The name ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’ has become commonplace in our music lexicon, helped in great part by songs like “Turkish March” and “The Magic Flute,” and, of course, the groundbreaking biopic, Amadeus.
But if you haven’t looked at the man from Georg Friedrich Haas’ point-of-view, chances are you don’t have the full picture. On October 27, NYC will get the famed Austrian composer’s take on the work of the legend in Seven Soundspaces of Mozart’s Requiem, courtesy of Michel Galante. Visitors will get a rare glimpse of Mozart’s brief yet tormented life amid St. Bart’s Episcopal Church’s breathtaking environs.
“Mozart was wildly famous, but he was in a very bad place,” said Galante, the director of The Argento Chamber Ensemble. “He had a terrible drinking problem and upset a lot of people who supported him.”
Among Mozart’s unfinished works was Requiem, K. 626: one of the 18th century’s most highly-regarded masses for the deceased that, given the composer’s reputation, was published under Commissioner Count Franz von Walsegg’s name instead.
As only two complete movements were achieved before the composer’s death, Galante stated that a “band aid solution” was applied by Mozart’s students, including Franz Xavier Sussmayr, so that the piece could be performed.
“There’s no consolation in the form of other people’s completions,” said Galante. “You get the feeling that someone didn’t get the chance to say everything they wanted to say.” With a mix of orchestration, spoken word and choral music, he will lead a performance of Haas’ Sieben Klangräume (Seven Soundspaces), in showcasing Requiem in its originality, linked with a refreshingly contemporary performance.
The key ingredient: two letters exchanged in 1791 between Mozart and the city of Vienna.
Galante explained, “[Mozart] noticed there was a church with a Kapellmeister who was aging … and he [wrote] a letter … saying, ‘I’d be very interested; in fact I would even volunteer to work at this church for free if you would just consider that when he retires, you might think of hiring me.’”
Mozart was granted his wish, but on humiliating terms: no pay and the assumption of all liabilities. Used as a text, the letters will be performed in tandem with the music, giving listeners an opportunity to meditate on his personal and professional hardships to gain a better understanding of his work.
“We don’t really know what Mozart was ultimately going to say about death. We can’t give a representation of [that] because we don’t know what he wanted,” said Galante. “But what makes [Soundspaces] unique is that we have a contemporary composer (Haas) taking you by the hand from one statement to another.”
A 21st century feature that concert-goers will be privy to is the Shepard Tone, an eerie sonic head-trip that’s perfectly fitting for the subject matter: “Haas uses this sound with continuity; it never actually arrives anywhere,” said Galante.
The venue for the concert is a statement unto itself on the juxtaposition of the old with the new. “We’re right here smack in the middle of Midtown,” stated Galante. “Presenting this work here at St. Bart’s Church encourages a deeper state of listening and contemplation for the listener.”
Haas first came to New York in 2009 to present the American premiere of In Vain with the Argento Chamber Ensemble: an aesthetic rollercoaster of a masterpiece which kept both musicians and audiences in complete darkness for 15 minutes. He will be moving here next year to become Professor of Composition at Columbia, joining in the tradition of fellow Europeans Mahler, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who became part of the fabric of our musical history upon coming to live in the United States.
“I’m very interested in bringing something new to the world of music,” said Galante. “As a composer, the thing I value the most is something that I’ve never heard before. The best thing is when I’m in a situation where people are excited about a new art form.”