Posts Tagged 'Classical sheet music'

Revisiting Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor

Mozart-NepomukDellaCroce

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!

Musica Russica: Bringing Russian Choral Music to the World

VladimirMorosan

Vladimir Morosan

In 1979 a young American graduate student named Vladimir Morosan won a Fullbright Scholarship togo to the Moscow Conservatory to study choral performance in pre-revolutionary Russia. The Soviet state had banned public performance of sacred music decades before that in 1923, and vicious attacks on and repression of the Russian Orthodox Church combined with strong censorship over creative output practically eliminated Russians’ access to their own sacred musical tradition and the continuity of that tradition throughout the Soviet era. Nevertheless, because Morosan was an American citizen, not a Soviet citizen, he was allowed to access historical materials, articles and sheet music relating to the Russian Orthodox sacred tradition. Recognizing the extraordinary opportunity this presented, Morosan’s supervising professor at the Conservatory, himself secretly a believer, said, “Vladimir, you understand our situation, of course. We cannot perform our great sacred music openly. So I’m charging you to gather everything that you can and take it to the West, and teach them in the West how this music is to be performed so that it’s not lost forever.”

MusicaRussica.jpegBy 1987 Morosan had founded Musica Russica, setting out to compile a historical anthology of Russian sacred music to mark the millennium of Russian Christianity celebrated in 1988. The result, published in 1991, was One Thousand Years of Russian Church Music, a collection of 79 pieces covering a wide range of styles and genres of sacred music from early chant fragments through Golovanov’s “Lord’s Prayer” (“отче наш“/”Otche nash“), originally published on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. Major figures like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov are not included in this anthology but are instead given their own volumes, each focusing on a single composer’s complete sacred works. Today Musica Russica’s growing catalog encompasses Russia’s major sacred works, as well as a number of folk songs, and continues to extend back into the rich historical catalog and to support the reinvigorated Orthodox tradition of the post-Communist era.

What is it that distinguishes this music from the Western sacred choral traditions? Perhaps most instantly recognizable are the octavo basses, followed very closely by a fullness of sound across voice parts and registers. Though some of the more recent choral works contain optional instrumental accompaniment for concerts conducted outside of church settings, all of the music is composed to be able to be sung a cappella, as Russian churches don’t use instruments at all. As such, a lot of what we’d recognize instrumentally in the Western style became internalized in the choir, including those very same deep octavo basses.

The most critical element of Russian sacred choral music, though, is the word. In fact, some people say it’s not even appropriate to call Russian sacred choral music “music,” as “music” was something created in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance as the interplay of instruments. In the Orthodox understanding, Russian sacred choral music is deemed to be “singing,” which illustrates that the core experience is the sung word and that what is sung draws its raison d’être from the word. How the singers and conductor interpret something, how they experience it and how they communicate it to the audience, therefore, is of the utmost importance.

This is also true musically. Performing Russian sacred choral music without a sincere regard for the words is rather different than doing the same with Western sacred choral music. If we listen to the masses of Bach, Mozart or Brahms, for instance, what we hear is an interplay of musical sounds that incidentally have some text. The core, however, is an instrumental musical structure. In stark contrast, Russian sacred choral music contains little in the way of imitative counterpoint or fugal structures. There are a lot of vertical chords that aren’t always so interesting if you strip away the words, but if you pay close attention to the linguistic phrasing, what emerges is an ancient chant synthesized with the ancient Russian tradition of communal folk singing delivered through the lens of some of the greatest compositional masters of human history. This makes it some of the most singable repertoire in the world. As Morosan says:

Russian choral music is idiomatically choral. It encompasses so much of what we experience any time a group of people gets together and sings something in common.”

To give you a glimpse into this quite remarkable catalog, perhaps listen to a short piece by Rachmaninoff, “Rejoice, O Virgin” (“Bogoroditse Devo”), the sixth movement from his All-Night Vigil (Всенощное бдение/Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye), often considered to be one of the most beautiful choral pieces ever written. In many ways this piece is rather simple, but perhaps that is why we can connect with it so deeply.

As one of Rachmaninoff’s favorite compositions, he even requested that the fifth movement, “Lord, Now Lettest Thou” (“Ньине отпущаеши”/“Nine otpushchayeshi”), be sung at his funeral. This movement has a notorious final descending scale in the low bass line that ends with a sustained B-flat 1 (i.e., the third B-flat below middle C). Rachmaninoff recalled that when he first showed this passage to Nikolai Danilin, conductor of the Moscow Synodal Choir, before the premiere, “Danilin shook his head saying ‘Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ Nevertheless, he did find them. I knew the voices of my countrymen.”

For those already familiar with Rachmaninoff, it’s perhaps worth taking a look at the 20th-century neoromantic composer, Georgy Sviridov. Living most of his life under the Soviet regime, Sviridov wasn’t able to simply publish sacred music. Like many of his contemporaries, he wrote sacred music “into the desk drawer,” knowing that the pieces may never be heard, but he also managed to find clever ways to get around the Soviet censorship system. A 1973 staging of Alexei Tolstoy’s play, “Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich,” a Romantic-era play set in the late 16th century, provided an opportunity to present a trio of sacred choruses at Moscow’s Maly Theater under the guise of incidental music. These Three Choruses — “Rejoice, O Virgin” (“Богородице Дево”/“Bogoroditse Devo”), “Sacred Love” (“Любовь сбятая”/“Liubov sviataya”) and “Verse of Repentance” (“Покаянный стих”/“Pokayanniy stih”) — employ actual liturgical chant melodies, as well as a heterophonic texture stemming from ancient folk singing.

Musica Russica offers these pieces and many more, complete with performance notes, detailed transliterations, English translations, pronunciation tracks and even a DVD called The ABC’s of Russian Diction to help choirs outside of Russia connect not only with the language, but with the entire essence of this deeply soulful and uplifting musical tradition.

Cantabile Qualities: Choral Music by Beethoven

Guest post by Jan Schumacher

Beethoven is not primarily thought of as a vocal composer, but why not? The choral collection compiled by Jan Schumacher, which contains both well-known and unknown choral works by Beethoven and original transcriptions of Beethoven’s works by other composers, reveals a great deal of extremely attractive repertoire.

The widely-held prejudice that “he could not write for voice” sticks to few composers as much as it does to Ludwig van Beethoven. This may be due to the fact that his place in music history is primarily as a revolutionary symphonist and creator of incomparable chamber music like the string quartets and piano sonatas. To take this to mean that he had no understanding of the human voice or did not know how to write for chorus, however, is to draw the wrong conclusion. Beethoven, like nearly every other composer of his age and indeed until the first half of the 20th century (with a few notable exceptions such as Chopin and Paganini), was equally used to composing for voice and instruments.

It is when we try to label Beethoven that we develop what can be misleading expectations. For instance, though we often group Beethoven together with bastions of Viennese classicism like Mozart and Haydn, this designation would lead us to expect a vocal lightness in his works that we find in his contemporaries. Indeed, there are many pieces among Beethoven’s choral works that do satisfy these expectations and are very singable for many choirs. The vocal demands of the Mass in C major, for example, are quite similar to those of the late Haydn masses.

Yet we must also recognize that defining Beethoven as a “classical” composer is extremely limiting. Beethoven was ahead of his time in many respects, and in his choral works, this push toward romanticism manifests through greater demands on the vocalists, as we see in the choral parts of the 9th Symphony and in his greatest choral-symphonic work, the Missa solemnis. The extreme ranges required by the Missa solemnis do not represent a failure of craftsmanship, but rather a clear compositional intention. The contrasts in the Missa solemnis are in fact essential elements of the work!

We should also consider Beethoven’s demanding choral repertoire in light of later composers like Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler and Reger who also demanded the utmost from their choral singers. Were these composers criticized as strongly as Beethoven for their choral works? Connecting Beethoven with these later composers instead of with the Viennese classicists allows us to see that Beethoven and choral composition fit together very well and that it is worth examining his choral output as a whole.

A very popular work, even during Beethoven’s lifetime, was Meeres Stille und Glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), Op. 112. Beethoven set Goethe’s two-verse poem in a striking fashion: the first part (poco sostenuto, but alla breve time!) vividly describes the oppressive quiet and the vast expanse of the calm sea. In the lively second part Beethoven depicts both the surging and strengthening of the sea, as well as the inner joy and hope of the boatman who, thanks to the onset of the wind, can hope for a rapid voyage home. Beethoven demonstrates his vast compositional mastery in both the choral composition and the skillful orchestration.

Another gem that is performed much less often is the Elegischer Gesang (Elegiac Song), Op. 118, a short, restrained choral movement with string accompaniment. Beethoven composed the work in memory of Eleonore von Pasqualati, who died at the age of 24. She was the wife of Johann Baptist Freiherr von Pasqualati, a longtime friend of Beethoven’s. Musically condensed phrases of great intensity await the listener, which lead again and again into moments of softness and gentleness. The Elegischer Gesang may not be one of Beethoven’s major works, but it is a jewel well worth discovering. Together with the vocal and instrumental parts, a piano part has been handed down, and this can be used as an alternative to a string quartet. It is this version of the Elegischer Gesang that is included in the Beethoven Choral Collection.

BeethovenChoralCollectionQualitatively, there can be no doubt about Beethoven’s preeminence as a choral composer. It is only in terms of quantity that his choral output cannot compare with composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Handel or Bach. At first this seemed to be a problem in publishing a volume of Beethoven’s choral music, but of course there are canons, shorter choral movements, a few Scottish songs and excerpts from incidental music — e.g., König Stephan (King Stephen) and Die Ruinen von Athen (The Ruins of Athens) — as well as his oratorio, Christus am Ölberge (The Mount of Olives), all of which undoubtedly contain exciting discoveries for such a collection.

A number of choral arrangements of Beethoven’s instrumental works, as common and popular during Beethoven’s lifetime as they are today, are also included in the collection. Characterized by a noble, cantabile quality, Beethoven’s slow movements are especially fine models for choral arrangements, such as Silcher’s Persischer Nachtgesang, based on the second movement of the 7th Symphony, and the Hymne an die Nacht, based on the second movement of the “Appassionata.” Both of these are included in the Beethoven Choral Collection. Equally exciting are the discoveries of the Drei Aequale, originally brass pieces that were arranged for chorus by Ignaz von Seyfried and sung at Beethoven’s funeral, and Gottlob Benedict Bierey’s Kyrie, based on the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata,” and Agnus Dei.

Inspired by these arrangements, we commissioned a series of new arrangements for the Beethoven Choral Collection. Leading contemporary composers such as Heribert Breuer, Gunther Martin Göttsche, John Høybye, Giacomo Mezzalira, Christoph Müller and Peter Schindler have contributed to the collection. Arrangements from Clytus Gottwald and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi are also included.

The Beethoven Choral Collection is a real treasure trove for all choirs celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020, as well as for choirs looking to add a truly fantastic volume to their library. We hope that the collection will inspire all manner of church choirs and choral societies, including major cathedral choirs and ambitious chamber choirs, to explore Beethoven’s vocal works and to give Beethoven his well-deserved appreciation as a choral composer.

 


JanSchumacher

Jan Schumacher is University Music Director of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and Conductor of the Camerata Musica Limburg and the Chorus of the Technical University Darmstadt. With his ensembles he performs a wide repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to premieres of new works and jazz, and from symphonic orchestral repertoire to Big Band and vocal and electronic improvisation. He also directs seminars for singers, orchestras and conductors throughout Europe and internationally and is the editor for several choral collections at Carus-Verlag.

Musical Characteristics and Performance Practice of the Classical Period

By Jacy Burroughs

The Classical period of music had its advent in Italian music of the early eighteenth century and extended into the early nineteenth century. Some musicologists mark the end of the Classical period around 1815, at the end of Beethoven’s compositional middle period. However, the Classical period truly overlaps with both the Baroque and Romantic periods. Characteristics of and performance considerations for Classical period music are outlined below.

Continue reading ‘Musical Characteristics and Performance Practice of the Classical Period’


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