A Musical Last Word
Seven-hundred audience members turned out to see the Dickinson Orchestra and Dickinson College Choir's final performance of the academic year. It was, in fact, an artistic statement about finality itself, showcasing music composed about, or during, the end of life and presenting the musicians’ final word on Mozart's most controversial work.
Held April 13 at the First Lutheran Church, the concert opened with Masonic Funeral Music, an appropriately sober piece written by Mozart in 1785 and premiered at a memorial service for two of his fellow Freemasons. Next came Violin Concerto No. 2, one of the last large-scale works that Karol Szymanowski completed, with a final Dickinson-Orchestra violin solo by graduating senior Aubrey Holmes.
For their crowning 2010-11 work, the musicians presented the 1800 edition of Mozart’s Requiem, featuring solos by the Class of 2011’s Juliana Burdick, Eric Rosenstein, Taylor Bell and Ee-Rah Sung. Through that selection, they offered an answer to a quandary that's vexed the music world since Mozart's untimely death in 1791. [Story continues below.]
The Count is foiled!
Mozart's Requiem was commissioned by a Viennese Count with a penchant for claiming sole authorship of music he’d purchased. The aristocrat had promised Mozart a handsome fee to write a mass commemorating the anniversary of his young wife’s death, but Mozart died after completing only one movement, leaving only sketches of the rest of the work.
Mozart’s wife hired a few of her late husband’s students, most notably, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, to complete it. Requiem, as quickly fleshed out by Sussmayr, was performed at Mozart’s funeral. Later, it was delivered for final payment to the Count, who, predictably, presented the work as his own.
Count von Walsegg was unsuccessful, in part, because those who had attended Mozart's funeral recognized the piece. But as Amy Wlodarski, assistant professor of music, pointed out, this fact did not completely silence the question of authorship. Because Mozart had not completed the Requiem, many scholars have debated its validity as a Mozart composition, particularly in light of inelegant creative decisions, made by Sussmayr, that Mozart would not have considered.
Over the years, composers and historians have attempted to create versions of the work that better mirror Mozart’s historical choices. These musicians include Harvard pianist/musicologist Robert Levin, who produced a popular 1996 recomposition of the piece.
Which version, then, is the most authentic?
After studying Mozart's Requiem in Associate Professor of Music Jennifer Blyth's music-theory class, a group of students expressed a desire to perform it. Despite the technical challenges it poses, the orchestra and choir prepared the 1880 Sussmayr edition—the version that its first audiences would have heard.
“Both ensembles, which are comprised mostly of non-majors, worked doggedly to prepare this difficult rendition. This included additional rehearsals with the orchestra outside of the regular choral rehearsals, which demonstrates the students' commitment to Mozart's artistry,” said Wlodarski.
The April 13 performance of Mozart's last piece therefore “evokes the love and admiration that compelled [Mozart's] students—both present and future—to preserve his final strokes of genius,” she said.
By MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
Photos by Jen Crowley '12