Mozart the Mystic
March 24, 2006 - Town Hall Seattle
March 25, 2006 - Rialto Theater Tacoma
Hutchinson: Fantasia on Themes of Mozart
Fantasia on Themes of Mozart
In February 2005, Christophe Chagnard invited me to compose a piece
for this 15th season of the Sinfonietta, which coincides with the
250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Knowing the work would be featured
on the same program as the Requiem, Christophe and I agreed
that the musical material should be in some way reminiscent of,
or derived from, Mozart's music. As a professor of music theory
I teach many of the composer's works, yet culling my material from
the master's myriad themes presented a great challenge as his compositions
number in the hundreds. At the outset, my desire was not to compose
in a strictly Mozartean style, but to reinterpret his melodies and
set them in a modern context which encompasses the harmonies and
rhythms of jazz, the primary language of my own formative musical
Fantasia on Themes of Mozart consists of five large
sections. The A major piano concerto, K. 488-one of my own best
loved of the composer's works-provided the musical material to which
I eventually chose to limit myself. I had created an exercise from
the piece for my keyboard harmony class in which I looped the notes
of the piano's first entrance, which seeded the idea of a minimalist
texture for the first section of the Fantasia. In the second
section, the concerto's opening theme is altered to fit the octatonic
scale favored by Stravinsky and Bartók, two giants of the
modern repertoire; the sound of this scale powerfully evoked in
me the sound and rhythms of the modern era.
In my pre-compositional study of the concerto, I was astounded
by the unity I found between the themes of the three movements,
particularly those within the first movement. The first four notes
of the first theme are also the first four notes of the second theme,
simply reordered. And the main four notes of the closing theme of
the orchestral exposition are the same four notes of the second
theme, transposed down a third. When I discovered this I found the
material for the third section of the Fantasia: all of the
intervals in Mozart's primary theme are played in the introduction
by the solo violin, while also arranged as ascending intervals for
the lower strings. This arrangement of intervals bore two new extended
harmonies common in jazz, each a mirror inversion of the other.
The fourth section starts with a jazz re-harmonization of Mozart's
second theme from the first movement. In my analysis of this second
theme I was struck by the coincidence that the scale Mozart used
is now known among jazz musicians as the "bebop" scale.
A contrasting part within this section makes use of a mournful melody
from the second movement of K. 488; in my setting I retain two of
the melodic lines Mozart had rendered in imitation, but surround
them with new harmonies.
After the fourth section culminates in wide-ranging glissandi,
Fantasia on Themes of Mozart closes quietly, with the primary
theme temporally stretched to a glacial pace over a gently rocking
ostinato of the theme and its mirror inversion.
So much has been written about Mozart's Requiem,
from the enlightened to the sensational, that it has become nearly
impossible for one theory to prevail over another. And yet, recently
discovered letters and sketches have led to irrefutable conclusions.
History should, by definition be an accurate science. What belongs
to the past is etched in stone, frozen in time. Tales of the past
are however, often plagued by sensationalism and an insatiable appetite
for tabloid and drama. NO, Salieri did not help Mozart complete
the Requiem, nor did he poison him for that matter! The ineluctable
facts are as follows; Count Walsegg commissioned the piece anonymously
from Mozart with the intention to have it performed as his own composition
at a service honoring his departed wife. Mozart began work at once
in the last months of 1791. At his side for most of that year was
his pupil Sussmayr, then 25 and the most direct witness of Mozart's
final days. In November, realizing that the end was near, Mozart
instructed his pupil on how to complete the Requiem and provided
him with sketches as well as verbal guidelines.
Following her husband's tragic passing, Constanze, surprisingly,
chose to assign the completion of the Requiem to Joseph Eybler,
another of the master's pupils. She later explained in a letter
that; "The reason I gave it to Eybler to complete was because
I was angry with Sussmayr and Mozart had had a high opinion of Eybler."
Eybler began orchestrating from Mozart's sketches dutifully and
did rather well at it. Orchestrating is one skill, composing is
another. Eybler, unable to find the inspiration to complete the
mass, returned the score and sketches to Constanze with his apologies.
It is then, as a last resort that Mozart's widow called on Sussmayr's
services. He completed the task by the end of 1792, claiming that
the "Sanctus", "Benedictus" and "Agnus
Dei" were entirely his own creations. Upon observing the quality
of Sussmayr's own compositions, it is difficult to believe that
no other sources than his own imagination were available to him.
I strongly suspect that Sussmayr had more material at his disposal
than he confessed and that Mozart had sketched the entire work.
The orchestration that he provided and which became the norm, is
certainly a worthy effort, but is still filled with technical errors
and untypical heaviness. I chose the 1980 Beyer edition, which addresses
these issues thoroughly and provides an effective solution to these
complex dilemmas by keeping the basic contribution from Sussmayr
without the technical flaws.
In the end, Mozart's Requiem absolves itself of these debates
to reveal one of the most poignant testaments of a man and his at
once terrified and serene contemplation of the last judgment.