Into this crazed COVID world of variants popping up ad infinitum, there came a sublime evening of music-making given by the Palm Beach Symphony under the leadership of conductor Gerard Schwarz on Dec. 2 at their permanent new home: The Kravis Center.
It was dedicated to four works written by Mozart in his last year of life, 1791. Each of the four pieces selected had special appeal. According to Jeremy Yudekin of Boston University, Mozart wrote more than 850 pieces of music, many of which turned up long after his death at age 35. By contrast, the standard Köchel listing ends at 626, with his Requiem.
The program, heard by a packed house, wearing masks, began with the overture to The Magic Flute, a singspiel rather than an opera, created with his fellow Freemason, Emanuel Shickaneder. The singspiel was a popular vaudeville form back then, blending singing with spoken words. The orchestra performed it well but there were certain imbalances with the trombones placed too far forward, thus overwhelming the second string section. No matter; their unusual placement would prove beneficial later in the evening’s Requiem.
Next followed the Clarinet Concerto (in A, K. 622). Invented in the first few years of the 18th century by woodwind makers Johann Christoph Denner and his son Jacob, the clarinet was the first reed instrument to have a cylindrical rather than a conical bore. A new barrel of this “modern” instrument appeared in the 1760s and the new, lively, ranging four-octave sounds must have attracted Mozart’s keen curious ear.
The concerto was written for another fellow Freemason and friend, Anton Stadler, who established the clarinet as an equal to its older woodwind cousins. The artist playing the concerto this night was Jon Manasse, whose credentials cover two pages in the program.
A skilled performer, he is in demand the world over for his uniquely glorious sound and charismatic style. He dazzled the audience in the first and third movements with his impeccable technique: he seems to wrestle the best sounds out with fingering that flashed like lightning. But he also lulled them into nirvana in the beautiful slow movement; one could have heard a pin drop. Not a cough anywhere.
Manasse’s evenness of tone from the top register to the honey-sounding bottom notes was remarkable to hear. At the end, Manasse won a well-deserved standing ovation, as did the orchestra for their sensitive and delicate accompaniment.
After intermission the Master Chorale of South Florida and four soloists joined the orchestra for the Requiem (in D minor, K. 626). Milos Forman’s film Amadeus ends with Mozart’s body being tipped into a pauper’s grave, which is not true. His fellow Freemasons would not have allowed this to happen.
The four soloists — Robyn Marie Lamp, Robynne Redmon, Jason Ferrante and Richard Ollersaba — were note-perfect. But this is a choral work, and the Master Chorale of South Florida was excellent throughout. Kudos must go to Schwarz for leading a superb rendition; no theatrics, just a beautifully understated, peaceful performance that honored Mozart’s tribute to eternal rest. Before anyone could applaud, Schwarz led straight into the fourth and last work, the motet Ave verum corpus (K. 618).
This was a brilliant stroke. Mozart would have approved its use in his Requiem as would Franz Xaver Sussmayr, student composition pupil of Mozart’s, hired by his wife, Constanze, to complete the orchestrations left unfinished. Thus she was able to collect the last promised half of the considerable fee agreed to with Count Franz von Walsegg-Stupach, who commissioned the work, allowing her to get on with her life. She was supporting their sixth child, 4-month-old Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, who became a teacher of music, and his older brother by seven years, Karl Thomas, who worked for the Austrian government.
Constanze remarried in 1809. Her second husband was the Danish diplomat, Georg Nikolaus von Nissen. He wrote the first biography of Mozart, which was published in 1828. Constanze ended up surviving her first husband by 51 years, dying at age 80 in 1842.