Mozart – Salzburg frustrations

During the reign of Archbishop Schrattenbach the Mozarts had enjoyed recognition, generosity and status (father Leopold was appointed Deputy Kapellmeister). That all changed in 1772 when Schrattenbach’s successor, Archbishop Colloredo, took the reins. In order to make the church service more intelligible to the general congregation he removed any purely instrumental music, put a strict limit on the length of settings of the mass and instituted hymns to be sung in German. What with other reforms in Salzburg’s musical institutions, the Mozarts found their status compromised.
Indeed, Leopold had been expecting

promotion to the position of Kapellmeister, but Colloredo preferred Italian musicians.

Leopold found he had a new Kapellmeister, one Domenico Fischietti. They do not seem to have hit it off, and there was clear mutual dislike between Colloredo and the Mozarts.

In 1776 it was hoped Wolfgang would get the job of organist at Trinity Church. Their friend Michael Haydn (Josef’s younger brother) was appointed instead. The friendship ended suddenly amidst great acrimony.

Finally in 1777 Mozart wrote a petition to the Archbishop asking to be released from his employment. Archbishop Colloredo dismissed him, and his father too.

Sparrow Mass K. 220

Mozart composed his Spatzenmesse (Sparrow Mass) K220 when he was in his early 20s – some time between 1775 and 1777. The mass gained its nickname from certain twitterings in the orchestra during the two Hosannahs. It is a charming work, beginning to show some of the intensity of his mature style, but certainly giving no signs of the frustrations of his professional life.

Contretemps with Kuhnau

Kuhnau was J.S.Bach’s very distinguished predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. He was enjoying a glittering career as composer, lawyer, novelist and general man of letters.  When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill.

A young  Georg Telemann enrolled at the university, like Kuhnau, to study Law, but he, as did Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.

Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years.

 

 

Magnificat – John Rutter

The UK premiere of John Rutter’s Magnificat was given in Coventry Cathedral, but this was a year after the world premiere, which was in the Carnegie Hall, New York. Indeed, most of Rutter’s larger choral works were written for American choirs.

It is an immediate, tuneful, sunny work, which has the added bonus of being performable by amateurs. Its directness is explained by Rutter himself: he says, ‘In countries such as Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico, feast days of the Virgin are joyous opportunities for people to take to the streets and celebrate with singing, dancing and processions. These images of outdoor celebration were, I think, somewhere in my mind as I wrote, though I was not fully conscious of the fact till afterwards.’* It should be added, that it is highly singable because Rutter happens to write very well for the voice.

His conscious model, however, was J.S.Bach’s Magnificat, specifically the earlier E flat version which has a set of so-called Lauds, or Songs of Praise, which were traditionally inserted amongst the Latin text (these included the popular German hymn, Martin Luther’s Vom Himmel hoch, and the plainsong Virga Jesse floruit). So similarly Rutter has interpolated a setting of the anonymous 15th century English text Of a rose, and he uses the plainsong tune for the Sanctus, which, again, would not normally be part of the Magnificat. (There are other bits of plainsong lurking amongst the orchestra.) Rutter has also dipped into other ‘traditional’ formal ideas, such as in the Doxology, as it was in the beginning. Here he has employed the common practice of making this a repeat of the opening music (as did Bach (Magnificat), Handel (Dixit Dominus), Vivaldi (Gloria) – and many more).

Rutter has made this piece available in a version for full orchestra and also for a smaller ensemble. Stour Singers will be using the latter version, for the simple reason, the smaller orchestra will fit in the church.

*© Collegium Records

If you would like to listen to John Rutter talking about the Magnificat on YouTube, please click on the following:

 

Requiem – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1925)

Fauré’s Requiem does not follow the traditional pattern of a mass for the dead. It was not triggered by the death of someone he knew, nor was it a commission. He said it was ‘composed for the pleasure of it’.

Gabriel Fauré

It was started when Fauré was 32, and it took him 16 years to finish. It is a wonderfully serene work, despite being composed during what might now be called a protracted ‘mid-life crisis’.

He had been appointed choirmaster at the famous Madeleine church in Paris and had become engaged to Marianne Viardot – he had been in love with her for 5 years. In October Marianne broke off the engagement because she felt, not love for him, ‘only affection mixed with fear’. It appears that behind his outwardly charming manner Fauré hid a darker side.

Fauré was devastated and immediately went away on long travels in Germany, England and Switzerland. He met Liszt twice, but it was Wagner and his operas which particularly fascinated him. Despite this obsession, strangely there is no trace of Wagner in his style of composition.

Eventually returning to Paris aged 38, he married and settled down to the tedium of organising services at the Madeleine, and teaching piano and harmony – what he called his ‘mercenary work’. But his ambition was to flourish as a composer. Sadly the daily grind ensured he only had time to compose during the summer holidays, and he despaired of ever reaching the public. Being so grossly thwarted in his real calling, perhaps it was not surprising that privately he suffered from what he called ‘spleen’, which took the form of depression and anger, perhaps violence. Things did not improve until he was 45, when he did start at last to gain some recognition. He finished work on the Requiem 3 years later, in 1893 (although he would go on to reorchestrate it in 1900).

Considering the turbulence of his spirit during its composition, the serenity of the Requiem is quite extraordinary.

Jubilate!

9th December 2017

St. Edmund’s Church, Shipston-on-Stour

Mozart, Exultate jubilate
Kuhnau, cantata Uns ist ein Kind geboren
J.S. Bach, cantata 191, Gloria in Excelsis Deo

with:

Robyn Allegra Parton – soprano

Phillipa Thomas * – mezzo-soprano

Robert Tilson * – tenor

Alistair Donaghue – bass baritone

(* by arrangement with Birmingham Conservatoire)

and the

Queen’s Park Sinfonia

and our rehearsal accompanist Rachel Bird on keyboard

Bach Cantata No.191 Gloria

Much of Bach’s prodigious output consists of re-workings of previous compositions.

This is true of Cantata 191. It is described by Bach as a Christmas Cantata, and it is entirely a reworking of parts of the Gloria from his Mass in B minor. For the first movement he has used the chorus Gloria in excelsis – et in terra pax from the Mass unchanged, and the following duet is the Domine Deus from the Mass sung to the words ‘Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui sancto’. The cantata concludes with the chorus Sicut erat in principio.The music for this is the chorus Cum sancto spiritu which concludes the Gloria in the Mass. The words Sicut erat don’t fit the original, so he has modified the beginning so that they do.

So we get a small insight into the way Bach worked. There are many more examples of reworkings to hand, since all the Mass in B minor apart from the Kyrie and the Gloria consists of reworkings of previous cantatas.

St.Thomas’s new Kantor

When Kuhnau died in June 1722 the Leipzig authorities needed to find a new Kantor for the Thomaschule. This was a prestigious post and there were six applicants. The obvious front-runner was Georg Philip Telemann,

G. F. Telemann

who was very highly regarded and already had connections with St. Thomas’s. He showed definite signs of accepting the post, but the Hamburg Senate tried to block his acceptance. Telemann argued that if they wanted him to remain in Hamburg they should raise his salary. This they duly did, and he duly stayed.

J.C.Graupner

So Leipzig looked to their
2nd choice, Christoph Graupner, who was Kappelmeister in Darmstadt and one of Kuhnau’s distinguished pupils. Graupner was keen to accept, until Darmstadt offered to increase his salary and improve his status – an offer he could not refuse.

This left them with the 3rd choice.

Councillor Platz observed, ‘As the best man cannot be got, we must make do with the mediocre’ – namely one J.S.Bach!

One of the duties of the position was that they should teach the boys Latin. All of the applicants refused to accept this, but the upshot was that Bach, as successful applicant, had to employ a Latin teacher and pay him out of his own salary.