M ozart’s ‘Requiem’ brings a shift in mood—with the terror, the sorrow, and the sheer drama of Life … and Death.”
Sydney Symphony, program notes, MAY-2012.
T he performance of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K.626, by members of the Sydney Symphony led by [guest] conductor David Zinman challenged our patience last night. The Süssmayr completion of the Requiem is something that many ensembles perform in 57 min or longer, full of pathos. But speeding it up more than 15%, to come in at less than 49 min, is aesthetically not a great idea. Specifically, it’s not a good idea when the acoustic delay of the stage that is more than 14 meters deep from the conductor to the rearmost chorister makes the performers sound as though they are not ‘together’.
A lthough I’ve been in Australia previously, this was the first time I’d heard a performance in the Sydney Opera House… a very warm, responsive hall.
T he vocal parts were ably performed by Jennifer Welch-Babidge, soprano; Fiona Campbell, mezzo-soprano; Paul McMahon, tenor; Paul Whelan, bass; and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs.
A nd a diverting and expansive pre-concert talk was given by singer and musicologist Natalie Shea, who cued up more than a dozen clips of recordings to illustrate the points she was making.
T o me, I hear this Dies Irae as an ‘appogiatura’ within a Lacrimosa-esque life; or Mozart saying, in full view of his own fast-approaching death, “Life is hard, and then you (and we all—) die.” In that kind of frame of mind, I’m troubled by Robert Levin’s view that Mozart scholar Simon Keefe is asserting that accurately understanding the Requiem necessarily requires an historically-informed sense of context or that late 18th-Century judgments of the work are ‘privileged’ or somehow more valid than anything we might grasp or express. It just seems that the work is more naturally accessible than that. (I do like Levin’s own completion of the Requiem, though—complete with a fugue ending of the Lacrimosa.)
U nsanctimonious’ to the point of ‘willfulness’... like musically rendering a [personal] prayer, not a Mass.”
Natalie Shea, pre-concert remarks, 03-MAY-2012.
T he mystery of how much of the Requiem was Süssmayr’s and how much was Mozart’s will maybe never be resolved. But ultimately, the nature of the piece seems to me to be more individual/idiosyncratic—an individualistic expression of what it is to be mortal; a personal ‘music-of-the-soul’—than requiem-idiomatic or ‘normative’ of what a requiem should be or say.
P .S.—I’m looking forward to the release later this year of Professor Keefe’s new book, which reevaluates the nature of the incomplete manuscript and its context. Keefe covers the history of the work and extensively reviews the accumulated criticism, analysis, and performance practices that pertain to it. Keefe particularly focuses on the autograph score and on Franz Süssmayr’s 1792 completion, which is the one that the Sydney Symphony and Philharmonia Choirs performed tonight. Keefe recommends that evidence that is confined only to records of Mozart’s life and correspondence and notations in the incomplete manuscript are not enough—understanding the Requiem instead requires broader, hermeneutics-based methods of analysis.
- Mozart’s Requiem, Sydney Symphony (David Zinman, conductor)
- Sydney Symphony website
- Simon Keefe page at Univ Sheffield
- Keefe S. Mozart’s Requiem: Reception, Work, Completion. Cambridge Univ, 2012.
- Spitzer M. Metaphor and Musical Thought. Univ Chicago, 2003.
- Wolff C. Mozart’s Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies, Documents, Score. Univ California, 1998.
- Mozart’s Requiem page at Wikipedia
- Dies Irae page at Wikipedia
- AproposMozart.com (Bruce Cooper Clarke & Roland Rauscher)