Life and death with Mozart

Cover of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's Mozart 250 concert programme, showing multicoloured images of Mozart's portrait.

Last night Jane and I drove down to Edinburgh to hear the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the SCO Chorus performing two of my favourite pieces of music by Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus K618 and Requiem. We left shortly after I arrived home from work, and got back very late, hence no blog post yesterday.

Ave Verum Corpus is a piece that I’ve performed with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain on numerous occasions. But I never tire of it. It always remains for me mystical and magical. And probably other words beginning with ‘m’.

Ave verum Corpus
natum de Maria Virgine:
Vere passum immolatum
in cruce pro homine:
Cujus latus perforatum
unda fluxit et sanguine:
Esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.

Hail true body
born of Virgin Mary:
Truly suffering
in crucifixion for mankind:
From whose wounded side
flowed water and blood:
This we pray:
test us in Death

Last night as I sat in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, listening to the SCO Chorus, memories of NYC courses and old and loved friends came rushing back, that brought a tear or two to my eyes.

The orchestra and chorus were conducted by Andrew Manze. I’m not going to pretend that I knew who he was; anything that I do know is gleaned from the biographical notes in the programme. But what I can say is that I warmed to him immensely during the one moment that he spoke with the audience, following the Ave Verum Corpus, introducting Eybler’s Symphony in D (c.1795).

Manze’s passion and enthusiam for Mozart and his (perhaps) protégé Eybler was infectious. He spoke with such warmth about Eybler, explaining his influence in Vienna following the death of Mozart and later Salieri, and the part he played in shaping the likes of Beethoven and Schubert. He brought their stories alive.

The performance of Symphony in D was, according to Manze, possibly its UK debut, and I loved it. It was a strong and courageous piece, bursting into life from the start, with echoes of the great Mozart (of course!), but also fun and lively.

An interval stood between Eybler and Mozart’s final piece: the mighty Requiem, that defeated him; he died before it was finished. That task was handed over to his student Süssmayr by Mozart’s widow Constanze.

I’m not sure what it is about Mozart’s Requiem (affectionately known around here as “Moz’s Req”) that I love but I do. Perhaps it is that it is a mass setting; perhaps it is the theology of the text; perhaps it is the passion and emotion; perhaps it is all of that; perhaps it is a lot more. But I love it. And last night I loved it also.

The last time I heard this requiem performed live was in St Andrews, in 1991 as part of the 200th anniversary remembrance of Mozart’s death. But then, if I remember correctly, it was set properly within the context of a Eucharist (Mass).

That it was performed in a concert hall, back-to-back, didn’t detract from its magnificence.

In other news: this weekend marks the 5th anniversary of the death of my dear friend Will Reynish. It felt somewhat fitting that I attended the requiem, as I remembered his love and friendship. He’d have loved that I’m back in St Andrews, where he was once a student too.

Communio
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine: Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum: quia pius es. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpectua luceat eis. Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum quia pius es

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord: With thy saints for evermore: for Thou art gracious. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon them: With thy saints for evermore, for Thou art gracious