Requiem – a reopening
Add date: Monday, 8 February 2016
Marc Minkowski has surprised us before with his offbeat renditions of works by Bach and Mozart’s "Great Mass in C minor". Offbeat, but always striking and thought-provoking via the new interpretive spaces they open. On his pulpit now is the most “flagship” work that we can imagine – and just as genius: Mozart’s "Requiem".
The "Requiem" is a work that does not need to be recommended. It does ask questions, however. Mozart, as everyone knows, did not manage to finish it. More precisely, he died when only the first parts were composed (as an advanced sketch – the vocal parts with a bass line) along with “Lacrimosa”, which breaks off after eight bars. What existed at the moment of his death was the beginning, half of the “Dies Irae” sequence and “Offertorium”. The final fugue was repeated after the beginning one – supposedly according to the composer’s wishes. This was done by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, a student of Mozart’s who was not overly dexterous, but who was closely associated with the composer in the last months of his life, and who assisted him in work on the opera "La clemenza di Tito" ("The Clemency of Titus"). Despite this, Constanze, Wolfgang Amadeus’ widow, delayed commissioning the completion of her husband’s composition from him. First, she tried a more promising option: she passed the materials left by Mozart on to Joseph Leopold Eybler. The respected composer, who was also a devoted friend of Mozart’s, declined, evidently not feeling up to the task of continuing the work of the composer of "The Magic Flute". Having completed an orchestration of Mozart’s fragments, he returned the – still uncompleted – score to Constanze. The "Requiem" had to be completed, however, since a finished composition was needed for the rest of the payment: Mozart had received a commission for it from a “mysterious messenger”.
It was then that the composition was given to Süssmayr. It may be said that he did the job better than he could: he evidently used Mozart’s concepts, since his own works do not suggest that they could have been written by someone who considered himself to be the author of “Benedictus” from "Requiem". However, Süssmayr’s work is not enough for listeners. We dream of restoring a bit more of what we know of Mozart to the iconic work – what we believe that Süssmayr did not notice. Indeed, only a bit of criticism is needed for the “standard” – or Süssmayr-completed – "Requiem" to become glaring in its excessive pomposity, which appears even in such lyrical parts as “Lacrimosa”, imbued with tragedy by Mozart, but without the tendency for overexaggeration. The inadequacy of certain elements was pointed out by the composer’s contemporary, Anton Herzog (the man who revealed the secret of the mysterious client to the world), who stated that Mozart most certainly would not have included the “Sanctus” in D Major with its timpani, in a funeral mass. Not for an occasion such as this.
Can we then fix the errors? For example, by reaching for Eybler’s orchestration and repairing the rest in the spirit of Mozart? This was the task undertaken by one of the most prominent scholars and editors of classical music – a classic among them – H.C. Robbins Landon. In contrast to several other editors (some of whom practically composed new music for the "Requiem"), Robbins Landon assembled the best possible compilation of the earliest variants: Eybler’s, Süssmayr’s and Freystädtler’s, brightening the range of the instrumentation and giving it the most Mozart-like character. This is the version we will hear on Good Friday, performed by Les Musiciens du Louvre and Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana from Barcelona, under the direction of Marc Minkowski.
Well-known music, in a new version. The open work opens up once again. And, of course, not for the last time, because we will never reach the final, proper sound – for that we would need Mozart himself. The "Requiem", the dominant piece of the concert, will be supplemented by other works by the author of "Don Giovanni", chosen for the Good Friday evening.