Cold Genius What power art thou, who from below Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow From beds of everlasting snow? See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old Far unfit to bear the bitter cold, I can scarcely move or draw my breath? Let me, let me freeze again to death
Compared to the neglect met by most of Mozart’s work until the 20th century, the result garnered huge popularity, even if it was fueled in large part by the myths surrounding its creation. Milton Cross noted: “The chilling awareness that he was dying, and that he was writing his own requiem, brought to his writing an other-worldly beauty and a depth of awareness unique even for Mozart.” Indeed, even in comparison with his other late masterpieces, the Requiem is extraordinary, condensing a vast realm of feeling into well less than an hour. Poised between the formal dignity of the great baroque religious works (Bach and Handel) and the visceral bombast of the Romantic Requiems of Berlioz and Verdi to come, it displays a thorough integration of styles within a pervasive sobriety appropriate to the subject (reflected in somber instrumentation of trombones, basset horns and strings in mostly lower registers). Like all great Mozart, it has an expressive depth that forces us to delve beneath the surface for startling emotional richness. It points and beckons rather than pushes.
As noted in more detail below, the most radical eliminate the Süssmayr material altogether, either leaving a torso with new orchestrations of Mozart’s vocals and bass, or substituting realizations of their own. More moderate editors adhere to Süssmayr’s basic plan but attempt to correct his “grammatical” mistakes and lighten the instrumentation. As Landon notes in defending this approach, an intimate of the composer, immersed in the traditions of the time, is “far better equipped to complete Mozart’s torso than a twentieth-century scholar, however knowledgeable.” And in all fairness, while it may lack the inspiration of Mozart, Süssmayr’s material has much merit, thus suggesting that the mediocre student must have adhered closely to the master’s detailed verbal directives - as Milton Cross put it: “How [else] could music of such grandeur and sublimity possibly [have] come from one who produced nothing else in his life of lasting value?” Intrinsic value aside, the fact remains that audiences have become accustomed to the Requiem taken as a whole, regardless of the extent to which Mozart may not have written all of it.
Those versed in the Mozart style generally agree that Süssmayr’s work is deeply flawed with technical errors, needless instrumental doubling of voices and a general lack of inspiration (although few non-scholarly ears notice the faults and, as many concede, what contemporary wouldn’t be found lacking when compared to the genius of Mozart?). Yet, the question remains of what, if anything, to do about it. There’s little consensus among editors of modern editions and recordings.
“…In a rare visit to Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Christie brought a small contingent of his ensemble — five singers and five instrumentalists (including Christie) — to Walt Disney Concert Hall in what might have seemed an arcane and minor program based on the 16th century air de cour. But once more through exquisite and, above all, illuminating performances, Christie worked considerable magic…
The dusky mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold and the breathy but brilliantly flexible baritone Marc Mauillon were the other pair of less complex but more seductive lovers. The eloquent bass Lisandro Abadie served as a benign spiritual guide to love.
What proved most remarkable, though, was the exceptional blend of all five voices, which at times seemed as if they were all the same vocal type. They further blended ideally with the ensemble of two violins, viola da gamba, theorbo and Christie’s harpsichord…
Though on a small scale, this evening was an impeccable example of what may be Christie’s greatest contribution to music, demonstrating, particularly in French Baroque opera but also in Handel, Purcell and Mozart, how attention to sensitive detail, to perfectly tuned and turned turns of phrase, can bring out the most astonishing musical colors and sensations.”