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Music Notes: finishing the works that Mozart started



How does a British mathematics professor at Cambridge University become internationally renowned and respected as a Mozart scholar? "Rather by chance," says Richard Maunder, who's in Chicago this week in connection with the local premiere of his new edition of Mozart's unfinished C Minor Mass (K. 427, the "Great").

Maunder has long been fascinated by the problems of Mozart's last work, the Requiem (K. 626), which was incomplete and shrouded in mystery at the time of his death. The Requiem had been commissioned anonymously by the eccentric Count Walsegg (hence the famous "gray messenger"--Walsegg's attorney), who fancied himself a composer and who routinely hired "ghost" composers to write music that he would pass off as his own. When Mozart died unexpectedly in the middle of composing the Requiem, his widow, who wanted final payment for the work to be made, enlisted one composer after another to complete the manuscript. None was successful, and with nowhere else to turn, she gave the piece to Franz Xaver Sussmayr, an untalented student of Mozart's who fabricated the legend about having been at the master's side for weeks before his death, helping him with the Requiem and learning all of his intentions for its unfinished sections. "It's all rubbish," says Maunder. "Mozart couldn't stand the fellow."

Maunder contends that the Sussmayr sections are "so familiar to our ears as to weaken our objectivity as to their actual quality. There is little connection to Mozart, however. They are full of consecutive fifths and musical incompetence on literally every level. To believe that this is actually Mozart would be like claiming that prose full of grammatical errors and cuss words is authentic Shakespeare or Jane Austen."

Maunder's first stage in his deconstruction process was to determine how much of the Requiem was genuine Mozart and how much wasn't. "When large chunks of it began to fall away I thought, 'Someone really ought to make a new performing version of the piece taking all of this into account.' Sometime after that I thought, 'Why not have a go at it myself?'"

By fortunate coincidence Cambridge also happens to be home to Academy of Ancient Music founder and conductor Christopher Hogwood. "I suppose we had known each other on and off for a number of years, coming across each other now and then. One day I happened to mention that I was working on a new edition of the Requiem. 'Oh, that's interesting,' he said. 'We've been wondering how to go about doing a version of it without all of those awful Sussmayr additions.' He carefully looked it over, liked it, performed it a few times, and then recorded it." That best-selling recording, released by chance at the time of the Amadeus mania, served to make the Maunder edition widely known, respected, and performed.

One of its enthusiastic supporters was the City Musick's Elaine Scott Banks, who contacted Maunder about performing the edition in Chicago. The two met in Cambridge in 1986, and Banks invited Maunder to come to Chicago in 1987 for the edition's American premiere on period instruments.

As a result of the Requiem's success, Hogwood and his recording company commissioned Maunder to edit another famous work of Mozart's that was also left unfinished, the C Minor Mass. "The mass was composed as a thanksgiving for Mozart's marriage, and was performed once incomplete and never completed. A 1901 edition by Schmitt tried to complete the two movements of the Credo with earlier Mozart masses--which makes a complete mass of it, but also a complete mess of it by turning it into a hybrid piece. Schmitt also unscrambled the Sanctus and the Hosanna somewhat and realized that they were for eight parts instead of four. But he didn't catch on to the fact that we're really dealing with two four-part choirs who sing the subject and countersubject of the fugue alternately, which is what I have tried to reconstruct.

"There is also the famous 1956 edition by H.C. Robbins Landon, which unfortunately suffers from not having access to the autograph score--one of a large number of Mozart scores that were missing after the Second World War. This one luckily turned up in Krakow, Poland, in the 70s, but too late for that edition. Robbins Landon also did not have access to the famous early copy by an Austrian choirmaster circa 1800 [the Fischer manuscript], and relied exclusively on the Andre print of 1840. Andre's edition is a very good scholarly edition from the autograph score, but there are important bits of information missing. Like Schmitt, he also hadn't realized that the Hosanna fugue was for two four-part choirs rather than one eight-part choir, so there's no unscrambling in that direction. In the first movement of the Credo he didn't add any brass or drums. He just perceived that Mozart's blank 12-stave score was incomplete--and just filled in the strings and winds and left it at that. I think the evidence is quite clear that Mozart intended something much grander than that. I have tried to provide it."

The glorious result of Maunder's blend of careful research and creative scholarship will be the centerpiece of this week's City Musick performances, which will include the Mozart Symphony no. 35 (K. 385, the Haffner) in its rarely heard original version, complete with a "march" movement. Maunder will not be on the sidelines, he'll play in the viola section.

The concerts are Friday night at 8 at the Cathedral of Saint James, 65 E. Huron, and Sunday at 7:30 at Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 1977 Sheridan, in Evanston. Call 642-1766 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gordon Meyer.

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