The concert given on
Saturday 24 March 2007
in All Saints Church, The Drive, Hove
Brighton Orpheus Choir
conductor: Stella Hull
with the Musicians of All Saints
and John Burdett (organ)
Abi Temple (soprano)
Stephanie Seeney (contralto)
Alex Pidgen (tenor)
Andrew Thompson (bass)
Symphony no 40 in G minor
Mozart’s Requiem Mass was composed in 1791. It was Mozart’s last work, and its composition is surrounded by mysteries. There is the lurid story of the man in black who came knocking at his garret door, demanding that he write a mass for his own funeral. The play and film Amadeus gave a dramatic twist to the supposed destructive jealousy by another court composer Antonio Salieri, who in remorse helped finish the work. The myths stick in people’s mind but have no reality. What is true is that writing the Mass was a secret commission from the elusive Count von Walsegg-Stuppach, who intended to pass it off as his own composition. It is also true that without the incentive of his fee the unfinished work would have remained so.
At the time of Mozart’s death in December 1791 only the opening movement Requiem aeternam had been completed in all of the orchestral and vocal parts. The vocal parts of the Kyrie, the Dies Irae sequence through to Confutatis had been completed with just continuo markings, and a few key indications of orchestral parts. The last movement of the sequence, the Lacrimosa, was left incomplete after only eight bars. The two movements of the Offertorium had been partly sketched – as was the Domine Jesu Christe and Hostias in the vocal parts.
It is extraordinary that such a powerful work had to be rescued by friends. Mozart had a pauper’s funeral. His widow Constanze desperately needed the rest of the Count’s fee. The first composer friend to try to complete the score, Joseph von Eybler, gave up the task. It fell to Mozart’s pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr to complete the work, apparently also using some of Eybler’s efforts. Süssmayr added the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, then provided the final movement, Lux aeterna. Later, Constanze bore witness to the fact that Süssmayr used sketches by Mozart for other incompleted works, based on conversations where Mozart had already intended to adapt the music for the Requiem Mass. Süssmayr then completed the rest of the orchestration, helped, it is believed, by another composer friend Maximilian Stadler.
Who wrote what has been debated by music scholars ever since, and various other completions of the Mass have been undertaken, including recently, the discovery of an Amen which was never included in the final work delivered to the Count. Even with its mysterious history the Requiem Mass remains one of the well-loved and moving of musical compositions, imbued throughout with Mozart’s own spirit.
Ave Verum K.618
Ave verum corpus is a short Eucharistic hymn, which has been set to music by several composers. The hymn’s title means “Hail, true body”, and come from a poem first found in a 14th-century manuscript from the Abbey of Reichenau, on Lake Constance. The words date from the 14th century and have been attributed to Pope Innocent VI (who died in 1362). During the Middle Ages it was usually sung at the elevation of the host during the consecration. The poem is a meditation on belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist, with its meaning of redemption through suffering.
Mozart’s setting of Ave verum corpus was written for Anton Stoll (a friend both of Mozart and Haydn). Stoll had been the musical co-ordinator in the parish of Baden, near Vienna. The motet was composed to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi and the autograph manuscript is dated June 1791. This sublime piece of music is only 46 bars long and is scored for chorus, strings, and organ.
Symphony no.40 in G minor K.550
Mozart wrote his 39th, 40th and 41st symphonies during an exceptionally productive period of just a few weeks in 1788. It has been speculated that he was preparing these works for a planned journey to England which never occurred. And indeed there is no actual documentary evidence that the 40th Symphony was ever performed in Mozart’s lifetime.
Just a few months earlier, in 1787, his 6-month old daughter Theresa had died. This may have coloured the mood of the G minor Symphony, which Mozart completed in less than a month. The music is remarkable for its conciseness of form and the logic of its construction. It is not a sentimental expression of tragedy – there is no self-conscious expression, but it carries with it a mood of passionate intensity and tragic inevitability that is unique for its period. Indeed it could be ahead of its time – once, hearing the sort of leitmotiv he based his own music on, Richard Wagner described the chromatic counter-theme of the 2nd movement as “fluttering of angels’ wings”.