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Reimagining Mozart's Requiem


This weekend, the Utah Symphony will perform Mozart's final composition - his Requiem in D Minor. Mozart died with the piece uncompleted - and the work that came down to us from the 18th century was likely not what Mozart had in mind.

You may have heard some version of how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came to compose his requiem - and though there have been many fantastic tales - what we do know is that a stranger arrived at Mozart's home in Vienna - and without giving his name, he commissioned the composer to create a funeral piece - offering a nice sum for the work.

The man was an agent for Count Walsegg-Stuppach - whose wife had died and who intended to pass the requiem off as his own work. So why would Mozart agree to this arrangement? Well money.

"He's become this iconic figure and of course during his life I mean he couldn't get a job."

April Greenan is a Mozart scholar and the director of the McKay music library at the university of Utah and she says Mozart had money problems all of his life " he just had never learned how to manage money - and so he'd earn money and then go spend it. I mean, when you're six years old and you're in the palaces of Kings and Queens - you're accustomed to certain niceties and he wanted always to have those."

Being spoiled by the finer things wasn't the only problem that still haunted Mozart from his young life though. When he took on the requiem - he was also in ill health

" Without a doubt this is owing to the rigorous lifestyle that his father imposed upon him. He was on tour from the time he was six years old till he was 16. He suffered with health issues throughout his life."

1791 was a big year for Mozart. He composed several pieces like the opera "The Magic Flute" - but he was also thinking about death - and having never written a requiem before, the idea appealed to him. It wasn't long before it took on a personal dimension for him though.

"He did tell his wife that he thought he was writing a mass for his own death. And he actually asked for more time to work on it which is a bit unusual because he could compose very quickly. He really labored with it."

He labored with it - but he didn't finish it. Franz Suessmayr worked with Mozart - perhaps as his student - and after Mozart died at the age of 35 - he completed the requiem.

"Suessmayr didn't complete it in order to sound like Mozart. He just completed the work that could then be performed. He was not a great composer "

But Mozart didn't leave us completely in the dark. He wrote enough of the work - and with enough detail - that he left a sort of road map of what he had intended. And that's where the scholar Robert Levin comes in. Levin is a musicologist and a composer - and this weekend, the Utah symphony will perform his 1991 completion of the requiem.

"Robert Levin for many years labored with the manuscripts and the sketches that do survive. Levin's work is as close to what Mozart had planned as we can get short of having him come back and say - well, this is what I was meant to do."

April Greenan says it's a chance to hear Mozart at his most mature compositional skill - and she cites the Lacrimosa movement as a moment when you can hear the melodicism and the tension of Mozart's creation.

"There's a pain but it's an exquisite pain in the Lacrimosa. So from the beginning there is something that is a bit of an emotional stretch - just in terms of this leap up which in its physical nature carries energy and intensity."

And for fans of Mozart, Greenan suggests that this performance is an opportunity to have a more authentic 18th century experience

"With Mozart's secular works - every time he performed them they'd be different. So in a way it's a little bit closer to how music was performed in Mozart's day and Levin's work is outstanding."

The Utah Symphony will perform Mozart's requiem under the direction of guest conductor Bernard Labadie

this Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 o'clock. [More Information]

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