Tag Archives: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Pergolesi points the way for Mozart



As I mentioned before, I think, in a blog about the International Music Score Project, that service of uploaded public domain music has been quite valuable in getting ready for concert reviews.

Most of the time I know the pieces I’m going to be hearing, but I always learn something by studying them. So yesterday afternoon, I downloaded Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater to get a closer look at it before a concert I’m going to next week.

My usual practice is to bang through the score on the piano as best I can, as well as study it with a recording or just in silence. And today, as I was going through the piece on my trusty beat-up old George Steck, I could only think of one thing: Mozart.

Now one of the things that doesn’t get talked about enough is the influences older composers had on those who followed after them. It’s never really a question (unless it’s Handel) of people actually lifting something; it’s just interesting to find the antecedents to a composer’s style and seek it out, especially when it’s someone little known, or known for the wrong things.

This Stabat Mater was written in 1736 by Giovanna Battista Pergolesi, who also would die that year of tuberculosis at the age of only 26. After his death, many compositions were attributed to him that later scholarship has been able to assign to others.

But not this piece, which was so popular after its composer’s death, and which ultimately became the single most frequently reprinted composition of any kind in the 18th century. One obvious reason must be is that it calls for relatively small forces and it’s not that long, so if you’re the music director of an out-of-the-way church it might have been just the ticket when you needed something special for Holy Week.

Aside from Pergolesi’s annoying formula habits of doing the surprise false-cadence thing (going to VI when you expect i) in his introductions and endings, and of always leading in with a incomplete broken chord before the singers come in, this is indeed a little masterpiece, bold in its semi-operatic arias (Quae moerebat et dolebat) and harmonic richness (Fac ut portem Christi mortem), and a beautiful reading of the dark but passionate poem that serves as its text.

One other thing it seems to have, and this is before Michael Haydn (the first movement of whose Requiem had to be the model for Mozart) and Florian Gassmann, to cite another composer scholars have pointed to as progenitors of Mozart: A moody kind of sacred style, one in which there’s a kind of harmonic flavor that’s sad but not depressing, mournful but not hopeless. You can hear it in the O quam tristis et afflictis, and this very same kind of writing seems to have been absorbed into Mozart’s bones, because that very quality of sound is all over a work such as the Mass in C minor.

Other little things here strike me as Mozartean, too, such as the dramatic chord sequences after the back-and-forth 16ths in the Sancta mater, and even the idea of the Quae moereabat, the choice to go bouncy and cheerfully virile there seems very like the kind of off-the-wall thing our man from Salzburg would do.

I know a lot of the things in this piece and Mozart’s were common possessions of all composers, but as I played the Pergolesi it just seemed to me logical that a piece this well-known in Mozart’s lifetime would become part of his compositional DNA. It’s probably time for me to do some more research on the other composers that came before Mozart and see where I might be wrong about Pergolesi.

And yet I can’t help but think that somewhere in the matrix of music that underlay not just the sacred music but all of Mozart’s music was this lovely church work written by another man who died far too young but left a little something for us to remember him by.

Here’s the first of several parts of the Stabat Mater from a YouTube upload, apparently the 1983 performance by Rene Jacobs and Concerto Vocale:


Mozart, Brahms at St. Paul’s as season opens

It was the last Sunday of summer, and if the line I was standing in at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Delray Beach is any indication, this season of classical music will be not only enriching but well-attended.

The 21st season of Music at St. Paul’s, which opened Sunday, featured works by Mozart and Brahms as played by instrumentalists associated with Florida International University, including that school’s enemble in residence, the Amernet Quartet. It was a lengthy but nourishing afternoon of chamber music, with fine performances of masterpieces of the genre.

The well-known area clarinetist Paul Green opened the concert with the Amernet foursome in the Clarinet Quintet of Mozart, written at the end of the composer’s life and still as fresh and innovatory as when it was first conceived. This was a very good reading of a great work by a group of seasoned musicians who know how to bring out the depth and the breadth of Mozart.

Green has a nice, big sound that floated out in strong relief against the Amernet (Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley, violins, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Javier Arias). He sounded particularly nice in the sweet song of the second movement, and in the bubbly finale, which the St. Paul’s audience appeared to especially enjoy. And while the ensemble of all five players was fine overall, this was a performance that also was more aggressive than subtle, and perhaps a bit too edgy for more traditional tastes.

The second Mozart selection, which opened the second half, featured Klotz and violinist Robert Davidovici in the G major Duo for violin and viola, K. 423. Here, too, was an intense, committed performance, with broad gestures and themes sharply outlined.

Tuning was slightly ragged in the first movement, but got better as the playing progressed.

Earlier in the summer the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival featured a performance of the other Mozart violin-viola duo (in B-flat, K. 424) that was classic, elegant and somewhat restrained. This reading of the G major duo, on the other hand, was all about passion, especially in the third movement, and particularly from Klotz.

Overall, Klotz and Davidovici were well-matched in this interpretation, and clearly enjoyed playing together.

Davidovici was the soloist in the Second Violin Sonata (in A, op. 100) of Brahms, which closed the first part of the concert. In the sonata, the Romanian-born Davidovici showed himself to be a player in the older Romantic tradition, with a fat sound and a high-strung emotion trembling beneath the surface of the various melodic lines. He is a persuasive advocate for Brahms, with an interpretive mindset that seems to match what the composer was after, and plenty of technique to make his case.

Pianist Ilya Itin proved to be a fine accompanist, and offered up several moments of sheer loveliness, especially in the second movement.
The concert closed with another Brahms work, the Piano Quartet in C minor (Op. 60). Itin, Davidovici, Klotz and Arias were the players, and as might be expected by this point, this was a very warm, red-blooded rendition of this fine piece.

As Davidovici noted in remarks earlier in the concert, the key a composer chooses is quite important, and for Brahms as well as Beethoven, C minor is a key of drama and brooding strength.
Perhaps the high point here was the third movement, with a beautiful, full-throated cello song for Arias, and a joint narrative arc for the music that smartly charted the emotional highs and lows of the music.

(The next concert in the St. Paul series is set for Oct. 19, when Green will lead the klezmer band he founded, Klezmer East, in a program of music from this Jewish folk tradition.)

Mozart manuscript makes the news

The classical world got some excitement today with the announcement in France of the find of a previously unknown Mozart manuscript that had been buried in the files for more than a century.

It’s not really a score, just a couple sketches on a few lines of paper, one of them marked Credo and looking like the incipit of a Mass movement. Judging by what I’ve seen of Mozart autograph reproductions, it’s clearly in Mozart’s hand. And the note at the bottom stating it was Mozart’s is from Aloys Fuchs (1799-1853), one of the most important musicologists of the 19th century, and a man noted for the size and depth of his manuscript collection.

Fuchs specialized in Mozart, and since he an Austrian born only eight years after the composer’s death, it’s hard to imagine a more reliable source other than Mozart himself for verifying the master’s hand.

There are a couple of interesting things to note here outside the fact of the manuscript itself. One is the way mainstream media covers these things, especially on television. Two or three reports I’ve seen on this today say Mozart signed the manuscript, which he did not, as far as I can see (Fuchs, though, signed it in 1839 as being by Mozart), and much of the other coverage made it sound like it was a whole piece rather than a couple sketches (actually, the top one almost looks like an orchestral part).

I’m glad Mozart is still a big enough name to generate mainstream news coverage, but it would be nice if there were a little more precision about exactly what was found.

The second thing is the question of Mozart and religious music. During his early years after Count Colloredo came to the throne of Salzburg as prince-archbishop, the young Mozart wrote a number of small masses for the newly shortened services Colloredo wanted observed in the city’s churches. I rarely get to hear these pieces, but surely some of them are worth occasional revival in a concert setting.

The other thing is that he kept trying to write a great piece of church music all throughout his life, especially the unfinished C minor Mass written at the time of his marriage in 1782 (I like Robert Levin’s completion of the Mass, with a couple minor quibbles). Then, of course, there is the Requiem on which he was working at the time of his death.

I suspect that Mozart was probably attracted to the drama of the Mass, and wanted to write something that would fully bring that out without being disrespectful, and that led him to try to push the boundaries toward opera. Both the C minor and Requiem masses are works along that line, and it’s tragic that he did not finish them so that we could appreciate his full vision.

It’s been noted by other scholars that even though Mozart died at only 35, and began writing pieces while still a toddler, he was in some ways a late bloomer, and that his Wunderkind legend has tended to obscure the brilliance of his late innovations. The late symphonies of 1788 certainly changed the idea of the symphony, advancing it beyond Haydn into a form that showed composers a long orchestral piece could be the place for their deepest thoughts.

If the experts quoted today are right and these sketches are for a piece of sacred music from the last years of Mozart’s life, it would be more tantalizing evidence of how this composer continued to try to wrestle this ancient text into a stylistic form that would hold all the expressive power of which he was capable.

Here’s the Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter singing the Laudamus te from the C minor Mass. This is an opera aria, nothing less, and a beautiful one, too: