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Illinois Arts Council


(for the May 23, 2004, Concert of the North Shore Choral Society)


by Donald Draganski


       Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), always in straitened circumstances, began his final year of 1791 with excellent prospects for a long-overdue spell of financial security. The City Magistrate of Vienna had decided in Mozart's favor for a position as Cathedral Kapellmeister, and the composer had just completed his opera The Magic Flute, which would prove to be one of his most popular works. The future did indeed look rosy. It was during rehearsals of the opera that Mozart received a commission from a mysterious stranger for a Requiem Mass to be delivered as quickly as possible. Mozart immediately began work on the Requiem, but he was obliged to put it to one side for another commission, the opera La Clemenza di Tito, dashed off in an astounding eighteen days.


      After Clemenza's premiere in Prague, Mozart resumed work on the Requiem and found himself under constant pressure from the stranger who kept inquiring after the work's progress. Mozart was already in the grip of his final illness, and it is difficult to determine his actual state of mind during those last days. His letters, playful and bantering as always, show no signs of morbidity, nor does his personal diary convey any sense that it was written by a man who thought he might be dying. On the other hand, several accounts by those close to Mozart describe him haunted by thoughts of his impending demise and terrified by the notion that the mysterious visitor was an emissary of Death. However trustworthy these melodramatic accounts may be, and whatever Mozart's mental state might have been, the prosaic facts surrounding the dark visitor are well documented.


      The gentleman in question was merely the steward of a certain Count Franz von Walsegg, a wealthy dilettante who made a practice of commissioning works by well-known composers, re-copying them out in his own hand, and frequently passing them off as his own. (Mozart's rival, Antonio Salieri, played absolutely no role in the Requiem's genesis or completion, pace Peter Schaffer and the film based on his play Amadeus.) Mozart did not live to complete his Requiem; he died on December 5, 1791, of kidney failure, probably brought on by excessive blood-letting by the doctor who was treating him.


      Constanze, left destitute with two children and desperately in need of the final payment due upon delivery of the finished score, covertly employed Mozart's student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, to complete the work. Süssmayr was able to imitate Mozart's handwriting to an uncanny degree, and scholars wrangled for a good many years before determining which portions of the work are in Mozart's hand and which are in Süssmayr's. The Requiem received its first public performance two years later, with Count Walsegg himself conducting; however, its true authorship was widely known by then, and the Count was thus foiled in his attempt to claim the work as his own.


      Only the first two movements (Requiem and Kyrie) of the full score are wholly in Mozart's hand. Of the remainder, Mozart prepared about half of it in vocal score, which Süssmayr orchestrated. The authorship of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei poses a problem, for although they were set down entirely in Süssmayr's hand, we do not know to what degree he may have worked from lost sketches or from ideas which Mozart conveyed orally to him. (The Abbé Maximilian Stadler, a close friend of Mozart, wrote, "Whoever has examined these manuscripts in detail must admit that Mozart is the sole composer and Süssmayr had no more part in it than any man somewhat trained in figured bass. All the essentials come from Mozart.")  


      However one may judge Constanze's perpetrating a forgery on the Count--and there is a satisfying poetic justice in seeing the deceiver deceived--the fact remains that Süssmayr did an uncommonly fine job in completing the work. It may be a flawed masterpiece, or a torso, but it is a masterpiece for all that.


      There is enough mystery and enigma in Mozart's music to preclude any further need to romanticize the man at the expense of the truth. We can only nod in agreement with Robert Craft who finds it incomprehensible that any mere human being could have composed Mozart's music.


                                                                                                            © 2004 by Donald Draganski



      [Karl Kroeger has very kindly provided us with the following notes for his composition Pax Vobis.]


      In June 1783, the governor of North Carolina declared July 4th a day of solemn thanksgiving throughout the state, celebrating the peace treaty that ended the war with Great Britain. Peace was particularly welcome in the small Moravian-Church community of Salem (now Winston-Salem), for, as confirmed pacifists, the pious people of Salem had suffered much for their beliefs from both sides during the conflict. The community planned a day-long program of religious events, culminating in a "Love Feast" that celebrated peace. Having less than a month to prepare, their local composer, Johann Friedrich Peter, did not have time to compose original music, so he selected a group of appropriate works from the church's music library and compiled his Psalm of Joy. After the celebration, the music was returned to the library, and life in the community went on. However, history has recorded this event as the first organized communal celebration of July 4th as a day of special significance.


      In the late 1960s, the musicologist Marilyn Gombosi discovered the text of the Psalm of Joy, inducing her to research the event and to reconstruct and publish the music. When the first modern performance of the Psalm of Joy was planned for the 12th Moravian Music Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in June 1976 as part of the American Revolution Bicentennial observance, the conductor Thor Johnson, who founded the Moravian Music Festivals in 1950 and directed until his death in 1975, conceived the idea of presenting both 18th and 20th century musical perspectives on peace and persuaded the Moravian Music Foundation to commission Pax Vobis. Its first performance was given at the 1976 festival along with Psalm of Joy.


      Pax Vobis, meaning "Peace be with you," is the greeting that Jesus gave to his disciples at their first meeting after the Resurrection, as recorded in the vulgate Latin version of the Gospel of John (20:19). The cantata, in nine movements, employs biblical texts, hymns, and poems to explore the essence of peace, and it attempts to epitomize peace between nations as well as peace within oneself - God being the catalyst in both.


      The opening Prelude for brass instruments is based on a Moravian chorale called Cassel, which is used as a "motto theme" throughout the work.  (Brass instruments were important in Moravian music making, and the chorale, in 18th century harmony, forms a link between the two centuries.) The Prelude leads directly into the invocative first movement, "Peace be to this congregation," a setting of a Charles Wesley hymn based on the choral melody.


      The second movement, "Lord, our God," dealing with conflict between peoples, is a dramatic setting of various Biblical passages and James Joyce's phantasmagorical poem "I hear an army," suggesting the nightmare of war. The third movement, set for baritone solo and chorus, invokes God's intervention to suppress war, ending with the choral melody developed into an orchestral apotheosis.


      The fourth movement, the emotional heart of the cantata, presents Henry Vaughan's celebrated poetic vision of heavenly peace, "My soul, there is a country." A lyrical duet for soprano and baritone soloists with a short choral interjection, this movement offers a view of an ideal existence where peace and tranquility reign.


      Consideration of personal peace begins with the fourth movement, a choral setting of Isaac Watt's hymn "Man has a soul of vast desires." The music, in the style of a frivolous little waltz, suggests the triviality of human concerns. The sixth movement is a supplicatory song for soprano solo to the Biblical words, "Have mercy upon me, O God." This is followed by a choral prayer based on the chorale melody, employing another Charles Wesley hymn, "Jesus, Prince of Peace, be near us."


      The eighth movement, which follows without a pause, is an admonition by the solo baritone to "Trust in the Lord and do good," leading directly into the choral finale, "God of the nations." This paean of praise is a setting of two hymns--the first by W. R. Bowie and the second by R.Y. B. Scott--and ends the cantata triumphantly. Cast in three parts, the movement opens with a solemn processional, leading to a spirited central section, and concludes with an exuberant "Alleluia" coda.


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