|Liner Notes: Salieri: Requiem; Beethoven, Schubert / Foster, Gulbenkian|
Although Antonio Salieri most certainly does not stand in the front row of the great composers of West European musical historiography, he had been granted as one of few something quite special: to compose his own requiem. Not even Mozart, Brahms or Verdi, whose Requiem compositions count among the most major of the genre, could claim that for himself. How few of Salieri’s sacred works have to date been absorbed in the general works and concert canon (excepting the operas), can be confirmed by a simple internet search. For instance, if one “googled” the concepts “Salieri” and “Requiem”, much more than 80% of the detected entries establish no relation to Salieri’s Requiem, but rather to Mozart’s incomplete Requiem! However, an absolutely fascinating although untenable connection has persisted most stubbornly since Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” and Milos Forman’s film of the same name: both fictional works want to have us believe that Mozart directly dictated his Requiem to his embittered rival Salieri during the night of his death. Forman’s fascinating images still affect numerous literary writings and the fantasy of authors more than 25 years later.
Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was first and foremost a significant opera composer, for which intensive patronage was granted by Emperor Joseph II in Vienna. He also achieved great success with his stage works in Italy and in Paris. Salieri worked in Vienna in the post of Hofkapellmeister, an appointment that he held until a year before his death. In this position he took care of administration tasks in particular and mainly composed church music. From 1790 Salieri counted among the most significant persons in the music life of the European music metropolis Vienna – which is also reflected in his line-up of pupils: Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt and Franz Schubert here count among the most well-known. From Salieri’s quill flowed about 100 sacred works, among which four orchestral masses, a requiem and an a capella mass. If Salieri had created the sacred music first and foremost “for God and my Emperor”, he had with the requiem a quite special motive in mind - his own funeral rites. And so the work also resounded during the funeral in 1825. This individualisation is “self-centred” (Riekel), and thus the words of the text set to music are throughout “Requiem eternam dona ei Domine” [Rest eternal grant him, O Lord]. Salieri entrusted the requiem predominantly to the choir. The typical Italian musical pure melody lines are noteworthy; the extremely effective invocation of Judgement Day (“Dies irae) [Day of wrath] (in this paving the way for Verdi with pompous trombone tones and mighty kettledrum rumbles), the steadfastness of faith in the complex fugues and the harmonious closeness of the appealing tonal pictures in particular. The end of the work is praiseworthy: the strings fall silent in “Libera me” [Deliver me] and the wind instruments accompany the choir colla parte.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Cantata “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” op. 112, based on two of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poems, was composed between the end of 1814 and the summer of 1815. The work for four-part chorus and orchestra was first performed in Vienna on the 25th of December 1815 along the lines of a charity concert. Already very early, in fact already during his Bonn period, Beethoven had been attracted to the lyrical poetry of Goethe which lends itself to the composition of Lieder [songs in the Lieder style]. The mood of the two poems could not be in greater antithesis – which particularly accommodated the stylistic device of the dramatic principle of contrast so typical of Beethoven. Beethoven wrote to Goethe in 1822: “Because of their contrast both [poems] seem to me very appropriate for expression through music.” The intensity of the dynamics transcribed into music is remarkable, almost abrupt. The beginning of “Calm Sea” portrays the motionless sea in its restrained, soft and almost emotionless tenor, before the “stillness of death” grows into a frightening fortissimo chorus scream. It moves seamlessly into “Prosperous Voyage” with an acceleration of tempo; “the mists lift”. However, the “Prosperous Voyage” is also threatened by storms – melodies rising up and down depict the movement of the waves and with joyous trumpet calls and kettle drum booms the ship finally reaches safe regions.
Franz Schubert’s Offertory “Intende voci” D 963 is a tenor aria with chorus support. It was composed in 1828 as a commissioned work, probably due the intercession of his brother Ferdinand, four weeks before the death of the composer. Here Schubert seems to have found an extremely individual style: delicate harmonic nuances, with sounds drifting into nothingness, and subtle wind movements. The work was composed in the same period as the C major Symphony, the C major Quintets, the E flat major Mass and of course the three last piano sonatas. Verses 2 and 3 of Psalm 5 form the basis of the “Intende voci”. The short plea to God to answer the prayer is portrayed in the interplay between tenor, chorus and instrumental episodes with different emotional interpretations.
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