Performance Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 8 PM

Orchestra of St. Luke's

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
The Orchestra of St. Luke’s closes its Carnegie Hall season with an all-Mozart program, featuring one of New York City’s most distinguished professional choruses, Musica Sacra. Iván Fischer, who made his first appearance with St. Luke’s last season, conducts two pieces written towards the end of composer’s short life: the triumphant Symphony No. 34 and the Requiem, left unfinished at Mozart’s death.
Back to Event Details
Print Program Notes

The Program


Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338

About the Composer

Although he traveled repeatedly with his family to Italy, France, Germany, and England in his childhood, and once more to Paris with his mother in his early manhood, Mozart was primarily a resident of Salzburg, the city where he was born and where he and his father were both in the service of the church. However, he grew increasingly restive there, especially after achieving success with his operas in other musical centers, the most important being in Munich with Idomeneo. He left Salzburg in September 1780, at the age of 25,  to oversee the premiere of his opera, which took place on January 29, 1781. He loved the energy of Munich during carnival, and he wanted to live in a place where he could write more operas. His father Leopold still tried to keep the young man under his thumb, and Wolfgang felt increasingly eager to achieve independence. He could not have known at the time, but within a year he would be kicked out of the Cardinal-Archbishop's service-a change that he largely instigated-and settled in Vienna for the rest of his life.

About the Work

There is a bit of ambiguity attached to the Symphony No. 34. Most of Mozart's symphonic works are in four movements, with the middle two consisting of a slow movement (in a different key from the first and last), followed by a dance movement, almost always a minuet (in the home key).

In the Symphony No. 34, Mozart composed a minuet (or at least started one) to be performed as the second movement, but then tore it out, leaving only 14 measures on the back of the first movement's last page. It is not clear why he left the symphony in just three movements when the great majority of his symphonies have four. Scholar Alfred Einstein has suggested that Mozart may have later intended a larger minuet in C major (K. 409) for this symphony, but since it would have called for extra instruments and been too elaborate to balance the other movements, that seems unlikely.

A Closer Listen

The first movement opens with a stylized fanfare similar to those in some of Mozart's opera overtures (Così fan tutte and La clemenza di Tito, both in the same key). But an immediate shift to the minor key reduces the comic or festive character of those later works. Mozart originally labeled the slow movement Andante di molto ("very Andante"), but later he evidently decided that performers understood that mark as meaning a slower tempo than he liked, because he added più tosto Allegretto ("rather Allegretto").

Mozart divides the viola section into two groups so that they provide a richer sonority in the middle register. Sometimes the two violin parts take the lead with the two viola parts as a lyric echo. Other times the first violins are alone on top while the second violin and first viola provide a moving inner life. For climactic moments, all five parts (violins, violas, and the foundation provided by cellos and basses together) punctuate the activity.

The Finale is a lively jig laid out in two large sections, both of which are marked for repeats. The oboes have an important role here, an early example of Mozart's felicity with woodwinds, which was to become much more varied and colorful over the next decade.

© 2012 Steven Ledbetter


Requiem, K. 626 (completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr)

About the Composer

Mozart's last year, 1791, was filled with great successes, financial worry, and failing health. His largest compositions of the year were his last two operas, the Italian opera La clemenza di Tito, commissioned for an imperial coronation in Prague, and the German Singspiel Die Zauberflöte, for a popular theater in Vienna. Both enjoyed enormous success.

In autumn, the composer's health began to fail markedly. At times he raved in delusion that he had poisoned himself, from which arose the oft-disproved legend that his "rival" Salieri had in fact poisoned him.

About the Work

Sometime early in the summer of 1791, Mozart received a mysterious visitor, a "gray messenger," who offered him 50 ducats as the first half of a commissioning fee for the composition of a Requiem. Mozart accepted because he needed the money, but the oddity of the incident and his own depression and ill health conspired to make him unduly morbid. The messenger was an agent for one Count Walsegg-Stuppach, who demanded secrecy because he intended to perform the Requiem in memory of his wife and to pass it off as his own composition. (He had done this previously with commissions from other composers.)

Mozart began composing in the mid-summer period before going to Prague late in August for the premiere of La clemenza di Tito. In mid-September, back in Vienna, he completed Die Zauberflöte on the 25th and the Clarinet Concerto the following day, then worked on the Requiem until mid-October, when his wife Constanze took the score away from him because she feared it would damage his now-precarious health. Mozart began to be obsessed with the notion that he was writing the work in preparation for his own death.

A more lucid spell in November allowed him to work on the Requiem and even to make one final public appearance to direct the performance of his Little Masonic Cantata on November 18. Two days later, he took to the bed that he never left.

Every Mozart biography recounts an incident that supposedly took place 11 hours before his death, when three friends joined him to sing through some vocal parts of the unfinished Requiem, Mozart himself taking the alto line. They sang as far as the opening measures of the Lacrimosa when, according to one account, "Mozart began to weep uncontrollably and laid the score to one side." However, the recollections of his sister-in-law Sophie Haibel (née Weber) make it clear that by December 4, he was in no condition to sit up or sing. The still youthful composer died an hour after midnight, early on December 5, eight weeks short of his 36th birthday.

His fatal illness seems to have been rheumatic fever, which he had suffered in childhood and several times in his adult years. The symptoms have been clearly established in Mozart's life, not only in his last days, but also on previous occasions.

After her husband's death, Constanze's first concern was that the torso of the Requiem be brought to completion; she needed the remainder of the commissioning fee and feared that, if the work was not completed, she would have to return the portion already spent. She first approached Joseph Eybler, who completed orchestration of the finished passages of the Sequentia movements (through the Confutatis maledictis), entering the additional instrumental parts directly into Mozart's manuscript. But when it came to composing entirely new material, Eybler surrendered the attempt to equal Mozart. In the end, Constanze settled on Franz Xaver Süssmayr to complete the work. However, if, as Sophie Haibel states, Süssmayer was receiving instructions from Mozart immediately before his death, it is odd that Constanze took three months to turn to him. That is one of many still-puzzling questions about the work.

Süssmayr recopied the entire completed part of the manuscript, wrote his own orchestration for the Sequentia movements, and completed the rest of the Requiem, possibly-though documentation is totally lacking-on the basis of sketches left by Mozart. The remaining movements-Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Communio (Lux aeterna)-seem to be Süssmayr's work, but they are close enough to Mozart's style to make credible the assertion that Süssmayr was working with notes from the master. It was Süssmayr's pious labors on behalf of his "unforgettable teacher" that made it possible for us to hear performances of Mozart's last musical conception.

A Closer Listen

Mozart composed many Mass settings, especially while working for the church in Salzburg, though he had not previously set the Requiem text, which omits celebratory parts of the Mass and adds texts befitting the subject matter. He knew the conventions of liturgical music in late-18th-century Austria inside and out-where movements are divided into musical sections, and the text is conventionally set as a fugue, or alternatively, in quieter prayerful attitudes.

Compared to his earlier Mass compositions, the Requiem is a work of somber and impressive beauty. Darker in color, it ascends to great heights of power and drama-as in the first two lines of the Lacrimosa, probably the last notes Mozart ever penned. It also soars with the composer's ineffable grace, filled with the commitment of immediate and urgent personal expression.

© 2012 Steven Ledbetter

This performance is part of Orchestra of St. Luke's, and Choral Ecstasy - Students.