Archive for the 'classical' Category

Revisiting Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Mass in C minor (K. 427) stands alongside the Requiem (K. 626) as his most remarkable church composition. Today it enjoys almost cult status, first because of its monumentality, which is unique in Mozart’s sacred vocal music, and second because, like the Requiem, it partakes of the aura of the unfinished and mysterious. The exact circumstances that gave rise to it as a votive mass have eluded explanation to the present day. The same applies to the reasons why it was left unfinished and to many details of its first performance, which, as far as we know, took place at St. Peter’s Church, Salzburg, on October 26, 1783. Finally, the transmission of the original sources also raises many questions. Indeed, it is astonishing that the Mass, although left as a torso, was performed at all during Mozart’s final visit to Salzburg.

It seems that the work had not been commissioned but that it was written to fulfill a vow, which is vaguely discernable in the incomplete correspondence with this father, as he writes on January 4, 1783 in response to his father’s reproaches:

“It is quite true about my moral obligation and indeed I let the word flow from my pen on purpose. I made the promise in my heart of hearts and hope to be able to keep it. When I made it, my wife was not yet married; yet, as I was absolutely determined to marry her after her recovery, it was easy for me to make it — but, as you yourself are aware, time and other circumstances made our journey impossible. The score of half of a mass, which is still lying here waiting to be finished, is the best proof that I really made the promise.”

The mention of the Mass in this context makes clear that the work did not, as is occasionally presumed, owe its existence to an external incentive, such as the 1,200th anniversary of the Bishopric of Salzburg, officially celebrated in 1782.

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Constanze Mozart

By all appearances, his wife, Constanze’s, participation was an indispensable part of Mozart’s vow, and in fact this may have been one reason that the first performance of the Mass took place at St. Peter’s, rather than the Salzburg Cathedral, since in the eighteenth century, women were still not allowed to partake in musical performances for church worship. Indeed, the delicate and deeply moving soprano solos of the “Christe eleison” in the “Kyrie” and, perhaps most famously, the “Et incarnatus est” in the “Credo” (called “matchless” by Pope Francis, who proclaimed in an August 2013 interview that the aria “lifts you to God!”) are widely considered as love offerings by the composer to his soprano wife.

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Just as we must forever wonder about the voice that inspired Mozart to write such sublime music, we must also forever wonder how Mozart would have completed the Mass, for the work has come down to us in fragments. Moreover, not only were some sections of the Ordinary Mass left unset, with others only left in advanced drafts, even some of the sections that Mozart finished have come down to us incomplete.

MozartCMinorMassBärenreiter, working together with the International Mozarteum Foundation Foundation in Salzburg, has published a new edition of this work, reflecting the cutting edge of scholarship while doing justice to the needs of performers. This new edition completes and reconstructs movements according to high scholarly standards in order to come as close as possible to the work itself:

  • The “Kyrie” and “Gloria,” both of which survive complete in Mozart’s hand, are presented in a scholarly-critical Urtext edition.
  • The first two sections of the “Credo” have been meticulously completed by the editor, Ulrich Leisinger, drawing on original Mozart compositions, e.g. the aria “Deh vieni non tardar” from The Marriage of Figaro, and paying attention to a stylistically appropriate and transparent sound.
  • The “Sanctus” and “Benedictus” (with the “Hosanna”), which are either incomplete or survive only in secondary sources, have been reconstructed by the editor.

More specifically, editor Ulrich Leisinger comments on some of his key findings in this new edition:

  • On the use of trumpets and timpani in “Credo in unum Deum”: “To omit trumpets and timpani at the opening of the Credo, appropriately set in C major, is to contradict eighteenth-century church music practice.”
  • On the use of trombones in “Credo in unum Deum” when no wind score came down to us: “As with the Sanctus, Mozart probably would have entered the trombones [in the wind score], for he normally did not have them play continuously ‘colla parte’ with the lower voices.”

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  • On the absence of horns in “Et incarnatus est”: “The Figaro aria ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ K. 492 (1786) in particular reveals such striking parallels in its handling of the instruments that the expansion of the orchestration to include two horns, as is found in other reconstructions, has little justification. As in other scores, when Mozart prepared his staves, he entered systems which he did not necessarily make use of when he later filled in the instrumentation.”
  • On the reconstruction of the “Hosanna” fugue for double choir: “Of special significance is the observation that Mozart’s Salzburg church compositions for double choir invariably have the three trombones playing ‘colla voce’ together with choir I.”

Reconstructed and added parts are rendered in small print. Sections without any known sources are left out in this edition. Rounding off the publication are an extensive Foreword (Ger/Eng) and a detailed Critical Commentary (Eng).

The premiere of Ulrich Leisinger’s new edition was given in April 2019 in the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg by the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra and the ChorWerk Ruhr under the baton of Kent Nagano. The first Austrian performance took place in Salzburg in August 2019 in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum, with Andrew Manze conducting the Salzburg Camerata to rousing applause from audience and critics alike.

A Short Foray into Beethoven’s Variations

Guest post by Dr. Dominik Rahmer, editor at G. Henle Verlag.

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The formal technique of “variations” played an important role in Beethoven’s work throughout his entire life. Critic Paul Bekker wrote in 1911, “Beethoven begins with variations,” and indeed this is true not only of the character of his oeuvre, but also of its chronological progression: Beethoven’s very first published work was his 9 Variations on a March by Dressler, WoO 63, which appeared in 1782.

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Dressler Variations, WoO 63: Beginning of the Theme

Similarly, we could add that Beethoven also ends with variations. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, which are amongst his last piano works, not only crown his creativity, but also, in the history of piano variations, are probably equaled only by Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The panoply of variations within his multi-movement works also indicates how fundamental this technique is in Beethoven’s musical thinking. Consider, for example, the profound closing movement of the last piano sonata, Op. 111, or the grand finale of the 3rd Symphony.

Though the themes of these movements were usually Beethoven’s own inventions, here we will focus on the pieces composed as independent variation sets on popular melodies. This vantage point reveals some interesting finds.

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Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringen (1777-1828)

It lets us see, for example, that Beethoven composed variations for the mandolin. In 1796 Beethoven composed his Andante with 6 Variations, WoO 44b, together with other short pieces for mandolin and piano, for the Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringen, who played the instrument. Incidentally, these variations can also be played unmodified on the violin, thereby constituting an ideal (and easier) addition to Beethoven’s only “real” variations for the violin, the 12 Variations for Violin on “Se vuol ballare” by Mozart, WoO 40.

The vast majority of Beethoven’s variations were, however, written for piano solo, which was an ideal vehicle for Beethoven, one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his time, to present his own pianistic and compositional skills to audiences. His 24 Variations on “Venni Amore” by Vincenzio Righini, WoO 65, require so much technical skill that when he visited the renowned pianist Franz Xaver Sterkel in 1791, Sterkel declared these variations too difficult. In response, Beethoven not only performed his complete composition at the piano from memory, but, to the astonishment of the listeners, also virtuosically improvised further variations on the theme.

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Variations on “Venni Amore,” WoO 65: Beginning of the 9th Variation

Amongst the more pianistically demanding works of this kind are the 7 Variations on “Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen,” WoO 75, a canzonetta from an opera by the now almost entirely forgotten composer Peter von Winter. The opening of the text could be reminiscent of a kind of lullaby, though not at all suited to the coquettish melody in 2/4 time.

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Variations on “Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen,” WoO 75

And, in fact, it’s actually a facetious song by three girls wanting to talk a friend out of her heartache:

Child! If you’d easily sleep,
Follow my custom,
And flirt, just as with monkeys,
Also with the men:
Tease and taunt them.

Don’t let them steal your heart!
This is not clever.
False are the souls of men,
Treach’rous, full of scams:
Nobody’s good for anything.
[…]

The German libretto of this “heroic-comic” opera, which takes place in the Peruvian Inca period, can be found here in the Bavarian State Library digital collections.

Among Beethoven’s collection of variations is also a shorter piece for piano trio, Variations in E-Flat Major, Op. 44, which stands as an alternative to the more widely known 10 Variations on “Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu,” Op. 121a. The former is based on “Ja, ich muss mich von ihr scheiden,” a jealous husband’s irate aria from Dittersdorf’s misleadingly titled opera, Das Rote Käppchen (Little Red Cap). This opera has nothing to do with the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but instead is a marriage farce about a young woman suffering from her elderly husband’s morbid jealousy, curing him of it with a trick: an allegedly miraculous red cap.

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Count Ferdinand Ernst von Waldstein (1762-1823)

Another lesser-known piece among this collection of variations is the 8 Variations on a Theme by Count Waldstein, WoO 67, named for Count Ferdinand Ernst von Waldstein, to whom the famous “Waldstein” Sonata (Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53), was dedicated. Waldstein was Beethoven’s first important patron in Bonn and sponsored the young composer’s trip to Vienna in 1792, but he also played the piano well and even personally contributed the theme (possibly improved upon by Beethoven) for this set of variations.

The 6 National Airs with Variations, Op. 105, and 10 National Airs with Variations, Op. 107, both based on catchy folk melodies, also offer a treasure trove of pretty variations that are often overlooked. Though the pieces require an accomplished piano player, the flute part, which can also be performed on the violin, is deliberately kept simple and could very well be mastered even by younger students. Moreover, since Beethoven’s flute part was added only ad libitum at the request of the person commissioning them, these variations can also be performed as piano solos — an ideal short, smart encore for a Beethoven piano recital.

Even after 250 years of Beethoven, there is still so much to discover in his oeuvre!

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: The New New Testament of Piano Repertoire

BeethovenVonRichardWagner1870 marked the 100th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. After denying the invitation from the “Beethoven Committee of Vienna” to appear onstage together with Liszt, Joachim and Clara Schumann to celebrate the event, Richard Wagner decided to write an essay instead. While this essay is notable as a broader investigation of Wagner’s aesthetic philosophy and ideals, it also remains an insightful exploration of both the artistic significance and enduring popularity of Beethoven’s music. For Wagner Beethoven’s music isn’t merely beautiful, a concept that is for him constrained by convention and subject to changing tastes and fashions, but sublime. Beethoven reveals a sort of Platonic ideal of melody, thereby liberating it from its historical moment, and connecting his listeners with a timeless, universal human truth. For Wagner it is Beethoven’s radical defiance against tradition and his intense emotional expressions that make his music a vehicle for revelation.

Though these strains are apparent across Beethoven’s entire oeuvre, it is in his piano sonatas that Beethoven’s boldest thoughts and gestures shine most brightly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Beethoven was widely known as a brilliant pianist in his own right, giving him the natural freedom to stretch the boundaries of the instrument. Perhaps, though, it is also due to the nature of the piano itself: a solo instrument that lends itself to the realm of the personal and inward, even the diaristic, and one that, by allowing tones only to be struck and not sustained or driven forward, abstracts music into its most intellectually pure form, making it a prime medium for musical exploration and innovation.

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Ludwig van Beethoven

To explore Beethoven’s piano sonatas is to explore Beethoven’s musical innovations. In these 32 pieces, we see the concentrated version of the familiar trajectory guiding us from the Classical era into the Romantic: the experimental mimicry of his early years, the ego-driven defiance of his middle years where, at the height of his compositional powers, he most fully challenges convention, and finally his late years where, fully deaf, he introspectively explores the mysteries of life and death.

In the collection of piano sonatas, we also see the concentrated version of the formal shifts that we see in his symphonic and chamber works. From the most trivial musical notions he extracts the most expansive palettes through time manipulation, rhythmic ambiguities, unexpected accents, extreme dynamic contrasts and seemingly infinite variations on single simplistic themes. As the opus numbers increase, we see him shorten expositions and lengthen developments and codas, reintroduce Baroque counterpoint and fugue into contemporary composition, and shift the structural weight of the sonata from the first to the final movement.

To advance such radical changes, it was almost necessary that Beethoven remain insistent on his music being played as he had intended, rather than falling prey to interpretive fashion and, at least at its time, the conventions it aimed to break. As such, Beethoven left specific and meticulous guidance in his manuscripts that he expected to be followed just as carefully.

During his three years assembling the new complete Bärenreiter Urtext collection of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, editor Jonathan Del Mar spent a great deal of time grappling with primary texts, many written by Beethoven himself. Here Del Mar discusses the importance of dealing with these primary sources, especially when publishing a work of such a meticulous composer, as well as the difficulty in deciphering something so personal as handwriting:

 

“Beethoven had such appallingly messy handwriting, didn’t he — I don’t know how anyone can read it! How many times have I heard that accusation directed against one of the greatest composers who ever lived?

I have lived with Beethoven’s handwriting for my whole life. My father bought the colossal facsimile of the Ninth Symphony when I was a boy and we looked at it together. Actually I have always had a fascination for handwritings, recognising and deciphering them. From decades of looking at most of the extant Beethoven autographs the composer’s handwriting has become very familiar to me. And there are idiosyncrasies! An example: When Beethoven smudges something, that means he is deleting it! This is often far from obvious and I had to learn it.

Beethoven was actually incredibly accurate, methodical, and scrupulous down to the last accidental and staccato mark. His manuscripts are a miracle both of creative inspiration and of systematic organization; you can see in them both the white-hot heat of his temperament and the cool, calculated finickiness of one determined that there should not be a single mistake in the printed score. He sent correction lists to publishers on account of quite small details. Indeed: when the finished product dropped on to his mat, when he opened it and immediately saw a mistake, he would fly into a rage, and straightaway write to the publisher insisting that the edition be withdrawn, or at least that every copy be corrected by them in Indian ink before it was sold.

Why do I need to go to libraries and look at the physical sources? Why can’t I work from scans, photocopies, or microfilms? Despite all the research already having been done, there may still be crucial things to be discovered from the composer’s original manuscript. If you base your edition on bad photocopies in which a grain in the paper or a stitchhole looks exactly like a staccato mark or even a note, you are in trouble. In the Sonata op. 28 a hole in the paper has for a long time been printed as a staccato in many editions!”

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The Bärenreiter Complete Beethoven Sonatas for Pianoforte, a culmination of Del Mar’s decades of work on Beethoven, is now available at introductory pricing and, along with the associated critical commentary, is part of our preparation for the yearlong celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020. New individual editions of each sonata are also available.

Beethoven’s Ninth: How Reading What Beethoven Wrote Changed Everything

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Jonathan Del Mar

For a conductor music starts with Beethoven. And for the son of a conductor both can start very early, as they did for Jonathan Del Mar, Beethoven scholar and editor of the new edition of Beethoven’s nine symphonies for Bärenreiter.

In 1949 Del Mar’s father, conductor Norman Del Mar, purchased a copy of the 1924 facsimile of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which he studied with Jonathan when he was still a child. The younger Del Mar, whose career also began as a conductor, remarks, “Had it not been for our possession of this endlessly fascinating document, it must remain doubtful whether my interest in Beethoven’s handwriting, and my work on his autographs, would ever have begun.”

Jonathan Del Mar’s edition of the nine symphonies for Bärenreiter, completed in 2000, has become the preferred edition for many renowned conductors worldwide.

 

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“We all are amongst those of gratitude to Jonathan Del Mar who simply did the work to give us the first, really true edition of what this music was.”

— Sir Simon Rattle

 

BarenreiterBeethoven9The most monumental symphony of them all, the Ninth, was the first of the new edition to be published, and it was in preparing this edition of this very special symphony that Del Mar made one of his most thrilling discoveries. Aware of the many mistakes that had been included in previous editions, Del Mar went over every detail once more, paying careful attention to the horn ties in bars 532-40 of the final movement — those very horns that call out to help us transition from the “Turkish” march into the choir’s famously triumphant declaration of the central theme of the movement: “Freude, schöner Götterfunken / Tochter aus Elysium” (“Joy, beautiful spark of divinity / Daughter from Elysium”). Del Mar describes this revelatory moment:

“When I looked at those Horn ties again, I saw nothing. And then I looked a third time, and thought I saw something. And then, heart palpitating madly, I looked very carefully a fourth time, and at last saw what Beethoven had actually written. It was so extraordinary, so unexpected, that I could not believe what my eyes were telling me — because this changed the music of such an incredibly well-known passage so completely.”

Listen to the Berlin Philharmonic play this section:


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