BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
What might have been? That is the great question about Mozart's final music, the Requiem, the unfinished work cut short by the composer's death at 35 in 1791.
"The music by Mozart that does exist in this work is exquisite," says James Bass, artistic director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. "The Confutatis and Dies Irae, these are legendary and breathtaking, the peak of his choral orchestra writing. And suddenly in mid breath it's taken away. You lose the man at his absolute zenith. What if he had lived just another month? If he had finished the Agnus Dei?"
Bass has been delving into the Requiem as he prepares the chorus for performances this week with the Florida Orchestra under guest conductor Xian Zhang. The vocal soloists are Nadine Sierra, soprano; Daryl Freedman, mezzo soprano; Ben Bliss, tenor; and Gerard Michael D'Emilio, bass-baritone. Also on the all-Mozart agenda are his short choral work Ave Verum Corpus and Symphony No. 35, Haffner.
Mozart got about halfway through the funeral mass, with his last complete music coming in the eighth measure of the Lacrymosa. The rest of the work was done by his pupil Sussmayr, who wrote several movements from scratch.
"There are parts after the Lacrymosa that are really weak," Bass says. "In the Osanna, for example, the word stressing is completely wrong. Mozart would have never sounded that way. The Agnus Dei is simple music. It's not Mozart."
There are several reworked versions of the Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem — when the orchestra and Master Chorale performed it under Stefan Sanderling in 2003, they used a score by Harvard scholar and pianist Robert Levin — but Zhang has chosen to use the original. The chorus and vocal quartet will sing the text in Roman Latin and not German Latin.
"Some musicologists think that Mozart would have still heard Roman church Latin and not German church Latin in Vienna and Salzburg," Bass says. The two vary, with, for example, pronunciation of vowels being different.
The Requiem plays a pivotal role in Amadeus, the popular 1984 movie in which a mysterious stranger in black commissioned the work. The story is apparently true, and Mozart believed he was writing the music for his own death.
"I tell all my friends who are coming to the concert that they've got to see the movie," says Bass, who has seen it 15 or 20 times. "Not everything in the movie is accurate — the Salieri part was fabricated — but it does a good job of capturing who Mozart was."
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.