Overture to “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute), K. 620
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Duration: seven minutes
Mozart wrote his last great opera not for an ornate hall filled with the aristocracy and illustrious guests, but for what was described as “not much better than a wooden shack,” located in a suburb of Vienna. Emanuel Schikaneder, a flamboyant impresario, dramatist, actor, singer, and composer, was the director of the Theater auf der Wieden. Mozart’s great biographer, Alfred Einstein, explained Shikaneder’s popularity among the commoners: “His successes were not always attained by the loftiest means in the art of the theater, for Schikaneder was fond of mechanical contrivances, extravagant decorations, brilliant settings, mass-scenes, thunder and lightning, and graves and ghosts, and was always ready to cater to the coarsest desires of his public.” He also described him as a “happy-go-lucky comedian, a spendthrift, and a petticoat-chaser.” In short, just the sort of man that Mozart loved to befriend. In addition, both men were Masons.
In the spring of 1791, Schikaneder’s theater was in financial trouble. He approached Mozart with the idea that a new opera, “something the public would like,” would solve all its problems. Schikaneder would provide the libretto, and Mozart should, “to a certain point consult the taste of connoisseurs, and your own glory; but have a particular regard to that class of persons who are not judges of good music.” Mozart started writing the opera in May. It was almost complete by July, when he took some time off to go to Prague and work on La Clemenza di Tito for the coronation of Emperor Leopold. The Magic Flute premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791. Schikaneder’s libretto, in the words of Marcia Davenport, “is absurd. Its combination of morals and magic, Freemasonry and fairy-tale, allegory and doggerel is laughable.” The music contains everything we love about Mozart, whether we are “good judges of music,” or not.
As was typical for Mozart, he wrote the overture to the opera at the last minute. The only music in the overture that gets carried over into the opera are the three solemn chords that begin it and then interrupt it in the middle. (Those three chords have some sort of significance in Masonic ritual.) They frame a brilliant and lively fugue, an indication of the fun that ensues in the drama.
© 2012 John Varineau
Prayers of Rain and Wind
John B Hedges (1974―)
Duration: 15 minutes
“When the orchestra asked me to perform a concerto, I could have played one of the three or four concertos that have been written for the bass.” Those were the words of Joseph Conyers when he premiered Prayers of Rain and Wind in 2008 with the Grand Rapids Symphony. “Instead, why not ask one of my friends to write a concerto for me? Then I immediately thought of my friend, John B. Hedges.”
John B Hedges was born in 1974 in Wilmington, Delaware. The son of a rock musician, he began studying classical music at the University of Pennsylvania, received his M.M. from Westminster Choir College and then completed post-graduate studies at the Curtis Institute of Music . The Fort Worth Symphony recently named him composer in residence. “Anyone who knows anything at all about Joseph Conyers knows that he is a weather freak,” John B. Hedges says about his friend. “I really wanted to tailor this concerto to him so weather was the first step.” He continues with these comments about Prayers of and Wind and Rain:
I composed the piece on material ranging from Brahms’s first violin sonata, jazz, French orchestral music, and church hymns. The work unfolds during the three movements to reveal connections between the materials, reflecting the complex musical biography of a musician such as Conyers. The other aspect of this piece is that each movement is a prayer.
The first movement, Summer Rain (Fantasia), evokes an oppressively humid east-coast summer day―Savannah in July, or Philadelphia for that matter―where the only respite from the heat could come from a cool afternoon rain. The second movement is an instrumental imagining of a lined hymn as sung in many Southern African-American church traditions. The congregation, or orchestra here, follows the leader, in this case the solo bass, improvising the hymn and humming underneath the prayer (cadenza). A hurricane serves as the inspiration of the final movement, Stormwinds (Scherzo), whose winds are both terrifyingly violent and thrilling. The eye of the storm gives way to a final prayer (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”―a favorite of Joe’s mother) and cadenza to pick up the pieces. As the storm returns, the fear of nature yields to a celebration of being alive.
© 2012 John Varineau and John B Hedges
Requiem, K. 626
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Movements: Fifteen grouped into six sections
Duration: 55 minutes
In July 1791, just five months before his death, Mozart received a mysterious letter. It complimented him lavishly for his skill as a composer and informed him he would receive a visitor with a proposal on the following day. Mozart described the visitor as “an unknown, grey stranger.” The proposal was a hefty commission for a Requiem Mass. Though the visit disturbed Mozart, he needed the money, so he consented. However, he was currently finishing The Magic Flute, and had just received a commission to compose La Clemenza di Tito, so the Requiem had to wait.
By the time he got started on the Requiem, Mozart was seriously ill. Confined to his bed and subjected to unrelenting “bleedings,” Mozart became obsessed with the piece, referring to it as his “swan song.” “I cannot remove from my mind the image of the stranger,” he wrote. “I see him continually. He begs me, exhorts me, and then commands me to work. I continue, because composition fatigues me less than rest. I am at the point of death. . . . I must, therefore, finish my funeral song, which I must not leave incomplete.”
Mozart lived long enough to complete only the first two sections of the work. He also wrote the remaining voice parts and the bass line – with indications for the orchestration – up through the “Hostias.” His wife Constanze, burdened with debt and worried she would lose the commission, enlisted the help of Joseph Eybler to complete the score. Eybler did what he could, but got stuck after the “Hostias.” Eventually, Mozart’s student Franz Xavier Süssmayr completed the piece following the composer’s instructions, (and including some of his own music) and recopied it in his own hand.
The stranger was Count Franz von Walsegg, whose wife had just died. He had some musical talent, but also had a reputation for commissioning works and then passing them off as his own. He tried the same with Mozart’s Requiem and premiered it in 1793. Years later, Constanze persuaded the Count to disclose its true author. However, questions remain. How much did Mozart really write? What is Mozart’s music and what is Eybler’s or Süssmayr’s? As a result, there are several different scholarly versions of Mozart’s Requiem. Tonight, you’ll be hearing Süssmayr’s version. Regardless of the edition, the Requiem is the crowning conclusion and tribute to Mozart’s life and art. It continues to move and astound us with its sublime beauty.
© 2012 John Varineau
Joseph Conyers and John B Hedges Masterclass Schedule
Each season, the Richmond Symphony hosts a number of masterclasses, workshops and demonstrations with Richmond Symphony musicians, guest artists and visiting composers. These interactive sessions provide students the opportunity to learn from (and sometimes perform for) world-class artists. These sessions are scheduled throughout the season and are open to the public. Click here for a schedule of events featuring Joseph Conyers and John B Hedges.
The Residency of John B Hedges is made possible through Music Alive: New Partnerships, a residency program of the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA. This national program is designed to establish new relationships between composers and orchestras, and to help orchestras present new music to the public and build support for new music within their institutions. Leadership funding for Music Alive is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and The ASCAP Foundation.