Apollo (Apollo musagète)
Born in Oranienbaum, Russia, June 17, 1882; died in New York City, April 6, 1971
“In classical dancing, I see the triumph of studied conception over vagueness, of the rule over the arbitrary, of order over the haphazard. … I see in it the perfect expression of the Apollonian principle.”
In the 1920s, Igor Stravinsky's love for the Baroque and Classical musical styles of the late-17th and 18th centuries inspired a series of compositions that have been labelled "Neo-Classical," though that was a term the composer personally disliked. Musically, they were the complete opposite of the bold, descriptive, and sumptuously scored large-orchestra works that had first won him fame a decade earlier: The Firebird, Petrouchka, and The Rite of Spring. But since that period, Stravinsky's life had been turned upside down by World War I and the Russian Revolution. He was now a permanent exile from his native Russia and had become a cosmopolitan citizen of Europe with no true musical home. And like many post-war composers, he was sick of the lush sounds and subjective emotions of Romanticism.
Now Stravinsky devoted himself to a purer, more disciplined aesthetic, creating music following classical forms and scored often for reduced ensembles. His harmonic language also became more tonal and consonant, though it was still spiked with sounds no 18th-century composer would have dreamed of. And no work epitomizes his neo-Classical ideals more fully than does his beautiful ballet Apollo (originally called Apollo musagète or “Apollo and the Muses”), composed in 1927 and 1928 on a commission from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with funding from the generous Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (who supported so many 20th-century masterpieces).
A particularly felicitous subject for a born-again classicist, Apollo is an abstract or plotless ballet about the Greek god of the sun, who was also associated with intellectual pursuits and music. Indeed, today we use the term “Apollonian” to refer to artistic products that are “harmonious, measured, ordered, or balanced in character” (Webster’s Dictionary). This is in contrast to the Dionysian principle, named for Apollo’s half-brother Dionysius, god of wine: works that are “frenzied or orgiastic in character,” Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring being a prime example of this aesthetic. Here, Apollo is surrounded by three of the nine classical Muses: Calliope, chief of the Muses and representing epic poetry; Polyhymnia, representing sacred song and oratory; and Terpsichore, representing dance and choral song.
That only three of the nine Muses accompany Apollo in this ballet is due to the circumstances of its commission. The Library of Congress had recently opened a concert hall, but its size was modest and its stage even more so. A tiny orchestra pit for around 20 musicians was available; thus, Stravinsky chose to score Apollo for a chamber orchestra of strings alone (which, nevertheless, fit his Classical aesthetic perfectly). Simultaneously, the composer was working with Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, who had premiered his Firebird, Petrouchka, and Rite of Spring, for a European production of Apollo, choreographed by the young George Balanchine. The Library of Congress premiered Apollo on April 27, 1928, but the European production in Paris on June 12, 1928, conducted by Stravinsky, was a more glittering affair and established Apollo firmly in the ballet repertoire. Balanchine was to revive it frequently in subsequent decades at the New York City Ballet.
The French ballets of the late Baroque period created by Lully and Couperin for the court of Louis XIV were the inspiration for some of the musical language of Apollo, which begins with a Prologue, the “Birth of Apollo,” in the style of a French Baroque overture with the traditional slow-fast-slow tempo pattern. Notice the energetic dotted rhythms associated with this form: they also establish the iambic rhythm — short-long — which will provide the underlying rhythmic pattern throughout much of this work. The heaviness of the dotted rhythms could also represent Leto’s labor pains in giving birth to Apollo, although Stravinsky’s vivid description of this in the original manuscript was not realized in the staging. Appoggiaturas, or “leaning” dissonant notes that resolve into consonance, are another prominent element throughout.
Next, we hear the first “Variation for Apollo”: a solo dance, which opens with an elaborate, cadenza-like part for unaccompanied solo violin. The spacious “Pas d’action” for Apollo and the three Muses features a wonderful, flowing melody that spawns subtle counterpoint among the instruments.
Four Variations or solo dances for the three Muses and Apollo himself follow. The most impressive of these is the last: Apollo’s noble solo, with its grandly sonorous introductory chords and its elegant contrapuntal writing for string quartet. Apollo’s loveliest music is a classical “Pas de Deux” for Apollo and Terpsichore, scored for muted instruments throughout; it is the most lyrical and legato expression of the core iambic rhythm.
A rapid, buoyant “Coda” movement leads to the closing “Apotheosis,” in which the first movement’s dotted-rhythm theme makes a calmer, almost wistful reappearance. This majestic music epitomizes Stravinsky’s “Apollonian principle” of classical order, balance, and serenity.
Instrumentation: Strings only.
Requiem, K. 626
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
Listening to Mozart's unfinished Requiem, one feels with special poignancy the tragedy of Mozart's death at age 35 in the prime of his career. For with this work we are confronted not only with the question of "what might have been" in his future creative output had he lived on, but, very specifically, with what might have happened in this work had he survived to complete it.
The writing of the Requiem has been surrounded with myth and mystery, some of it true, some of it total fabrication. Yes, there was a mysterious stranger delivering a commission for a requiem mass from an anonymous patron to Mozart in July 1791. The unknown patron, however, was not a supernatural being (as Mozart sometimes seemed to have believed himself as he was writing the work) nor was he Mozart's rival Antonio Salieri (as Peter Shaffer postulates in his fictional play Amadeus); he was Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach, a wealthy musical amateur who liked to commission works by leading composers for his chamber ensemble and then try to pass them off as his own compositions. In February 1791, Count Walsegg had lost his young wife, Anna, and he anonymously commissioned a requiem from Mozart as a memorial to her.
Although he was still in good health during the summer of 1791, Mozart seems to have reacted to this commission as a harbinger of his own death; while working on it, he was often depressed and told his wife, Constanze, that he felt that he was writing his own requiem. He also found plenty of excuses to set the work aside: first to fulfill a commission from Prague for the opera La Clemenza di Tito for the coronation festivities of the Emperor Leopold, then to write the great Clarinet Concerto for his friend Anton Stadler, next to put the finishing touches — including the overture — on his comic opera Die Zauberflöte, and finally, in the midst of writing the Requiem, to write and premiere the Kleine Freymaurer Kantate, K. 623. Mozart/Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon estimates that Mozart only managed to work intermittently on the Requiem from October 8 to November 20, when he took to his bed with his fatal illness.
As he lay dying, Mozart was still struggling to complete the work, but he was not dictating it to Salieri, à la the film version of Amadeus; instead he was working closely with his two students Joseph Eybler and Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Mozart managed to complete the critical creative work of composing all the vocal parts, the figured bass that controlled the harmony, and key instrumental parts such as most of the first violin parts and the trombone solo for "Tuba Mirum," up to the Sanctus. The first eight bars of the poignant "Lacrimosa" section are believed to be the very last measures of music he composed. Under his direction, the full scoring for the opening Introitus and Kyrie was done, leaving these movements essentially complete.
At Mozart's death on December 5, 1791, his widow, desperate for money, was left with a beautiful torso of a Requiem, but one that still needed much work before it could be sent off to fulfill Walsegg's commission. After first trying out Eybler, she turned the score over to Süssmayr, who had to complete the "Lacrimosa" and the orchestration for the other sections, plus compose from scratch the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei movements (which, as far as we know, do not contain any music by Mozart). Süssmayr has been criticized down the years for the mediocrity of his contributions as compared to Mozart's. But when other composers — even the great Benjamin Britten — have tried to improve on his work, their efforts have not been judged any better. There was only one Mozart.
With the assistance of Mozart's friend and patron Baron van Swieten, the first performance of the Requiem, with the Süssmayr completion, was given in Vienna on January 2, 1793 as a benefit for Constanze Mozart and her two children. Count Walsegg mounted his performance of the work to honor his wife in December of that same year.
Fortunately, Süssmayr's additions aside, Mozart himself finished enough of the Requiem to make it a worthy valedictory to his genius. The work's dark-hued orchestration (specified by Mozart) and the somber key of D minor (used by Mozart for scenes of operatic tragedy) lend credibility to the theory that Mozart believed he was writing the Requiem for his own death. His choice of woodwinds is most unusual: two bassoons and two basset horns — an alto version of the clarinet just coming into vogue in the late 18th century but no longer in use today; he eschewed the brighter-toned flutes, oboes, and clarinets. More darkness is contributed by the complement of three trombones (instruments traditionally associated with death in earlier centuries); the rest of the orchestration specifies two trumpets, timpani, organ, and strings.
The opening Introitus has a halting, ominous quality with its slow, aspirated figures for the strings and the prominence given the low winds; the extra-musical impression of Mozart as a young, vital man facing the specter of death with great reluctance seems too obvious here to ignore. A contrasting mood of resignation and acceptance comes with the soprano soloist's gentle "Te decet hymnus," accompanied by strings singing a melody of radiant Mozartean sweetness. Mozart follows with a dazzling double fugue for the Kyrie that counteracts the gravity of the Introitus; the composer was a great lover and student of the scores of Bach and grew more interested in intricate contrapuntal writing in the final years of his life.
Constanze Mozart claimed that her husband had instructed Süssmayr to bring back the Introitus and Kyrie music for the Requiem's final movement, the Communio. Süssmayr, for his part, said that had been his own idea. In any case, this device saved Süssmayr a lot of work and ensures that posterity is hearing pure Mozart at both the beginning and end of the work. Though bringing the opening music back at the end gives a nice symmetry and was a common practice in Mozart's day, one wonders if Mozart — a wonderfully sensitive text-setter — would have really chosen to use the same music for the very different words of the Communio. Throughout the Mozart portions of the Requiem, there are many moments to treasure. The fire-breathing "Dies Irae" with its racing violins and powerful homophonic utterances from the chorus: a "Day of Anger" to set one's nerves tingling! The ineffably beautiful "Recordare" for the solo quartet: a gentle prayer for Jesus' mercy, with the two violin sections and pairs of soloists echoing each other's phrases in closely spaced imitative counterpoint. The fierce, brass-accompanied "Confutatis" for the male voices contrasting with the wondrously ethereal "Voca me" pleas for the women's chorus and strings. And finally, the bittersweet beauty of the opening eight measures of the "Lacrimosa" — the last music Mozart wrote — with their chromatic ascent to the cadence — and, for Mozart, to another world.
Instrumentation: 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, organ and strings; vocal solos: soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass and mixed chorus.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2008
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