About the Robert Levin completion
The article below from the New York Times discusses two different completions of the Mozart Requiem:
New York Times
Published: November 26, 1995
No Reverence, No Reticence in Finishing Mozart’s Requiem
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Music, like every other art, has its share of incomplete masterpieces, and some are better left undisturbed. But Mozart’s Requiem, the subject of two fine new recordings, was left in a particularly tantalizing state of incompleteness.
By now, the mysterious circumstances of its creation have been mostly uncovered. In the midsummer of 1791, Mozart received a letter from an anonymous patron offering a sizable commission for a Requiem Mass. Soon afterward, a tall, grim man dressed in gray appeared with an advance; he was a messenger from the patron, Count Franz von Walsegg, a musical dilettante who presented concerts at his estate and sometimes purchased compositions to pass off as his own.
When Mozart died that December, a third or so of the Requiem was complete, but for some wind parts here and there. The Lacrimosa left off after eight measures; for the rest, the middle third of the work contained only the parts for chorus and vocal soloists, a figured bass line and occasional sketches for the orchestral parts. What would probably have constituted the final third was never composed by Mozart: none of it, or so it is widely believed.
Mozart’s widow, Constanze, desperate for the full commission fee, turned to Franz Xaver Sussmayr, the composer’s student and sometime assistant, to finish the Requiem, as he did in his dutiful way. But few have been satisfied with his work: at best it is uninspired, at worst seriously flawed. In this form, the Requiem long ago entered the repertory. Yet composers and musicologists have never ceased trying to improve on, or even replace, parts of Sussmayr’s work. Most have approached the task with reticence and reverence.
Not so Robert Levin, the noted fortepianist and Mozart scholar. Mr. Levin’s edition of the Requiem can be heard on a new Telarc CD (80410), performed by Boston Baroque, a period-instrument ensemble, led by Martin Pearlman. Mr. Levin has boldly appropriated the score, recomposing Sussmayr’s completions and adding new material where he thinks Mozart would have done so. Though based on scrupulous scholarship, this is an audacious creative act, and the results are engrossing.
By way of timely comparison, Erato has released a new CD of the unaltered Sussmayr completion (0630-10697-2), performed by the renowned period-instrument ensemble Les Arts Florissants, led by William Christie. And the Sussmayr version has seldom sounded so good.
The Mozart Requiem has been a passion of Mr. Levin’s since his undergraduate days at Harvard, when he prepared a critical edition of the score as a senior thesis. That proved only the first stage of his investigations, which continued for 25 years.
Mr. Levin is probably best known to Mozart fanciers as a fortepianist able to improvise elaborate, stylistically faithful cadenzas to the piano concertos. He is a fleet pianist and an insightful Mozartean. His performances brim over with ebullience, sometimes to a fault; his playing can seem showy and egocentric.
But completing the Mozart Requiem is no job for a pussyfooter. Mr. Levin is willing to stack his fugal writing alongside the master’s and take the consequences, which in this case are mostly happy.
In the opening sections, Mr. Levin cleans up Sussmayr’s added orchestration, eliminating some of the wind doublings of choral parts.
In the Lacrimosa, he makes his first daring addition. Mozart’s eight measures consist of mournful, consoling music in a supple, gently rocking 12/8 meter. Sussmayr continues in that vein but cuts the movement off with an almost perfunctory “Amen” on two sustained chords.
Mr. Levin is convinced, on the basis of the composer’s sketches and his practice elsewhere, that Mozart wanted to provide an extended fugal treatment of the “Amen,” so he offers one — brilliant, rhythmically insistent and harmonically complex. It is substantial yet compact: exactly what seems needed at this pivotal point in the overall structure.
He also alters the Domine Jesu substantially. Where Sussmayr’s strings play in symmetrical, stolid patterns, Mr. Levin gives the violins flight with melodic twists and swirls. This added intricacy folds beautifully into the larger textures, and ironically, Mr. Levin’s varied string figurations distract less from Mozart’s choral writing than do Sussmayr’s plodding patterns.
MR. LEVIN AGREES with scholars who believe that the final sections of the Requiem, which Sussmayr claimed to have composed by himself, are based at least in part on Mozart’s ideas, whether communicated verbally, at the piano or in sketches now lost. Some of the motifs are derived from earlier material, and such tight unity is wholly lacking in Sussmayr’s own compositions. So, out of respect for the piece’s 200-year performance tradition, Mr. Levin defers to Sussmayr’s completion when it hews close to Mozartean practice.
But he rewrites freely when he thinks that Sussmayr has gone astray: in truncated developments, clunky orchestration or errors in musical grammar. And where Sussmayr was timid, Mr. Levin is bold. He completely reshapes the Sanctus, ending it with a proper Osanna fugue (modeled after the one in Mozart’s C-minor Mass) on a theme that echoes the syncopation of the Sanctus’s stately opening.
Boston Baroque’s performance is incisive, nuanced and lithe, the choral singing resonant, accurate and textually clear. The vocal soloists — Ruth Ziesak, Nancy Maultsby, Richard Croft and David Arnold — are strong. The performers’ involvement with this gratifying new edition of the Requiem is palpable.
Mr. Christie’s performance with Les Arts Florissants is characteristic of the work that has earned this ensemble high critical praise and a devoted following. Every phrase and gesture has been carefully wrought, yet there is no sense of effort in the music-making.
The Recordare is soft-spoken and tender, as if recalled from some distant time. When the violins and the soprano soloist, Anna Maria Panza rella, enter on the same C, their sounds are so ineffably blended that you can hardly tell which is which. Instead of ominously churning out the rumbling string figures of the Confutatis (“When the wicked are confounded”), Mr. Christie keeps the music emphatic and grounded, making the choral pleas from on high (“Voca me,” “Call me with the saints surrounded”) seem all the more poignant.
The vocal soloists — Ms. Panza rella, Nathalie Stutzmann, Christoph Pregardien and Nathan Berg — are impressive. In a program note, the scholar Christoph Wolff writes that rejecting Sussmayr’s completion out of hand “means nothing less than sacrificing the chance of preserving what traces there are of Mozart’s original material.” Perhaps.
But Mr. Levin’s daring approach makes Mozart’s Requiem sound more convincing structurally and more vibrant musically. A performance of the Sussmayr edition can often seem like an inexorable descent from the sublime to the ordinary. Mr. Levin sustains the highs. In all probability, Mozart, who even in some of his most serious work was just as much a showman as Mr. Levin, would be delighted.
“He is willing to stack his fugal writing alongside the master’s and take the consequences”. (Steve Kagan)