At church, we recently kicked off the John and Edie Murphy Music for Humanity Concerts with a Mozart spectacular, featuring the entire Requiem and the Clarinet Concerto. I had the honor of singing in the choir for the Requiem, and conducting the concerto with Tom Cooke on clarinet. Tom is featured on Guided Imagery and is a great friend and musical partner. We've sung next to each other, put down the recording premiere of one of Morten Lauridsen's works, performed chamber music, and now stood side by side for a performance of Mozart's well-known concerto.
The concert was a huge success, and all of the proceeds went to Loaves and Fishes in Hartford, as the concert was fully endowed. I spent sometime researching both works, and thought I'd share the program notes on my website!
Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622
Mozart was a master of the solo concerto, a Classical genre that finds its roots in the Baroque period. Baroque concertos featured a group of instruments or a soloist, accompanied by a ripieno – an ensemble of the remaining string players. They often utilized ritornello form, where the opening orchestral theme returns several times between the soloist episodes. While sonata-allegro form was the prominent form in the Classical period, solo concertos from this era contained relics of the ritornello form. During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, there was a growing emphasis on the individual performer over the ensemble, as was evident even in Mozart’s fame as a child prodigy. With the new focus on the musical virtuoso, concertos during the Classical era were usually written as a vehicle to feature a specific performer.
Mozart composed a total of (at least) 41 solo concertos, 27 for piano and orchestra alone. The Clarinet Concerto was composed in the last months of his life in 1791 and was the final completed orchestral work by the composer. The clarinet was a relatively new instrument in Vienna, and Mozart wrote the piece for clarinet and basset horn virtuoso Anton Stadler. Stadler particularly loved the low range of the clarinet and preferred to play second clarinet in orchestras to play in this range more often. Stadler supposedly altered his clarinet by adding some additional tubing and keys to make the lowest playable note a C instead of the conventional E, and thus created a version of the clarinet known as the basset clarinet. While there is no autograph score to the Clarinet Concerto, most people believe it was written for Stadler’s basset clarinet, since there are a few passages that utilize the low C. Modern editions of the concerto have been adapted to be played on the standard range A clarinet, and some musical choices are left up to the performer.
The opening Allegro is a typical double-exposition sonata form movement, where orchestral ritornellos mark the major formal divisions of the piece, but in the recapitulation, the soloist and orchestra are finally united. While there is no true cadenza, there are two brief pauses where the clarinet soloist has an opportunity to improvise. Mozart utilizes the full range of the clarinet including several passages with large register leaps, which are idiomatic to the clarinet. The Adagio is among the most beautiful examples of Mozart’s orchestral writing. In a rounded binary form, the piece opens with solo clarinet passages alternating with lush musical responses of the full orchestra. A more formal cadenza appears in this movement. The final Rondo is playful and features a variety of surprises and shifts in mood. A typical rondo is in ABACABA form, where the return of an often whimsical and memorable A theme is the main feature of the piece. Mozart tantalizes the audience in this rondo as the two middle A sections last for only about 8 measures each before moving on, making the final A theme a big point of arrival in the piece. After the final A section, Mozart adds a virtuosic coda which builds in intensity until the very end. Again featuring the entire range of the clarinet, Mozart writes a combination of fluid lines contrasted by disjunct passages that transverse the top and bottom of the clarinet’s range, often sounding as if two different players are performing at the same time.
Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
The Requiem in D Minor was Mozart’s final work, and was left incomplete at the time of his death. The Latin word “requiem” means “rest” in English and is the text for the opening introit, a prayer which asks God to grant the souls eternal rest. The remainder of the texts are drawn from both the ordinary of the Roman Catholic mass (Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei) as well as the Dies Irae sequence, a poem which depicts the end of times and contains frightening imagery from the book of Revelation. Additionally, the composer often sets the standard offertory, Domine Jesu Christe, and communion, Lux Aeterna, of the mass for the dead. Like the requiem masses of other great composers, Mozart’s stands out as one of his most substantial chorus and orchestra works. Employing stile antico, including intricate counterpoint and fugal sections reminiscent of the Baroque period, Mozart’s Requiem is a perfect balance of compositional craft, powerful imagery, and sheer beauty.
The Requiem was commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg to memorialize the death of his wife. The count had a reputation for commissioning works and then passing them off as his own compositions, but Mozart took the commission anyway, as he was struggling financially at the time. With the Clarinet Concerto freshly finished in October, Mozart began work on the Requiem immediately afterward. While writing the Requiem, Mozart fell ill and was put on bed rest on November 20, 1791. The composer died of unknown causes on December 5, with his requiem mass left incomplete. In an effort to receive the remainder of the commission from the count, Mozart’s widow Constanze asked the assistance of several musicians in the composer’s circle to complete the Requiem, including Joseph von Eybler and clarinetist Anton Stadler. Led by the efforts of Mozart’s student Franz Süssmayr, the work was completed sometime in 1792, with the first public performance being a benefit concert for Constanze in January 1793. The work was not actually handed to Count von Walsegg until December 1793, so it would have been obvious to him that it was not completed in Mozart’s hand. The coming together of several musicians to complete the work was more a sign of respect for Mozart than a way to trick the count into paying the commission. While there is lots of lore around the end of Mozart’s life, including Constanze finding “scraps of paper” with sketches of the final movements, and the idea from the play Amadeus that Antonio Salieri was at Mozart’s deathbed, most of these stories are untrue.
Mozart had sketched out almost the entire work, with continuo and vocal parts finished for nearly all the movements. The holes which Süssmayr was left to fill with his own compositions were the majority of the Lacrimosa, after measure 8, and the entire Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. The final Lux aeterna and Cum sanctis fugue are an exact restatement of the music from the first two movements, the Introitus and Kyrie, but with different text. The only movement which Mozart wrote out completely with full orchestration and voice parts was the opening Introitus, though several movements had sketches of violin parts, or other solo instruments. Süssmayr was known for writing “by me” on the front page of his original compositions, and so on the front page of the Requiem is inscribed “by me, Mozart,” a signature Mozart himself never wrote on any of his works. This gesture was most likely not written to trick anyone, or out of ego, but rather as a final salute to the great composer.
Though modern scholars have completed the Requiem with alternate takes on the unfinished movements, the Süssmayr completion that was published in 1799 by Breitkopf and Härtel has been solidified as a staple of the choral repertoire. Today we perform the traditional Süssmayr completion.