how much a difference it makes in how we here vocal technique and everything else.

EMI Festspieldokumente: Die Zauberlöte, O zittere nicht…

Pristine: Die Zauberlöte, O zittere nicht…

Anton Dermota as Pamino was at his very best, projecting sincere feeling in his artfully shaped lines, and handsome, glowing timbre, enriched by the slight nasal cover mentioned above. Irmgaard Seefried brought psychological color and temperament to her Pamina, singing wonderfully, still early in her career.

Furtwängler saw Die Zauberflöte as a masterpiece of humanism — something beyond the specific beliefs which influenced its creation, a theater work which transcends simplistic interpretation: its endurance as a classic made it one of the treasures of Bildung — a humanistic foundation for all educated men and women. No other performance will take one as far into the earthly and transcendent joys of Die Zauberflöte, and it is as much a landmark in Mozart’s gift to civilization as Furtwängler’s Don Giovanni performances or his Figaro.

The Pristine issue includes a welcome extra: Furtwängler’s renowned 1944 Berlin Philharmonic performance of the Symphony No 39 in E Flat, K. 543, long a classic and never out of the catalogue. The original Magnetophon recording was not the best, badly overloaded in the tutti, and there is a limit to what can be done with it. Rose has done the best one can imagine in making the different orchestral lines clearer and more attractive in sound, more characteristic of the BPO. Above all, pitch stabilization works wonders in Furtwängler’s famous broad introduction to the first movement and the drawn-out half notes of its cadence. His ability to spin out the line over his organic, flexible pulse has always been admired, especially the sublime bars before the final arrival in the tonic. Listeners who know the recording well should be pleased, but something did go slightly wrong with the first notes of the main theme in the Pristine transfer.

Deutsche Grammophon: Mozart Sym. 39 in E Flat K. 543, 1st mvt. excerpt

Pristine: Mozart Sym. 39 in E Flat K. 543, 1st mvt. excerpt

One of the gratifying events of La Clemenza di Tito‘s first performances at Prague was the warm reception of Mozart’s friend, Anton Stadler, who came up from Vienna to play the obbligato parts Mozart had written for basset horn and basset clarinet, a clarinet with and extended lower range. After the September 30 performance, Mozart wrote to Constanze, “Cries of bravo were shouted at Stadler from the balcony and even from the orchestra.” By October 6 Mozart wrote that he had almost completed the orchestration of the rondo of a concerto for Stadler, and Stadler premiered it in Prague on October 16. This was an expeditious follow-up to elements of La Clemenza which had been particularly successful for both men. This was also written for the basset clarinet. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly what Stadler’s invention was like in detail, and the original score has been lost. (Evidently Stadler pawned it while on tour, according to the well-worn story.) The first edition was edited to make it playable on a conventional clarinet. Today, if we want to go beyond its limitations, we have to reconstruct both the instrument and the score. The musicologist Pamela Poulin’s exciting discovery in Riga, one of Stadler’s stops on his tour, of a program which illustrates his peculiar instrument, as well as texts that tell us more about it.10

Anton Stadler's basset clarinet

Anton Stadler’s basset clarinet

Mozart – The Last Concerto, 1791
Eric Hoeprich, basset clarinet
Joyce di Donato, Mezzo-Soprano

Frans Brüggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century
Glossa, 2002

Mozart Wind Concertos
Linn Records CKD 273

Recorded at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 5-7 June 2005
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Post Production by Julia Thomas, Finesplice UK

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Alexander Janiczek, conductor
Alison Mitchell – flute
Ursula Leveaux – bassoon
Maximiliano Martín – clarinet

This article is a survey of recent live and recorded performances of Mozart’s last works, and there is none to report of the Clarinet Concerto; but we can’t leave it out. The concerto has been immensely popular in modern times, always played on a conventional modern instrument. It is a splendid way for an orchestra’s principle clarinet to show off his or her chops, and one of Mozart’s greatest works, and there are many recordings to attest to it. Reginald Kell recorded the work with Sir Malcolm Sargent. Jack Brymer recorded it with Sir Colin Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, and — best of all  —  Sir Thomas Beecham. Gervase de Peyer made an equally classic recording with Peter Maag. Benny Goodman with Charles Munch. Richard Stoltzman with Alexander Schneider. Robert Marcellus with George Szell. Sabine Meyer both with Hans Vonk and Claudio Abbado. Every music-lover has his own favorite. The last I heard in concert was a performance of almost Brucknerian breadth with James Levine and the Met Orchestra, with principal clarinet, Ricardo Morales, playing a basset clarinet. I especially like Eric Hoeprich’s sensitive, understated reading with Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, released in 2002 on the Glossa label. Not only are the soloist and orchestra sublimely musical and beautifully recorded in a natural acoustic with a sweet bloom to it, he plays a reconstructed original version on an instrument of his own construction, informed by Prof. Poulin’s discoveries. Another superb version comes from the amazing Spanish clarinettist, Maximiliano Martin, playing with his own Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Alexander Janiczek. He has carefully adapted the traditional score to make the most of a standard modern clarinet’s lower register. The energy, bite, and vast range of color he produces may put some off, who are attached to the the lyrical, wistful side of the music, but his more aggressive approach is likely to be more like Stadler’s, who was criticized for just that, in favor of the Vienna court clarinettist, who had a softer tone and a gentler way of playing. This is an audiophile recording from Linn from 2005, incomparable in its presence and vividness. Martin’s dynamics and colorations are amazingly lifelike, as are the orchestral colors and the balance between them and Martin. There isn’t much of the softer side of the work here. We can only speculate if it will return, as Martin’s way with the work matures. In any case it is impressive as it is — and highly recommended.

As for the Requiem, studies of the paper of Mozart’s autograph indicate that he did little if anything with it until his return to Vienna, probably not until early October.11 One sheet contains sketches for the overture to Die Zauberflöte, which he wrote quickly just before the premiere, finishing it on September 28, and for the Requiem, specifically the Rex tremendae and a fugue, not in the traditional version, which has been completed and included by some of the recent editors in their reconstructions. Mozart had been generally in poor health for some years, but he was especially poorly that summer, and he had been actually sick while he was in Prague preparing Tito for performance. This grueling work schedule must have left him in a state of exhaustion, and then there was Die Zauberflöte, and the Clarinet Concerto. After mid-October, he had only the Requiem on his hands, and a brief Masonic cantata he wrote for the inauguration of his lodge’s new temple. According to his early biographer Niemetschek, his health and spirits were already deteriorating in October, and it is thought that Constanze took the score of the Requiem away from him around October 20. Still, he managed to complete the little cantata on November 15 and conducted it on November 18. After that, he took to his bed definitively. The evidence indicates that he did in fact work on the Requiem between October 20 and November 20. After that, he worked with assistants, Joseph Leopold Eybler, Constanze’s first choice to complete the Requiem after Mozart’s death, Süssmayr, and at least one other. The autograph shows that Mozart left only the Introit completely written and scored. In addition Mozart left drafts of all sections from the Kyrie fugue to the Hostias, i.e. the completed vocal parts, solo and chorus, and the orchestral bass line, with a few fragments from other orchestral parts. The Lacrimosa breaks off after the eighth bar. The rest had to be completed by Süssmayr, although he also had the materials left by Eybler from his work on the Sequence.

1. Introit: Requiem aeternam Mozart: Almost Complete
2. Kyrie eleison Mozart Draft
3. Sequence No. 1: Dies Irae Mozart Draft (Eybler)
4. Sequence No. 2: Tuba miram Mozart Draft (Eybler)
5. Sequence No. 3: Rex tremendae majestatis Mozart Draft (Eybler)
6. Sequence No. 4: Recordare, Jesu pie Mozart Draft (Eybler)
7. Sequence No. 5: Confutatis maledictis Mozart Draft (Eybler)
8. Sequence No. 6: Lacrimosa dies illa (Mozart’s draft breaks off, bar eight)
9. Offertory No. 1: Domine Jesu Christe Süssmayr
10. Offertory No. 2: Hostias et preces Süssmayr
11. Sanctus Süssmayr
12. Benedictus Süssmayr
13. Agnus Dei Süssmayr
14. Communion: Lux aeterna Süssmayr: reprise of Introit and Kyrie

The story of the work on the Requiem during the fortnight leading up to his death of December 5 is uncertain and the problems are complex. It seems clear enough that Constanze wanted to keep the down payment Count von Walsegg had given Mozart and to collect the remainder, and for that reason she persisted in the completion of the score after Eybler and others gave up. There was already some concern about how much of the Requiem was actually written by Mozart when Breitkopf & Härtel published the first edition in 1800. They published a review of the edition in their own journal, using the statements contained in a letter they had solicited from Süssmayr. This was only the beginning of the matter, for years later, in 1825, the musicologist Gottfried Weber launched a fierce attack on this edition and on Süssmayr. The fact that scholars and musicians felt uneasy with the published version didn’t stop it from becoming established as the standard version, and that is the version we have all lived with until the 1970s and 80s, when several musicologists produced alternate versions. The first and most limited of these was the edition of Franz Beyer, which confined itself to correcting the errors in Süssmayr’s completion. In the mid-1980s, Richard Maunder published a far more radical revision, one which completely eliminated the passages attributable to Süssmayr and substituted his own reconstructions, including a reconstruction of the fugue fragment found by Wolfgang Plathon in 1962. H. C. Robbins Landon then offered his own version, which was based on Eybler’s completions. The distinguished English composer/musician, Duncan Druce, prepared the most radical revision of all. Finally, Robert Levin prepared another revision of Süssmayr, more discreet than Maunder’s, which included his own completion of the fugue fragment. This was intended as a performing version, which accepted the fact that the Süssmayr version is what everyone has known since 1800, and that no completely new version is likely to consign it to oblivion. Most notably, Sir Colin Davis remained loyal to Süssmayr in his 2007 performances with the LSO at the Barbican, which has been released on CD and amply shows how vital, for all its imperfections, it remains.

Most of these are available on excellent recordings. Maunder’s might well have more of a following if it had been better recorded, but the performance by Christopher Hogwood has all the faults that give historical interpretation a bad name, not to mention the screechy recording: inflexible, fast tempi, lack of expression, an often off-pitch boy’s choir who often articulate phrases poorly, and so forth. Of the modern versions, I especially recommend Sir Charles Mackerras’ recording of the Levin version, another magnificent Linn recording, and Sir Colin Davis’ 2007 recording for LSO Live. I haven’t listened to all of these.

Version Publication Date Recording
Franz Beyer 1971 Harnoncourt
Richard Maunder 1988 Hogwood
H. C. Robbins Landon Hanover Band, Goodman
Levin 1990 Rilling
Boston Baroque
Duncan Druce 1984 Norrington
Beyer/Levin Abbado
Sir Thomas Beecham

Sir Thomas Beecham

Mozart –  Requiem Mass in D minor, K626 (rev. Beecham)
Recorded 13-14 December 1954 and 29 May 1956, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
First issued on Columbia ML-5160
Transfer from Fontana CFL 1000

Elsie Morison soprano
Monica Sinclair contralto
Alexander Young tenor
Marian Nowakowski bass
BBC Chorus dir. Leslie Woodgate

Schubert – Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D485
Recorded 14/16 May 1958 Salle Wagram, Paris
and 18 December 1958 & 7 May 1959, Abbey Road Studio 1, London
First issued on EMI ASD345/ALP1743
Transfer from EMI SXLP 30204

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham conductor

Here under review is a 1954-56 studio recording made by EMI at Walthamstow Assembly Hall with the Royal Philharmonic and the BBC Chorus under Sir Thomas Beecham, now beautifully restored by Andrew Rose. Although it was re-released on the Fontana (Philips) label, as well as a few “private” labels, it seems to have been largely forgotten — unjustly so, because Beecham leads an deeply sympathetic performance with expressive singing from the chorus and a magnificent quartet of soloists. As it sounds on Pristine’s 24-bit Ambient Stereo download, the orchestra is present, but well-blended in the reverberation, the chorus a bit more distant and less clear (The Latin text is not always distinct: a Gramophone review found it not comprehensible at all.), and the soloists forward and vivid. All the forces come together most attractively in the generous ambiance — and it serves Sir Thomas’ renowned orchestral balances very well. It is amusing to read the early Gramophone reviewer’s praise of the weight lent by the acoustic and Sir Thomas’ manipulations of the orchestration, including the addition of an organ, and, if I hear correctly, horns in some of the choral movements. This is a far cry from the small forces and sharp-edged sound we are accustomed to today in this music. I have seen a mention of an edition of the Requiem prepared by Beecham early in his career, but I have not yet found our anything substantial. It is not mentioned in Lucas’ biography.12

In the Introit, Sir Thomas grounds the flow of the voices with a strong accent in the bass, establishing a dignified but steady pace through the movement. Throughout the work, he never allows the music to lose its backbone in melancholy dreaming. His years of experience as an opera conductor — one of the greatest — show through in the strongly shaped, rhythmically decisive phrasing of the soloists and all the rest. A subtle rhythmic spring never compromises the seriousness, breadth, or mood of the Requiem. The Kyrie fugue is massive but animated, and, although it is richly enveloped in reverberation, as it might be in a church, the lines are clear enough. The first section of the Sequence, the Dies irae is rapid, molto agitato, with bite in the string articulation. In the second, Tuba mirum, the trombone obbligato is large in scale and loud, most definitely a solemn awakening. The bass, Marian Nowakowski, was a highly respected operatic bass, who became a fixture at Covent Garden and in oratorio performances under conductors like Barbirolli after getting his start in the Polish Army Choir during the War. The resonance of his voice is quite remarkable in this performance, as is his variety of color. It should be no surprise that Boris Godunov and Sarastro are among the roles he is best remembered for. Alexander Young, tenor, Monica Sinclair contralto, and Elsie Morison, soprano — all Beecham regulars — make beautiful entrances, expressive in his particular operatic version of the British oratorio tradition. The solo quartet continues to be a joy to hear, and the Recordare is most affecting. The choral singing, the balance and clarity of its textures (although not the diction in this case!), leave nothing to be desired in the Confutatis, which is followed by a full-blooded Romantic Lacrimosa.

With the Offertory we are in Süssmayr waters, and it is up to the conductor and his forces to render the score with sufficient conviction to mask the clumsiness of his writing. Beecham is not the only conductor to bring this off successfully, but he does it with passion. The truth is, that if we were to hear these movements by themselves, without those with a documented Mozartian component, we would probably not even recognize them as music associated with Mozart. Beecham keeps it up most of the way, but one can’t help getting the feeling that he begins to flag a bit in the Agnus Dei, and in the reprise of Mozart’s Introit and Kyrie in the Communion/Lux aeterna — an uninspired recycling of great music in an inappropriate textual context — boredom seems to creep in. Sir Thomas was, after all, renowned for his intolerance of mediocrity. After three hearings this is still my impression. The recorded sound is also more distant and lacking in detail. With its inferior sound, it’s hard to imagine that it was the part made in 1956. They must have done that final bit after a pub lunch. Now just where could a gentleman go for a drink on that suburban civic campus, on superficial examination the closest thing in England to Albert Speer’s German Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition or perhaps the Moscow State University? (In fact the Town Hall and the Assembly Hall were built between 1937 and 1942 to P. D. Hepworth’s design “in the Swedish style of c. 1925 which became so popular in England amongst those who were not satisfied to be imitatively Neo-Georgian nor wanted to go modern in earnest,” as Pevsner commented.) In all seriousness, the funding of Beecham’s recordings was sometimes precarious, often provided by the Maestro himself, and that may account for the delay of almost eighteen months between the main two sessions and that final one.

This shouldn’t discourage anyone from buying. It is only Beecham’s inner integrity at work. The recording is as essential as any of Bruno Walter’s. The Pristine release includes Beecham’s classic EMI recording of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, made in stereo in 1958. Even in its initial release, the sound was a fine example of early EMI stereo at its best, and essential listening for anyone who wants to understand Beecham’s characteristic approach to orchestral balances. Andrew Rose has improved a good thing, removing the second-order harmonic distortion which gave the violins a slightly glassy edge, reducing noise, and enhancing directionality and space. If that splendid performance of the Requiem isn’t enough for you, this should close the deal. (Pristine also offers a fascinating curiosity, a performance of the Requiem in the grand Italian operatic style from a 1950 Edinburgh Festival broadcast with the La Scala Orchestra and Chorus under Guido Cantelli, with Tebaldi, Barbieri, Prandelli, and Siepi singing the solo parts!)

The questions of consistent quality and authorship weren’t the only problems that confronted early listeners. It was not uncommon to perform liturgical works in German, as it was with Italian operas like Figaro and Don Giovanni, and these religious works might also be performed in theaters. The German translation offended Catholics and aesthetes alike, and many thought that religious music should not be performed at secular venues. (For that matter, I can remember my first music teacher, a worldly Anglican from Melbourne, stating emphatically that Masses, Passions, and the like belonged only in churches.) It happens that Guardasoni, the same impresario who arranged Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito at the Nostitz Theater in Prague, scheduled a performance of the Requiem at the same venue in 1801, much to the annoyance of at least one correspondent, who found the ornate scenery especially objectionable.13

This article began with a performance of La Clemenza in a church — to which no one might have any objection, except to the swimmy acoustics — and Süssmayr has been an éminence grise throughout this account of Mozart’s hard-working final months. There is no direct evidence, but the recitatives of La Clemenza are blamed on Süssmayr because of their shortcomings, and quality or the lack of it  continues to be the criterion which determines whether Mozart or Süssmayr wrote a particular passage of the Requiem. Süssmayr also remained in Prague after the premiere of Tito and, like Mozart, was collaborating with Stadler on his own clarinet concerto. Fragments of his score have survived. Perhaps some day some musicologist — or one of his or her students — will take pity on poor Süssmayr and restore the work to its full glory…or perhaps someone will write a play about him — a much more promising idea than Peter Schaffer’s pastiche of Pushkin, which, sadly enough, many people continue to believe as fact, in spite of H. C. Robbins Landon’s commendable efforts to explode the modern myth in his 1791, Mozart’s Last Year (London, Second Edition , 1989).

  1. Cliff Eisen, et al. “Mozart.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, (accessed May 29, 2012).
  2. Andrew Porter, Music of Three More Seasons, 1977-1980, New York, 1981, p. 459, with a valuable history of modern performances to date
  3. see Christoph Wolff, Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791, New York, 2012
  4. Andrew Porter, op. cit., p. 456; Andrew Porter, Musical Events, A Chronicle, 1983-1986, New York, 1989, p. 222
  5. Boston Phoenix, October 24, 2006
  6. see Daniel Heartz, Mozart’s Operas, edited, with contributing essays, by Thomas Bauman, Berkeley, 1990, pp. 272-5
  7. cited in Gottfried Kraus, “Furtwänglers Salzburger Zauberflöte,” program note, Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, EMI Festspieldokumente, 1994. p. 9
  8. loc. cit.
  9. Gramophone, August 2010, p. 37
  10. Pamela Poulin, “Anton Stadler’s Basset Clarinet: Recent Discoveries in Riga,” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, 22 (1996), pp. 110-27
  11. For a full discussion, see Paul Moseley, “Mozart’s Requiem: A Revaluation of the Evidence” Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 114, No. 2 (1989), pp. 203-237; Thomas Bauman, “Requiem, but no Piece,” 19th-Century Music, Vol. 15, No. 2, Toward Mozart (Autumn, 1991), pp. 151-161; Christoph Wolff, Mozart’s Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies, Documents, Score, Berkeley, 1994
  12. John Lucas, Thomas Beecham, An Obsession with Music, Woodbridge, Suffolk/Rochester, New York, 2008
  13. Thomas Bauman, op. cit.
About the author

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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