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  • Writer's pictureRosie J.

Mozart's Requiem - Music Nerd Out

Some of you know that I'm a musician.

Some of you may also know that I used to be a music teacher. I may have mentioned it before.

I've been a choral singer since high school and a classical vocalist since college. I've gotten a chance to sing in many places (the Vatican, Carnegie Hall, the church where the Sound of Music wedding scene was filmed in Austria, Budapest, and Prague...) I've even been able to solo in many of those places.

I've also been a solo acoustic act as well, playing bars and coffee houses. Doing music streams on Twitch.

But the piece that I have loved the most (and also performed the most) is Mozart's Requiem.

If you ever get a chance to hear a live performance, I highly recommend it!

It has been a long week, not gonna lie. Rehearsals three nights in a row. Two nights of performances, but it's all been worth it to sing the Requiem again!

Seflie of Rose from 2014 on stage at Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall Selfie

The last time I sang it was in 2014 in Carnegie Hall under the direction of the

esteemed composer John Rutter. I've been singing his music since high school,

so I was a bit of a fangirl when I got to meet him. I do regret not taking a piece of his music for him to sign, but it is what it is. I still have the pictures!

Rose with composer John Rutter
Rose with composer John Rutter!

When we first started rehearsing the Requiem back in February, it was like returning home. Or getting coffee with an old friend. So familiar. Welcoming. Something I'd rehearsed many times before. I knew it by heart.

Then, after the lovely "Lacrimosa" movement, there came a section that was strangely foreign. It confused me to no end. How could I have sung this work so many times but somehow forgot an entire movement?!

I had missed the first two weeks of Requiem rehearsal because I contracted Covid after our February concert, so I apparently missed the announcement about the version of the Requiem that we were performing.

A quick Google search led me to discover that I wasn't crazy after all! (Well, maybe a little bit.) But I was at least not crazy in regards to feeling like I'd never sung that movement before. Because I hadn't!

If you’re not aware, Mozart died before his Requiem was finished. The version that most choirs perform was completed by Süssmayr, a student of Mozart, with the help of a few others at the time and has long been the accepted completion.

Süssmayr's version is what I'd sung so many times before.

However, in the 1960s, a piece of parchment was discovered, in Mozart’s handwriting, that contained sketches of songs, some recognizable from Mozart’s work (a part from “The Magic Flute” for instance) and a piece of an Amen Fugue that hadn’t yet been published and had no indication of where it belonged.

a digital photo of a yellowed piece of parchment with a music score written on it. The word "Requiem" at the top.

Scholars believe—through complicated musical analysis—that the Amen Fugue belonged in the Requiem, after the Lacrimosa. And an accepted completion by Robert Levin came into existence and premiered in the 1990s. I won’t get into all the details as to why scholars believe this is accurate, but it’s really fascinating stuff. (If you’re into that kind of thing, I encourage a Google search.)

The maestro chose this version because he was a student of Levin’s, so that’s even more fascinating! I love having that tidbit of information for what made him lean towards the Levin completion instead of the well-loved Süssmayr.

As a side note, the KSO maestro is amazing to work with. Often times maestros don’t know how to rehearse singers to get us to do what they want and it falls on the choral conductor to make sure we're ready not just note-wise but also stylistically. The maestros I've worked with also are terrible choral conductors because they conduct instrumentalists. You can never rely on them for any cues or anything! But this maestro is the complete opposite. He obviously has spent his time in a choir and knows when he needs to focus on the choir and support us more and when he needs to focus on the orchestra. This may be the first time I’ve had a choir-only rehearsal with an orchestra maestro. Plus, he respects our time. Whether we're in the middle of a song or not, if rehearsal is over, it's over. He's younger than any maestro I've worked with before--very young for his position--so that could play into the difference as well. It's been very refreshing to work with him on this and on Handel's Messiah that we sang at Thanksgiving.

Full orchestra, choir, soloists, and conductor on a stage
KSO, KCS, and soloists

Back to the Requiem. I’m excited to sing this newer take on a familiar work. I've actually become quite smitten with it, as the "Amen Fugue" addition has been stuck in my head for most of the last two weeks. At first, I was so jarred by the change that I wasn't sure what to think about it. But now, I really do love it. And it's going to be weird when I sing the Requiem again in the future, as I'm sure I'll do, and end up going back to the Süssmayr version.

Outside marquee of the Tennessee Theatre with Knoxville in background. Marquee reads Mozart Requiem

It's also cool to think about all the audience members who will get to rediscover Mozart this way, through this different version, and those who will probably hear this completion as their first Requiem experience (my partner for one). I would be interested to know if anyone in the audience realizes the difference!

Other than the addition of the "Amen Fugue" after the "Lacrimos" the work is largely unchanged (in the choral section at least). The Fugue is a notable difference. There are some other instrumental changes that I've read about, some I have noticed, and brief choral changes in other sections, but nothing as drastic as the addition of an entirely new movement.

While this edition is supported by scholarship, it goes to show that sometimes deviations from the accepted version of something is okay! And whether or not we're initially unsure about the new thing, we should give it a chance, and we might eventually come to love it!

Anyway, that’s enough of my music nerd showing through for the day. Here's a picture from the stage at the Tennessee Theatre! It's so cool to perform in some of these places and think about all the amazing performers who have been here before! Just getting to set foot on a stage that has been graced by so many and for so many years is super inspiring.

Like the cast of the Angelica Tour of Hamilton that was here earlier in the year!

Also, my wonderful partner came to the performance on Friday night. It was his first full orchestra/choir experience, and he loved it! It was a little bittersweet for me that I didn't get to be sitting with him in the audience during his first orchestral performance to see his reaction in real-time, but he sent me texts between pieces and at intermission to let me know he was thoroughly enjoying himself and to tell me how awesome everything sounded! We've listened to the Requiem since then as well, so he could remember what his favorite piece was. He determined it was the "Domine Jesu."

I was also thankful to get to see my dear friend who came to see me perform on Thursday! We met through writing Twitter many years ago and eventually discovered we lived near each other! So grateful for her support through the years! And it was good to see her and her hubs again!

Thanks for stopping by and letting my nerd out about music for a post! I had a great--but tiring--week rehearsing and performing this amazing piece again.

In other news, I'll be doing a music stream sometime in May! So watch out for that announcement!

Let me know in the comments about your favorite piece of music! Have you ever heard Mozart's Requiem? Did you know about the different completions? I'd love to know!

For now,

Rosie J.

an outline of a rose in bloom

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