Musical Words: Lindsay Kemp on the Mozart-Handel Connection

Messiah
Mozart’s arrangement of Messiah.

Nice piece over on the Gramophone magazine blog about Mozart’s knowledge of Handel. As musicologist Lindsay Kemp points out, knowledge of older musical eras and styles was not as typical of 18th century composers as it became later, but Mozart’s encounter with baroque music was profound.  From the blog piece:

Above all, the realisation of the expressive potential of Baroque music found voice almost immediately in Mozart’s own music, at first in the grandiloquent choruses of the great Mass in C  minor, but also in a four-part fugue, also in C  minor, that he composed for two pianos in 1783, and which five years later he arranged for strings and prefaced with an Adagio much in the style of an overture by Handel (K546). This is no mere exercise in pastiche, but a piece of almost terrifying cumulative power, an acknowledgement of earlier genius that is deeply, almost disturbingly personal.

Here’s a performance of the Adagio and Fugue he mentions:

It may be too facile, but there does seem to be as much that looks ahead to the massive fugues of Beethoven as back to Bach and Handel. Four parts + minor key + 6 minutes + Mozart = more dramatic intensity than most operas or movies for that matter.

Critical Words: Arnold Whittall on Meistersinger

Every month the classical music magazine Gramophone does a feature comparing recordings of some great monument of classical music. This month Arnold Whittall is surveying Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg versions on disc and and DVD and is, as is his wont, perceptive, even-handed and fleet of phrase.

Here’s a bit in which he takes care of a mid-century performance by the great Wotan, Hans Hotter.

The 1956 Bayreuth performance under André Cluytens is treasurable for capturing Hans Hotter‘s Sachs at its most subtle and least wobbly, though the Walhall sound quality is poor and Wolfgang Windgassen’s ardent but soulless Walther is an acquired taste.

39 words and you know what you need to know.

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Nürnberg possibly as it was in Hans Sachs’ day.

By the way, I heard James Morris (another great Wotan) on WQRX recalling this tidbit about Meistersinger: “I believe that Die Meistersinger is the greatest single work of art ever produced by man. It took more skill to plan and write it than it took to plan and write the whole canon of Shakespeare.” –H.L. Mencken. His trademark hyperbole, no doubt, but it is a kind of overwhelming opera to come to grips with (and is, to my mind, going for something completely different from the aims of Shakespeare).