Der Messias (KV 572), his 1789 transcription of Handel's Messiah, at Christ and St Stephen's Church, NYC. Opera Company of Brooklyn and a splendid cast of conservatory-trained soloists and chorus will be conducted by maestro Jay Meetze.
"Mozart knew how to give new life to Handel’s noble inspirations by means of the warmth of his own feeling, and through the magic of his own instrumental style to make them enjoyable for our age."
The well-worn story of Handel’s life and the composition of his oratorio Messiah (HWV 56) are part of the fabric and lore of music history. Handel was born in Halle, Germany, in that magical year of 1685, which also witnessed the birth of J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Handel did his "Grand Tour" in Italy, from 1706 to 1710, during which time he was informed by the operatic and oratorio styles prevalent there and also tried his hand at them, to great effect. These works were immediately applauded by his Italian patrons, especially Prince Ruspoli, who bestowed upon him the monicker, "il caro Sassone," "the beloved Saxon." He then returned to Germany to work for George, the Elector of Hanover, who later became that George, King George I of England. Handel firmly settled in London in 1712, preceding his Hanoverian employer by two years; the King was miffed for a while, but after Handel presented him with the Music for The Royal Fireworks in 1717, they worked it out. Handel eventually obtained English citizenship in 1727, and never looked back.
|Handel and King George I on the Thames|
putatively on 7/17/1717
Edouard Conrad Hamman (1819-1888)
|Charles Jennens (1700-1773)|
The librettist of Messiah
Messiah was indeed an unqualified success. A critic at the opening wrote that "words are wanting to express the exquisite delight that it (Messiah) afforded the crowded and admiring audience. The Sublime, the Grand, the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished ear."
|Handel in 1741, at age 56, the year of Messiah|
From the frontispiece of the first biography,
by John Mainwaring (1760)
In the years following his move from Salzburg to Vienna in 1781, Mozart developed a fascination for Baroque music, especially the compositions of J.S. Bach and Handel. Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Mozart's and later, Beethoven's, friend and patron and a wealthy diplomat and amateur musician, had encouraged Mozart to study the manuscript copies of these Baroque masters which he had archived in his personal library. von Swieten had been arranging regular private performances of Baroque music the private residences of his aristocratic Viennese colleagues, eventually asking Mozart to curate and direct these events. The Baron had earlier founded the Geselschafft der Associerten (The Society of Associates), an exclusive club that offered oratorios at Lenten and Easter. By the time van Swieten offered a copy of Messiah and a German text to Mozart in 1789, he (Mozart) had already transcribed Handel’s Acis and Galatea, and would go on in the following year to transcribe Handel’s Ode to St Cecilia and Alexander’s Feast.
|Wolfgang Mozart at age 33 |
The unfinished 1789 enlargement of the
original 1782 oil by his brother-in law, Joseph Lange
The premiere of Der Messias was presented on March 6th, 1789, appropriately within the magnificent baroque splendor of the Palffy Palace in Vienna, the residence of Count Johann Baptist Esterházy von Galántha, with Mozart himself conducting. Esterházy was a royal chamberlain and court councillor, himself a prominent patron of music, and a member of the Masonic lodge Zur Neugekrönten Hoffnung ("New Crowned Hope"), which Mozart had joined in 1785, after his own lodge consolidated with that of the Count.
Der Messias is neither a radical rethinking of Handel’s original work, nor a cavalier rescoring by Mozart done simply as a lark. Although only 48 years separated Messiah’s premiere and Mozart’s 1789 transcription, an enormous change had occurred in musical style. Handel lived and wrote squarely within the idiom and constraints of the Baroque era, whereas Mozart composed in the conventions of Classical Style. By Mozart’s time, symphonic orchestras were populated by many different instruments, each lending its own tonal color, together giving a more textured sound than that of the simpler “symphonic bands” of strings and continuo, with occasional trumpets, of Handel’s time. In addition, Mozart lived in the Age of the Enlightenment, when diversity of ideas was being accepted.
|Baron Gottfried van Swieten|
Mozart's friend and patron
and a prominent Handelian in Vienna
At the same time, Mozart minimized the role of the trumpets in his arrangement, giving more of that responsibility to the horns and trombones, especially in the doubling and support of the SATB soloists. The reason was sheer practicality. By Mozart's time, the rare skill of playing the high tessitura celebratory trumpet was long gone. In the well-known aria, “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” Mozart wrote the obbligato part not for a natural valveless trumpet, as Handel had done, but for french horn !
Although Mozart left the orchestration of most of the choral sections as Handel had scored them, he did take some sections from the chorus and gave them to the SATB soloists, likely as a function of the number and talent of the forces he had at the time. It is interesting to note that whereas Handel likely employed about thirty choristers for the Dublin Messiah, Mozart had only 12 singers in his Der Messias chorus. Also, as there was no organ at Count Esterházy's palace, Mozart simply left Handel's organ part out of his transcription ! Eminent practicality.
Mozart added woodwind support to several of the solo lines, for example, to the exquisite "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion," and "Comfort ye." Mozart maintained the bel canto style in these arias (a genre in which Handel was so successful in his many operas) while adding his own own brilliance as a painter of tonal and atmospheric color. A convincing exemplar of this is in the Part Three duet, "O death, where is thy sting?", where Mozart added obbligato violas to the orchestration, prefiguring some of the sonorities in the Recordare movement of his Requiem of 1791.
Mozart eliminated one of the choral numbers, "Let all the angels of God," as well as the aria, "Thou art gone up on high." He took that most famous aria, "Rejoice greatly," from the soprano and gave it to the tenor. All of these Mozartean changes served not only to tighten up and dramatize the oratorio, it also made the work over a half hour shorter, which may have mattered in what had become a progressive and busy Viennese society.
|The sublime 1974 Sir Charles Mackerras essaying|
of Der Messias, reissued on CD in 1990
Edith Mathis, Peter Schreir, Theo Adam, Birgit Finnila
ref 1 Donald Burrows, Handel: Messiah, Cambridge University Press, 1991
ref 2 Teresa Frick http://www.kuk-art.com/English/Maulbronn/S-Mozart-Messiah.html
ref 3 Frick, ibid.
ref 4 Frick, ibid.
@ Vincent P. de Luise M.D. 2012.