Mozart Requiem

Australian Chamber Choir
Melbourne Baroque Orchestra
Directed by Douglas Lawrence

One of the most popular choral works, Mozart’s Requiem (K626) is rarely heard using the instruments of the composer’s time, which give the orchestral sound quite a different timbre. For example, the basset horns known to Mozart have a plaintive quality similar to an alto voice and completely different in sound from the instrument as it was revived in the early 20th century by Richard Strauss.

Written during the final weeks of the composer’s life for a patron who wished to remain anonymous, this unfinished work is shrouded in mystery. When Mozart became too ill to write, his assistant, Franz Xaver Süssmayr acted as emanuensis. The nature of their work together is beautifully and sensitively portrayed in the 1984 film Amadeus.  In order to collect the sizeable fee for the commissioning of the work, Mozart’s destitute widow, Constanze had Süssmayr complete the work in secret. Partly due to this secrecy, the authorship of certain sections of the work not written in Mozart’s handwriting have been disputed. Given the undisputed genius of Mozart, it is not surprising that since Süssmayr’s completion, other composers have lent their skills to the daunting task of completing the work: Robert Levin, like Mozart, possesses the uncanny ability to improvise extended works at the piano in a wide variety of styles. In order to provide a completion that comes as close as possible to Mozart’s expectations, Levin has availed himself of all the available manuscripts and fragments. Taking into account Süssmayr’s versions, Levin explains that his goal is to revise as little as possible, “attempting in the revisions to observe the character, texture, voice leading, continuity and structure of Mozart’s music”

Mozart studied Handel’s Messiah at length and in the Requiem reverts to a contrapuntal style often reminiscent of Handel’s work. In this program, Mozart’s dark final work of 1791 contrasts with one of Handel’s earliest manuscripts: The Dixit Dominus (HWV 232) is an ebullient work for choir and soloists with string orchestra and continuo, competed in 1707, when Handel was living in Italy.

Performance time
Handel Dixit Dominus: 30 minutes
Interval: 15 minutes
Mozart Rquiem: 53 minutes


Read more about the mysteries of Mozart’s Requiem in the Guardian.
The Telegraph puts Mozart’s Requiem in the “10 best works of choral music”.

Watch the writing of the Confutatis, from the 1984 film, Amadeus





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