Death + Remembrance
Saturday, March 15, 2014 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor
Mark Salman, piano
Lindsay Ohse, soprano
Melissa Plagemann, mezzo-soprano
Zach Finkelstein, tenor
Stephen Fish, bass-baritone
Samuel Jones (*1935)
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
About the Concert
Samuel Jones composed his Elegy for string orchestra over the course of four days in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, encapsulating the grief and shock that swept the nation in reaction to a president’s death 50 years ago.
Liszt’s Totentanz (“Dance of the Dead”) consists of a set of variations on the Dies irae melody that has haunted so many composers, including Berlioz and Rachmaninov. For what may be Liszt’s most dramatic work for piano and orchestra, we welcome back Mark Salman, a frequent collaborator with Orchestra Seattle over the past two decades and a renowned interpreter of Liszt’s music.
The circumstances surrounding the genesis of Mozart’s Requiem remain shrouded in mystery: Count Franz von Walsegg anonymously commissioned the work in remembrance of his late wife, but in actuality may have been hoping to pass the work off as his own. As the composer struggled to complete the work on his deathbed, according to his wife Constanze, he felt as if he were writing his own funeral mass. Although Mozart’s untimely death at age 35 prevented him from finishing the Requiem, it has nevertheless become the composer’s best-loved choral work.
About the Soloists
Pianist Mark Salman has been hailed as a “heroic virtuoso,” his performances described as “powerful,” “astonishing, exacting and evocative,” “dramatic,” “wildly imaginative” and “touchingly lyrical.” Of his interpretation of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, one authority stated, “there are probably only five or six pianists in the world who can play [it] as perfectly.”
Mr. Salman’s performances have taken him to Europe, Asia, Canada and throughout the United States. He has performed in Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, been the subject of profiles in The New York Times, and been featured on numerous broadcasts in the U.S. and China. His account of his meetings with and playing for Vladimir Horowitz appears in David Dubal’s book Evenings with Horowitz. Mr. Salman is a co-founder of the Delmarva Piano Festival in Delaware. Recent performances have included his debut at the Newport Music Festival, an eight-recital series devoted to the works of Liszt, three recitals featuring Schubert’s final three sonatas, a complete cycle of Beethoven’s five concertos and Choral Fantasy with Orchestra Seattle, three recitals celebrating the Chopin bicentennial, and five recitals in honor of Liszt’s 200th birthday.
Mark Salman is regularly heard as a concerto soloist with northwest orchestras, including Orchestra Seattle, Auburn Symphony, Bellevue Philharmonic, Cascade Symphony, Federal Way Symphony and Northwest Sinfonietta. As a chamber musician, he appears regularly with Simple Measures. Mr. Salman’s recordings include Schubert Late Sonatas (his newest release), two all-Chopin CDs, two Mozart piano concertos with Northwest Sinfonietta, The Transcendental Piano (featuring works by Alkan, Beethoven and Liszt), two DVDs in the series Beethoven and His 32 Piano Sonatas—A Musical Universe, and American Interweave, featuring contemporary works for cello and piano.
Mark Salman is a native of Connecticut, where he began his studies at the age of eight and made his recital debut at 11. A graduate of the Juilliard School, he studied with Richard Fabre and Josef Raieff. He previously attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for two years, where he concentrated on chamber music and composition, studying with noted composer John Harbison. Mr. Salman is a Steinway artist. Learn more: marksalman.net
With a voice described as “dazzling and crystal clear,” soprano Lindsay Ohse began the 2013–2014 season debuting the role of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at Opera Southwest, with critics remarking that her “singing carries an ardent sensuality, even turning vocal ornamentation into characterization.” She then starred in the East Coast premiere of Kirk Mechem’s The Rivals with Bronx Opera, where “her voice soared over the orchestra” and she “inhabited her role with charm and gusto.” Winner of the 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Oregon District Auditions, Ms. Ohse recently finished a residency with Portland Opera, where she sang Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo, Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro and the leading role in Philip Glass’ Galileo Galilei. Learn more: lindsayohse.com
Mezzo-soprano Melissa Plagemann has been praised by audiences and the press for her “clear, burnished voice” (Tacoma News Tribune) and “attractively expressive mezzo” (Crosscut Seattle). She performs frequently with the finest musical organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest, and is rapidly becoming known for the passion and musical intelligence she brings to performances on opera and concert stages alike. A first-prize winner in competitions of the Ladies’ Musical Club, the Seattle Musical Art Society and the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Ms. Plagemann holds degrees from the University of Victoria and Indiana University. Learn more: northwestartists.org
Hailed by The New York Times as a “compelling tenor,” Zach Finkelstein made his New York City Opera debut in April 2013 in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto. In the five years since he left a political consulting career, Mr. Finkelstein has performed as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, Sadler’s Wells, Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music and New York City Center. This season he tours Satie’s Socrates—“beautifully sung” (Daily Telegraph)—and Beethoven’s The Muir with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and will sing Damon in their coast-to-coast tour of Acis and Galatea with Nicholas McGegan conducting the Philharmonia Baroque and the Handel and Haydn Society. He makes his Seattle Symphony debut in October 2014 singing Mozart’s Requiem. Learn more: zachfinkelstein.com
Bass-baritone Stephen Fish holds degrees from the University of Northern Iowa and University of Missouri-Kansas City and has participated in apprenticeship programs with Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, Des Moines Metro Opera, Chautauqua Opera and Lyric Opera of Kansas City. He has performed as the Big Bad Wolf in Into the Woods, John Proctor in The Crucible and Uberto in La Serva Padrona, in addition to roles in Tosca, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Salome, H.M.S. Pinafore and Rigoletto. Recent engagements include the roles of Zuniga in Carmen and Montano in Otello with Sarasota Opera, and the Mandarin in Turandot with Lyric Opera of Kansas City. This season he made his Seattle Opera debut as the corporal in Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment.
Samuel Leander Jones was born June 2, 1935, in Inverness, Mississippi, and currently resides in Auburn. He composed this work for string orchestra in the days just prior to its premiere, on December 8, 1963, at which he conducted the Saginaw Symphony.
Northwest audiences know Samuel Jones because of his role as composer-in-residence for the Seattle Symphony from 1997 through 2011. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Jones studied conducting with William Steinberg and composition with Howard Hanson, Wayne Barlow and Bernard Rogers. He subsequently joined the faculty at Michigan’s Alma College, later serving as music advisor to Michigan’s Flint Symphony and conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic before becoming the founding dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in 1973. His numerous compositions include three symphonies, several concertos (three of them written for brass principals of the Seattle Symphony), an opera (A Christmas Memory), an oratorio and many chamber works.
In November 1963, at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Jones was resident conductor of the Saginaw Symphony, preparing the ensemble for a performance of Handel’s Messiah. In response to that tragedy, he composed—over the course of a mere four days—a brief work for string orchestra. “I shared the emotional shock and sorrow over the president’s murder,” Jones told the Associated Press. “The music came to me quickly, nearly spontaneously.” Barely two weeks after the tragedy, his Elegy: In Memory of J.F.K. 1917–1963 (as it was first titled) preceded the Saginaw Symphony’s presentation of Messiah, without prior notice, to a capacity audience still mourning the nation’s terrible loss. “I did not permit advance announcement,” the composer stated, “because this is a tribute, a sincere expression, and I did not want it reduced to a gimmick attraction.” An AP writer called the Elegy “[a]n uncomplicated work. It expresses the sadness of death and the loss of a national leader, but sustains dignity and control throughout.”
The notes for Jones’ 1975 Houston Symphony recording of the Elegy report that “[d]uring the years since the Kennedy tragedy conductors have turned to this work on numerous occasions both for concert performances as well as to mark the passing of notable public figures. The work is simply and deeply expressive of the the anguish one feels at the loss of a loved one.”
Totentanz, S. 126
Liszt was born October 22, 1811, in Raiding, Hungary, and died July 31, 1886, at Bayreuth, Germany. He began sketching Totentanz around 1839, but did not complete a first version until 1849, revising it in 1853 and 1859, and finally publishing it in 1865. Hans von Bülow, to whom Liszt dedicated the work, was the soloist in the April 15, 1865, premiere with the Diligentia Musical Society of The Hague, conducted by Johannes Verhulst. Along with solo piano, the work calls for pairs of woodwinds (plus piccolo), horns and trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, gong and strings.
In stark contrast to the four days Samuel Jones needed to write the opening work on this program, Franz Liszt’s Totentanz evolved over parts of four decades, from 1839 (just before the pianist-composer launched eight years of touring that would cement his fame as a keyboard virtuoso) to 1865.
While visiting Italy in February 1839, Liszt noted in his journal: “If I feel within me the strength of life, I will attempt a symphonic composition based on Dante, then another on Faust—within three years’ time—meanwhile, I will make three ‘sketches’: The Triumph of Death (Orcagna), The Comedy of Death (Holbein), and a Fragment Dantesque. Il Pensieroso bewitches me as well.” The first two ideas evolved into his Dante and Faust symphonies and the latter two became movements in his Années de pèlerinage for solo piano, while the central two merged into the Totentanz (“Dance of Death”), inspired by a fresco attributed to the 14th-century Florentine artist Andrea Orcagna and sketches made by the 16th-century German artist Hans Holbein the Younger.
Totentanz consists of a set of variations on the “Dies irae,” a medieval plainchant melody associated with the 13th-century Latin hymn that became part of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. (You will hear those words sung to different music on the second part of this evening’s program.) Hector Berlioz had famously used the “Dies irae” melody in the fifth movement of his Symphonie Fantastique (which Liszt had transcribed for solo piano in 1833) and many other composers have since interpolated it into their music (most notably Sergei Rachmaninov).
Trombones and low woodwinds announce the “Dies irae” theme over a pounding accompaniment from timpani and solo piano. After a cadenza-like episode and a restatement of the theme from full orchestra, Liszt launches into the first of five variations denoted in the score, this one introduced by bassoons and violas. The second variation features solo horn against piano figurations and pizzicato strings, while the third transitions from duple meter to brisk 3/4 time. The pianist presents the slow fourth variation alone (with a brief assist from solo clarinet), leading to the fast fugato fifth variation. After a lengthy cadenza, an extended coda incorporates several more variations on the theme.
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
Joannes Chrisostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756, and died on December 5, 1791, in Vienna. He started calling himself “Wolfgango Amadeo” around 1770 and “Wolfgang Amadè” in 1777. He began composing this Requiem in late July or early August 1791 and continued working on it until mere days before his death. The first performance of the “Requiem aeternum” and “Kyrie” occurred at a funeral mass on December 10, 1791. The first performance of the entire work—in a version completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr— likely took place in Vienna on January 2, 1793. In addition to chorus and SATB vocal soloists, the work requires 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, organ and strings.
His first biographer, Frantiek Xaver Němeek, wrote that “there was nothing special about [his] physique. He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius.” This slight, fair-haired figure with a smallpox-pitted complexion mastered every musical medium of his day and so might be considered the most “universal” composer inWestern music history.
By age three, Mozart had already begun to display extraordinary musical gifts, and by age six he was a composer, violinist and virtuoso on the clavier who had performed before the Bavarian elector and the Austrian empress. Mozart’s father, Leopold, therefore decided that it might be advantageous to exhibit to a wider audience the prodigious talents of his son and daughter (Maria Anna, known as “Nannerl,” who was also a gifted keyboard player). Thus, in mid-1763, when Nannerl was 12 and Wolfgang seven, the family set out on a grand European musical tour. The children were to spend much of their childhood traveling by coach from court to court, as the young Mozart astonished his audiences with his incredible musical skills.
While Mozart was certainly blessed with musical genius, he was not favored with robust health, suffering from streptococcal respiratory infections, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, tonsillitis, sinusitis, smallpox, frostbite, bronchitis, dental abscesses, and possibly viral hepatitis. Just before his tenth birthday, while in The Hague, the child became dangerously ill, probably with typhoid fever. Thus his survival for not quite 36 years, as short as that time period seems, is rather miraculous!
Mozart spent most of the years 1774–1781 in his hometown of Salzburg, where he became increasingly discontented because of his inability to find a rewarding musical position. His relationship with his patron, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, was stormy, and in 1781 he resigned his post and went to Vienna, where he hoped his musical fortunes would improve. He made his living during the following years by teaching, publishing his music, playing at patrons’ houses or in public, and composing on commission (particularly operas). He finally obtained a minor court post it 1787 that provided him with a reasonable salary, but did not put his astounding musical gifts to good use, requiring of him nothing beyond the writing of dances for court balls.
In August 1782, three and a half years after a young soprano, Aloysia Weber, refused Mozart’s marriage proposal, the 26-year-old composer married her younger sister, 20-year-old Constanze. During the eight years between June 1783 and July 1791, the couple had six children, but suffered the loss of four; Mozart was granted little time to know his two remaining sons, aged four months and seven years when their father died.
Mozart spent his last years in Vienna under growing financial stress. By musicians’ standards, he earned a good income, but he incurred considerable debt, about which he became anxious. Late in November 1791, he became seriously ill and was bedridden for the last two weeks of his life. Death finally snatched him shortly after midnight on December 5, less than two months before his 36th birthday.
The official cause of his death was listed as “acute miliary fever” (“hitziges Friesel Fieber” or “prickly heat,” characterized by a fever and a millet-like rash), but the physicians who attended him never were quite certain. Many other contributors to his demise have been proposed over the years, such as trichinosis, influenza, mercury poisoning, chronic kidney disease or acute rheumatic fever. The circumstances surrounding his untimely death soon gave rise to a number of myths and legends involving poisoning. Gossip about Mozart’s involvement with various women during his last years also began to circulate. Did composer Antonio Salieri or a jealous husband of one of Mozart’s piano pupils commit murder? Scholars now generally agree that Mozart’s death was not the result of foul play, but we may never know exactly how and why he met his early end. His body was interred in a commoner’s grave at the St. Marx cemetery outside Vienna, as was customary at the time. Salieri, Franz Xaver Süssmayr (one of Mozart’s students), Baron Gottfried van Swieten (a patron and friend), and two other musicians are said to have been present at his burial.
About three months before his death, Mozart wrote to Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of his most popular Italian operas: “I know from what I suffer that the hour has come. I am at the point of death. I have come to the end without having had the enjoyment of my talent. Life was indeed so beautiful, my career began under such fortunate auspices; but one cannot change one’s own destiny. No one can measure his own days, one must resign oneself, it will be as Providence wills. And so I finish my death-song; I must not leave it incomplete.”
Mozart did, in fact, leave his last work, his Requiem (a setting of the Mass for the Dead in which the departed are remembered and commended to God’s care), unfinished, and the mysteries surrounding the composition and completion of the work remain unsolved. Scholars are quite sure that the work was commissioned in July of 1791 by Count Walsegg-Stuppach as a memorial to his recently deceased wife. Walsegg delivered his commission via an emissary in order to remain anonymous—probably because he intended to pass off the composition as his own. (According to legend, Mozart came to consider this mysterious emissary, whose identity was also concealed, as the herald of his own death, but Mozart’s cheerful letters from this period provide evidence to the contrary.) The watermarks on Mozart’s manuscript show that much of his work on the Requiem came after his return from Prague during September 1791, but it is clear that he was working on it when he was stricken with his final illness. Based on analyses of the 99 extant sheets of paper, the ink used and the handwriting in the score (along with stylistic considerations), scholars are quite certain that Mozart completed and scored the Introitus (Requiem Aeternam) and Kyrie movements and probably sketched the voice parts and continuo (organ and bass) lines of the six-section Sequentia and the two-section Offertorium.
Following her husband’s death, Constanze Mozart needed money and wanted the Requiem to be completed so that she could deliver a score and receive the remaining portion of the commission money. A Mozart protégé, Joseph Eybler, therefore finished some of the orchestration but soon abandoned the project. Constanze then gave the score and—supposedly—some related scraps of paper to the 25-year-old Süssmayr, who constructed the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei based on Mozart’s verbal instructions and notes. He then added the concluding Communio (Lux Aeterna and Cum Sanctis Tuis), by adapting the music of the Introitus and Kyrie to the text with which the Requiem Mass concludes, and finished the orchestration. This completed version of the work attributed to Süssmayr, which has gained and maintained general favor, is what you will hear this evening. Despite some unevenness in its quality, the Requiem has held its position as a masterpiece for over two centuries, having been performed to honor the memory of such notables as Joseph Haydn, Napoleon I, Frédéric Chopin and John F. Kennedy. On September 11, 2002, musical organizations in over 24 countries around the globe—including OSSCS—performed the work as part of the Rolling Requiem Project.
The often-imitative Introitus leads immediately into the Kyrie, which features a Baroque-style double fugue (a contrapuntal work based on two different themes, one to which Mozart sets the “Kyrie eleison” text, the other accompanying the text of “Christe eleison”) in contrast with the dramatic operatic opening outcries of the Dies Irae. A lone trombone, soon joined by the “wondrous trumpet sound” of the bass, opens the Tuba Mirum, its concluding solo quartet yielding to the majestic and solemn Rex Tremendae, which is marked by strongly dotted rhythms that lead to echoing pleas for salvation. The ensuing Recordare quartet displays the beautiful combination of the erudite German and sweetly melodic Italian musical elements that make Mozart’s style so memorable. The Confutatis is characterized by agitated strings and canonic writing for the lower voices that confound the condemned, alternating with the gently undulating string figurations that accompany the angelic upper voices’ pleas to be joined with the blessed.
After the tearfully hesitating Lacrimosa, of which only the opening eight measures were written by Mozart, comes the Offertorium, consisting of two sections: the largely contrapuntal Domine Jesu presents a jagged imitative passage that plunges the voices into the darkness of the abyss and then restores them to the holy light shone upon them by a brief solo quartet; the graceful, waltz-like, homophonic Hostias offers the solace of the light and life promised to the departed and to Abraham, as the affirming imitative counterpoint that closes the Domine Jesu returns at its conclusion. The exuberant contrapuntal Hosanna that follows the brief but grand Sanctus reappears after the blessing of the solo quartet’s elegant Benedictus, after which the chordal Agnus Dei grants to the departed eternal rest. The Communio sheds everlasting light upon them in the Lux Aeterna and joins them with the eternal saints in the Cum Sanctis Tuis, bringing back the music of the Requiem’s two opening movements to conclude a work about which Beethoven is said to have commented, “If Mozart did not write the music, then the man who wrote it was a Mozart.