Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



the untrained ear

the mysteries of mozart

January 28, 2013

the mysteries of mozart

Do you read the Program Notes when you go to concerts? You really should. They provide a wealth of information, and more often than not they help me get a feel for what I’m about to listen to (or what I just heard, depending on when I read them). LACO’s Program Notes are written by Christine Gengaro, and the ones she wrote for the Mozart’s Requiem concert last weekend were particularly riveting. There’s definitely a fantastic story to tell when it comes to Mozart’s Requiem, with more mystery, intrigue and unanswered questions that I ever could have imagined.

I don’t even know where to begin. The Requiem was the piece of music Mozart was working on when he died. It was a commission for Mozart, but Mozart had no idea who commissioned it, because they were anonymous and only dealt with Mozart through a messenger. When Mozart died, he left the work unfinished, and his wife, Constanza, who was depending on the payments from the anonymous benefactor, had to rustle up another composer to finish the work. That composer than had to sort through Mozart’s notes and sketches, trying to piece together Mozart’s intentions. Can you imagine trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle, but only having half the pieces?

It all seems like the beginning of a Dan-Brown-esque novel to me. Imagine it: a plucky musicologist sits down with Mozart’s unfinished notes and realizes that Mozart used a code in his score, and that score reveals a grand plot to assassinate some Grand Duke or Cardinal. But the score is unfinished, so the musicologist must race through Vienna, retracing the steps of the benefactor’s messenger, finding clues along the way, in an attempt to uncover the benefactor before the evil plan is executed. (Any aspiring novelists and screenwriters that want to turn this germ of an idea into a huge best-seller or blockbuster can go for it… we’ll discuss my royalties later!)

LACO’s performance of the Requiem was stunning. It featured the wonderful and dynamic USC Thornton Chamber Singers, as well as four vocal soloists (one of whom I went to college with!). I don’t know a lick of Latin, don’t know a thing about choral music and haven’t a clue about traditional church music, but my lack of education in all of these areas didn’t matter, because you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy a LACO concert. My friend Dan, who is a hotshot trumpet player and can be occasionally seen turning pages for the pianists on the LACO stage, told me that I’d likely recognize part of the Requiem if I’ve seen Amadeus, which I have, and I did.

Dan also explained to me what a basset horn is. I’ve never heard of a basset horn before – in fact, I’ve never seen the word ‘basset’ without ‘hound’ immediately following it – but it’s an old-timey horn that’s similar to a clarinet, and you need two of them if you’re going to perform Mozart’s Requiem.

The other piece that was performed was Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, which sounded lovely, although to be honest it didn’t capture my attention like the Requiem did, probably because the back story of that Symphony isn’t nearly as compelling as the Requiem’s. Sigh. I suppose every piece of music can’t invite my mind to run away with thoughts of cloaked messengers and enigmatic death-bed whispers, but wouldn’t it be fun if they did?

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