Der Messias, K. 572 · The reorchestration of Handel's Messiah by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
The idea of writing an arrangement of Handel's Messiah was not Mozart's. He was in fact commissioned to do this by Baron Gottfried van Swieten. Van Swieten had founded the "Society of Associates" (Gesellschaft der Associierten) in Vienna, an exclusive circle that organised private performances of oratorios during Lent and at Christmas. Because of the reforms introduced by Emperor Joseph II, church music had suffered from drastic changes to the liturgy that had almost brought about its total demise. For this reason, the emphasis shifted to private performances. The Viennese aristocracy was part of van Swieten's circle and its members also acted as patrons. For quite some time before he worked on the Messiah, Mozart been part of these concerts - he played cembalo under the direction of the court theatre composer, Starzer, who had already arranged Judas Maccabaeus. During this period, Mozart had access to van Swieten's private library and was able to study scores by Bach and Handel, which he found deeply stimulating for his own creative work. In 1788 Mozart himself took over as director of these private concerts. In that same year he arranged Handel's Acis and Galatea, then in March 1979 the Messiah, and in the following year, the Ode for St. Cecilia and Alexander's Feast. The rehearsals for the Messiah took place in van Swieten's apartments. The oratorio was first performed in Count Johann Esterhazy's palais on 6th March 1789. The number of instrumentalists involved is not known, and there were supposedly only 12 singers in the choir. Baron van Swieten, who was a great admirer of baroque music, wanted Mozart to "modernise" the oratorio. This was a perfectly normal demand - the original work and its composer still commanded great respect, of course, but this was no obstacle to updating something "old-fashioned" to bring it into line with modern taste. Mozart based his arrangement on the first edition of Handel's score. From this, two copyists produced a working score. For the English libretto and the wind sections of the original, they substituted blank lines so that Mozart could write his own accompaniment and insert the text written by van Swieten. The latter was, in turn, based on the German translation done by F. G. Klopstock and C. D. Ebeling in 1775. The biggest change was made to the airs, as they were believed to be the form most in need of "modernisation". Mozart in part changed the harmony structure, made cuts, varied the tempi, transposed the airs or assigned them to other vocal parts. Yet he retained the form of the air - with one exception. "If God be for us" appears in Mozart's version as a recitative, not as an air. Van Swieten comments: "Your idea of turning the text of the cold air into a recitative is splendid... Anyone who is able to clothe Handel with such solemnity and taste that he pleases the fashion-conscious fops on the one hand, while on the other hand still continuing to show himself superior, is a person who senses Handel's worth, who understands him, has found the source of his expression and who can and will draw inspiration from it. The mood of this "cold air" obviously had so little appeal for Mozart that he felt this was the one instance where he had to alter the formal structure, which in itself speaks volumes for his sensitivity in dealing with the original. The choral sections remain almost unchanged. But here, however, Mozart introduces harmony. Woodwinds are added to the horn and trumpet sections and accompany the choral descant parts in unison. The trombones, on the other hand, are given the option of doubling the alto, tenor and base parts and precise stipulations are only made for two of the numbers. Before this version of the Messiah score first appeared in print, Rochlitz made the flowing comments in the music periodical, "Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung": "He has exercised the greatest delicacy by touching nothing that transcends the style of his time ... The choral sections are left as Handel wrote them and are only amplified cautiously now and again by wind instruments." One other change was made to the choral sections and it had to do with tempo. Mozart intervenes here, usually choosing a slower pace. In addition to slowing the movements down, he also "steals" some pieces from the choir. This applies in particular to certain virtuoso segments in the initial choral sections, which he gives to the soloists. Apart from the explanation that Mozart was doing this to illustrate baroque dynamics, this might also have been done for other reasons. It is quite possible that Mozart had no choir available whom he thought capable of performing these pieces. The airs were also shortened. For example, he cut the middle section of the bass air, "The trumpet shall sound". Of this Rochlitz wrote: "Those [airs], where Handel adhered more strictly to the conventions of his day, have been given a new and unparalleled accompaniment, one that Handel himself would have wanted, but which also incorporates the advances in instruments and taste made since his days; where the airs were too long or became unimportant, like the second part, for example, which was only written for voice and bass, such parts have been cut." Yet in comparison to other contemporary oratorio arrangements, Mozart's cuts are minimal. They are aimed more at condensing and tightening up what is taking place. As a result, a performance of this arrangement only takes 2 ½ hours, a cut of almost half an hour. Rochlitz is of the opinion that this makes the oratorio "highly enjoyable for any kind of audience." However, Mozart is not content with changes that are dull or conventional. He puts woodwinds into the airs to better interpret the basic mood. What's more, he divests the bassoons of their bass function - repeatedly. To preserve the musical flow of an air, he provides the singer with instrumental support in cadences instead of giving him or her the freedom to improvise. And over and above having to adhere to the rules imposed by the contemporary conventions of good taste, Mozart also had to take other circumstances into consideration. For example, in his arrangement he cut out the organ - there was simply no organ available in the Viennese palais where the private performances were held. Another problem that Mozart had to contend with was the change that had taken place in trumpet playing between the time of Handel's Messiah and Mozart's arrangement of it. The break-up of the social order in the towns had led to the demise of the town piper guilds and, in turn, to the decline in the art of playing the clarion. The trumpets in a classical orchestra were not nearly as powerful as their predecessors, so in order to support the sound of the orchestra, Mozart "downgraded" them with regard to both harmony and rhythm. He modified the original passages or assigned them to other instruments such as the horn in the air "The trumpet shall sound", thus achieving a more virtuoso effect. Yet the Messiah remains the work of Handel, despite the Mozart arrangement. Mozart did not write a new composition, he used the original as a template and arranged it or to use a present-day idiom, he did a "cover version". In doing so, he achieved a synthesis of baroque counterpoint and classical style, which is why this version of the Messiah definitely offers a remarkable alternative to the "original". (Teresa Frick)
This live recording of "Der Messias" is part of a cycle of oratorios and masses, performed in the basilica of Maulbronn Abbey under the direction of Jürgen Budday. The series combines authentically performed oratorios and masses with the optimal acoustics and atmosphere of this unique monastic church. This ideal location demands the transparency of playing and the interpretive unveiling of the rhetoric intimations of the composition, which is especially aided by the historically informed performance. The music is exclusively performed on reconstructed historical instruments, which are tuned to the pitch customary in the composer's lifetimes (this performance is tuned in a' = 430 Hz).
The Bassoon Sonata in G Major, Op. 168, by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
The bassoon is often considered the clown of the orchestra but in his Sonata for Bassoon and Piano Saint-Saëns explores the elegant and dignified nature of the instrument. He began composing at the age of three and completed approximately three hundred works. Other French composers such as Poulenc and Ravel were said to have been inspired by Saint-Saëns, and Poulenc is even alleged to have borrowed musical ideas from him! The woodwind sonatas belong to his later works and were each dedicated to highly regarded players of the era. The Sonata for Bassoon is dedicated to his friend, Leon Letellier, and who was also the principal bassoonist of the Paris Opera orchestra. The piece begins in the high tenor register and emerges from, what seems like nothing - as if the melody had been hanging in the air just waiting to be heard before unfolding to become an elated melody. The second movement is a virtuosic scherzo which exemplifies the typically humorous character of the bassoon. The third movement begins once again with a floating melody that evolves into an impassioned middle section characterized by rhythmic passagework before the reprise disperses the tension eventually ending on an imperfect cadence which leads directly into the juxtaposed circus like finale.
The Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano, FP 43, by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
In 1920 Francis Poulenc was counted amongst the "Groupe des Six" which included the composers Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Jean Cocteau, Germaine Tailleferre and Georges Auric. Technically speaking this was not a Society but rather the creation of a music journalist who simply used these representatives of Modernism as an analogy to "The Mighty Handful", the group of five Russian Composers including Mussorgsky and Balakirev in the second part of the 19th Century. The Trio was composed in 1926 and is dedicated to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. It is written in the typical quick - slow - quick form and is considered to be amongst Poulenc's finest works. It is also the first instance of Poulenc giving a more dominant role to the piano within his chamber music writing.
The choral concert "Human being lives and consists · Birth ~ Finiteness ~ Eternity"
It must have been at the turn of the new century when I had a conversation with Jürgen Budday in the cloister of the Maulbronn monastery and talked of how superb the church was as a performing space and how its atmosphere might be put to use. By expanding the dimensions of the performance and incorporating the audience into the tension, the euphoria of the concert, without a single instrument - with the pure power of those human gifts that we receive from our Creator at the moment of birth. But you know, of the many demands that a project like this makes of those involved, I want to single out just one - the human factor, plain and simple. When a group of people work together, it takes time to develop a certain intimacy, to acquire experience of working as a team simply to establish respect and friendship. For, after more than ten productions, we have come to know "our Chamber Choir" very well, to realize what high demands the choir director and the singers make of themselves. All of them have worked hard for this live recording, on the concept as well as the music, just to capture the moment, to give you pleasure - and this over and above the daily demands of their private and professional lives. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated and leave it to the director to explain the content and concept of the programme in the section that follows. (Josef-Stefan Kindler, Publisher)
In this collection entitled "Der Mensch lebt und bestehet" (Human being lives and consists), the Maulbronn Chamber Choir presents compositions that are interconnected in themselves and in content, in that they regard birth as more than just a joyful event. It is an act of creation, in which the divine and the human find each other and which implies earthly finiteness, but at the same time transcends this and leads back to its divine beginnings. This is how the prophetic words of the Old Testament are taken up, words that are substantiated in the annunciation to Mary of the incarnation of Christ ("Angelus Domini - Ave Maria") and that lead into the events of Christmas ("Gloria" and "O magnum mysterium"). Yet at the same time, their central theme is the union of man with divine reality by means of reformation and contemplation (the "unio mystica"). Each life has a goal that transcends earthly finiteness, leading to what Reger calls that "hellen, schönen, lichten Tag, an dem er/sie selig werden mag" (that bright, beautiful, clear day when he or she blessed be).
"A Hymn to the Virgin" by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), a composition for two choirs, is presented in a very similar vein. The text dates from about 1300 and praises Mary as a lovely, radiant, adorable maiden carrying the Son of God in her womb. Britten has set it to music that is basically archaic in mood and melody. The first choir sings the text in English and the second interpolates and comments on it in Latin.
The motet "O magnum mysterium" is the work by Morten Lauridsen (born 1943), an American composer of Danish origin. It speaks of the wonder of the birth of Jesus. Here, too, the &"unio mystica" is the theme of this composition, the union with the Divine through redemption and ecstatic contemplation.
Jan Sandström (born 1954) dedicates his "Gloria" to "la Casa de la Madre y el Niño" in Bogotá. The idea behind the composition came to Sandström in a dream, which he describes as follows: "In a church on a mountain high above Bogotá, a children's choir sings the Gloria over and over again, during which first one child, then another and another steps forward to interject 'Gloria in excelsis'." Sandström has incorporated this pattern of fast switches from choir to a single chorister into his composition - vibrant rhythm, detailed and delightful harmony combined with a sound that envelopes the listener from all sides, making listening a real experience.
This programme is exceptional in that it includes choral works written for more than one choir. The effect of these compositions is heightened appreciably by positioning the various performers in different areas of the church, and they were, in fact, originally composed with this in mind. In the Biebl and Britten motets, we therefore experience a separate smaller choir singing far up in the gallery of the monastery church. Even the soloists in Sandström's "Gloria" enhance the effect of the performing space by being positioned opposite the choir. The Reger motets also develop a unique sound of their own, due to mixed groupings of voices being placed extremely far apart throughout the entire area. In the Maulbronn Monastery church, the conditions are ideal for these innovate concepts of sound. (Jürgen Budday)
The concert "Glass & Stones · Concert for Glass Armonica & Verrophone"
They are built of natural stone, these noble halls of this world heritage site. A fascinating thought when you're standing under arches that are hundreds of years old. The stones seem to whisper - because, in the quiet of their existence, you seem to feel how they are imbued with all those voices and instruments that filled these walls with their sounds - violins, the sound of trumpets, the organ and singing' wood and metal. But in the end, isn't it the material of the body that makes the sound of an instrument? It was the sound of the glass armonica that inspired Mozart to write a minuet and, after hearing how his composition sounded on the glass harmonica, Arvo Pärt gave the Ensemble his one-time permission to perform "Pari Intervallo" with the "glass instrument". Even Gottfried Keller described the sound and effect of the instrument as "...then it began to play in the most ghostly tones I have ever heard...". Now, the glass armonica is made of glass - plain old glass - melted sand, nothing more. But this is also the same basic material as these world heritage walls are made of - natural sandstone... And during this concert by these Viennese artists, it was as if I could feel the walls vibrating and I thought I heard the very stones singing. (Josef-Stefan Kindler)
After 150 years of being forgotten, the glass armonica is now being built again, exactly like with the original instrument. It was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. The individual glass bowls (B flat - F) are attached to a rotating axis. For orientation purposes, some of the bowls are marked with gold stripes. These correspond to the black keys on a piano. The performer gently touches the rims of the rotating bowls with a damp finger, causing them to vibrate.
The verrophone (verre, French = glass) was invented by Sascha Reckert in 1983 and was based on the principle of musical glasses. Glass tubes are arranged according to size (usually on a chromatic scale) and attached at the vibration points. The length of the tube determines the pitch. Touching a damp finger to the rim makes the glass vibrate.
The concert "Awake, my Spirit"
Who would ever have thought it... in a highly appealing, even noble way, this Hamburg Ratsmusik performance encourages us to take a look at certain values that appear to be losing their merit more and more today due to the wide influence of our environment. Listening to this concert, it is touching and, indeed, perhaps even comforting for us to discover values like grace, humility and noble-mindedness, which in those days were as important as efficiency, effectiveness and achievement are today. For me personally, this is one of the most beautiful and appealing chamber music concerts in the entire Maulbronn Monastery series. (Josef-Stefan Kindler)
The "Hundert ahnmutig und sonderbar Geistliche Arien" (One hundred charming and especially religious airs), printed in Dresden in 1694, tell of the breath of God as symbolised by the winds Africus and Caurus and of "the silken soft West that leaves its kisses on the roses". This collection is an appendix to the Dresden Gesangbuch and appeared 18 years after the latter; its editor, the composer Christoph Bernhard, did not live to see it in print. The songs were not meant to be sung by the parish congregation - a delicate subject anyway during the tense times of Augustus the Strong's conversion to Catholicism. They were for the private Protestant religious services of the other members of the Royal Family. The melodies are more elaborate than those usual in other ecclesiastical music of the time, the bass parts are highly imaginative and the individual ritornellos are remarkable. There is another collection of 17th century songs that is dedicated to the same theme - Johann Rist's "Himlische Lieder" printed in Lüneburg in 1641/2 and set to music by Johann Schop, the Hamburg City "Rath" (or Council) musician. Both men were friends of Christoph Bernhard, who used his connections as a favourite pupil of Heinrich Schützen to arrange for them to meet the famous Kapellmeister on his journey up to Copenhagen.