Annelies – March 15, 2020 

Concert cancelled to avoid COVID-19 Virus

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

©Ryan James Brandau, Artistic Director, Princeton Pro Musica

This spring marks seventy-five years since the end of World War II, seventy-five years since the liberation of the concentration camps, and the end of one of the darkest periods in our history.  It also marks seventy-five years since the world lost a voice of hope and light – the voice of Anne Frank.  When the Nazis gained control of Germany, Anne and her family moved from Frankfurt to Amsterdam.  For her 13th birthday, in June 1942, Anne received a book that she would use as her diary.  The family went into hiding in July 1942 for two years until capture by the gestapo in August 1944.  They were sent to concentration camps.  Anne and her sister Margot were transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen where they died just weeks before British soldiers would liberate it on April 15, 1945.  Rather than become one of those millions whose stories we may never know, Annelies Frank became known to the world.  Her diary, published in dozens of languages, has taken countless readers directly into her story – into her many observations, wise beyond her years; into her dreams and fantasies; into her fears; and ultimately into her almost miraculous optimism.  Today Princeton Pro Musica presents the first major choral setting of the words of the diary: Annelies, by composer James Whitbourn and librettist Melanie Challenger.

Challenger’s libretto, a thoughtful curation of the diary’s many entries, arrayed in fourteen movements, is a work of art unto itself, teeming with Anne’s humanity.  The entries she chose capture the dramatic, wrenching ups and downs of Anne’s situation.  The libretto’s most dramatic moments relay the episodes in which Anne fears that she and her family have been discovered in their hiding spot and will be captured: “Eight pounding hearts, footsteps on the stairs, a rattling on the bookcase.  Suddenly, a couple of bangs.  Doors slammed inside the house.”  Other entries reveal her awareness of the devastating sadness and helplessness of the situation, buoyed by her empathy.  She recounts a dream: 

Last night, just as I was falling asleep, an old friend appeared before me.  I saw her there, dressed in rags, her face thin and worn.  She looked at me with such sadness.  Anne, why have you deserted me?  Help me, help me, rescue me from this hell!  She symbolizes to me the suffering of all my friends, and all the Jews.  When I pray for her, I pray for all those in need.  Merciful God, comfort her, remain with her so she won’t be alone.  

Other entries, like these from March 1944, convey Anne’s profound, unvarnished wisdom: “If you become part of the suffering, you’ll be entirely lost;” “Beauty remains, even in misfortune.  One who is happy will make others happy one who has courage will never die in misery.”  To relay the Frank family’s capture, and evoke the horrendous suffering and murder of millions, Challenger includes words from sources other than Anne’s diary: first a contemporary report, delivered simply, chillingly, as plainchant in the tenor and bass voices; and then passages from the Book of Psalms and the Book of Lamentations.  

The composer, James Whitbourn says of the libretto: “Rarely have I found a text so compelling and the inspiration for so much thought, simply as a document in its own right.  But as time went on, and as I worked on the score, I became more aware of Anne Frank as a contemporary person.”  He had the opportunity to meet members of Anne’s family and noted: 

These personal family links influenced the kind of piece it was destined to be, and at times it felt as though I were putting together the music for the family’s memorial service.  It was to be a commemorative work, not only for Anne Frank, but for those by whose side she lived, those she watched with penetrating eyes, and those voiceless millions who shared her fate.  

Whitbourn created a version for full orchestra, chorus, and soprano soloist in which Anne’s words are shared between the soprano soloist and the chorus.  He then created a chamber version, again for chorus and soprano soloist, but eschewing the full orchestra for a beguiling quartet of instruments: piano, violin, cello, and clarinet.  These instruments are capable of capturing the different emotions and anxieties emanating from Anne’s diary entries.  For non-Jewish and Jewish communities alike, indelible works of art like Sheldon Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof and John Williams’ score for Schindler’s List along with countless works of classical music manage to summon the spirit of a people with the expressive lyricism of the violin.  The melancholic and ever-flexible timbre of the clarinet paired with the plangent singing of the cello humanize Anne’s story and connect it to the many musicians who perished alongside her.  Whitbourn’s score evokes a worldwide community and diaspora for whom music was, and is, important.  

This remarkable piece of music captures more than Anne’s words.  In Whitbourn’s summation: 

Annelies is a piece of musical portraiture in which the essence of a young girl is portrayed in the fragile medium of the human breath.  The articular portrait will be constructed in the minds of all who hear those sounds on this day and in this place.  Through it, the wisdom and perception of Anne Frank is there to teach us all.  

Reading and then hearing her words, her convictions amplified and broadcast through music, I realize that she was, and is, the very model of a young person imbued with a sense of purpose, fueled by hope, ready to impugn indifference and inertia.  That she is, above all, hopeful links my heart to the promise of some of the heroically impassioned young women currently confronting our world’s injustices and threats head-on who, like Anne, express themselves with conviction beyond their years.  The diary entry chosen for the last movement encapsulates both Anne’s hope and the hope she instills in her many readers: “I see the world being slowly turned into wilderness.  I hear the approaching thunder that one day will destroy us too.  And yet, when I look at the sky, I feel that everything will change for the better.” 

Anne would not live to see her own manifestation of that “blue sky.”  Were she alive today, she would celebrate her ninety-first birthday this June.  I hope our breathing life into her story via music renders it as more than words on a page and reconstitutes her spirit.  One story could never encapsulate an entire tragedy.  There were millions like Anne who perished, stories untold.  Tragically, in the seventy-five years since World War II ended, there have been genocides and atrocities leaving behind millions more displaced persons, refugees, and victims.  Hearing their stories, reading their words, and singing their songs sheds light on our shared humanity, powerfully dissolving looming shadows of dehumanizing categorization and othering.  

Let this story remind us that we have much to learn from the innate optimism and wisdom of children around the globe for this world is, and will be, theirs.  

 

 

Mozart Great Mass in C-minor – November 3, 2019

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

©Ryan James Brandau, Artistic Director, Princeton Pro Musica

Musicologist Scott Burnham opens his book Mozart’s Grace with a caveat from theologian Karl Barth: Whoever has discovered Mozart even to a small degree and then tries to speak about him falls quickly into what seems rapturous stammering,”  Indeed, it’s difficult to find words on par with music that, in Burnham’s estimation, “seems somehow pre-made which glows with a self-sufficiency that has less to do with unity and more with apartness: untouched, untouchable.”  But, I shall try.

Of the two works today’s program, Concerto for Clarinet in A-Major, is perhaps the easier of the two to discuss.  It provides a window into the mature Mozart, or at least Mozart as mature as he will ever be: Written in 1791, the year of his untimely death, it was the last work he would ever complete, and not leave unfinished (as were the Requiem of that same year and the Mass in C-minor).  It was born not of financial necessity, but friendship and  enchantment.  Mozart wrote it for his close friend and Masonic lodge-mate, Anton Stadler, a virtuoso on a then relatively new and (by Mozart) much-loved instrument, the clarinet.  The piece combines lyricism, verve, humor, and melancholy in a manner that has endeared Mozart’s work to audiences for two and a half centuries. The Concerto is a masterfully polished gem of a work and a perfect showcase for its featured instrument.  As he did in the instrumentation of his Requiem, Mozart leaves out the more plaintive and penetrating sound of oboes.  Omitting, too, any additional clarinets as well as trumpets, trombones, and drums, Mozart scores the Concerto for a complementary combination of flutes, bassoons, horns, and strings that places the character of the solo clarinet front and center.  Rivaling the complexity of the solo violin, the clarinet can sound cheeky and ebullient one second, melancholic and lonesome the next. A skilled player can employ a varied palette, ranging in shade and intensity from the brightest most saturated oil-paint fortissimos to the faintest, most translucent water-color pianissimos.  The clarinet’s range stretches as high as the oboe’s but adds nearly another octave on the low end, covering with equal power a vast span of pitches encompassing the operatic soprano, mezzo-soprano, and tenor ranges.  In the allegro outer movements, athletic arpeggios triple-jump from low to middle to high register and sprint back down again in a jolly flash – coloratura even the most virtuosic soprano or castrato could never execute.  By contrast, the long, arcing, recurring phrases of the adagio put it on par with Mozart’s most poignant, slow, and lyrical operatic arias.  Mozart’s life was famously riled by mixed fortunes, from financial ups and downs to the great tragedy of dying well before the age of forty.  One can’t help wondering if the coexistence of joy and sadness animating the Concerto for Clarinet (and indeed forming the essential sound of the instrument itself) reflects his own inner crosscurrents at the time of its composition. Whether or not there exists any autobiographical chain, the Concerto for Clarinet captivatingly reflects the bittersweet, tragicomic fullness of life. Describing the Mass proves more challenging.  It appeared at a time when Mozart’s musical style was not inchoate, but was, shall we say, flexible – susceptible and welcoming to the allure of new and exciting influences.  Rather than demonstrate a single, fully burnished stylistic modus operandi, the Mass shows Mozart trying on several for size.  Austere movements harking back to the Baroque are juxtaposed with sensuous operatic arias.  Melancholic movements grounded in counterpoint stand alongside fanfare driven pomp.  It is incomplete: Mozart did not finish setting all of the typical movements of the Mass ordinary, and some of those he started remain fragmentary.  What he did leave us suggests a Mass far grander than the church music conventions at the time would admit.  The first three movements are scored for four voice parts and solo sopranos.  Subsequent movements increase both counts, to eight choral parts and a full quartet of soloists.  Had Mozart continued apace on this colossal scale, the Mass in C Minor would easily have been the longest piece (aside from operas) he’d ever composed. Those who love the work of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel will find much to admire in the Mass in C Minor.  The Vienna Court Librarian, Baron Gottfried von Swieten, introduced Mozart to the choral music of Handel and Bach in the early 1780s.  Mozart’s admiration for and fascination with the compositional procedures he encountered in those earlier scores is clear in the movements of his Mass in C Minor that are built on fugal techniques.  Both the “Cum Sancto Spiritu” and “Osana” fugues present the machinations of a deft composer who was eager to test out all of the fugal techniques he might have encountered in the fugues of Bach – myriad permutations of subject and counter-subject, right side up or up side down; variations in minor keys and fragmentary exploratory episodes; excitement built via the foreshortening effect of stretto overlaps; and the splendid, satisfying return of the main thematic material writ large.  Both fugues present their subject material straightforwardly at first in the bass section, build steadily, and careen to a close with reiterations of the main subjects in as many as four voice parts at once.  The “Qui Tolis” and “Gratias” pay homage to a grand and severe style that Handel deployed in his oratorios; it features a stark contrast between the choral and orchestral layers of the musical texture, resulting in great dramatic effect.  In these two movements, the voices plead in long, sustained lines while the orchestra churns through harmonically anguished arpeggios set to an insistently snappy rhythm.  Neither group succumbs to the other’s style.  That Mozart so unrelentingly sustains, for well over five minutes, the tectonic friction between these two monolithic strata of sound suggests a composer brazen enough to push a Baroque Affekt to its limit. If the aforementioned movements are tributes to the expressive capabilities and dexterous counterpoint of Handel and Bach, then the “Christe Eleison” and especially the “Et Incarnatus Est” are love letters to the sublime possibilities of the soprano voice.  Indeed, the origins of the Mass are entangled with Mozart’s falling in love with a soprano – actually two sopranos- and sisters no less.   In 1777, a twenty-one year old Mozart visited Mannheim and fell under the spell of the teenage soprano Aloysia Weber, but she did not return his affection.  When they met again a year later, she rebuffed him decisively.  Several years later (after Aloysia had married someone else) Mozart actually lived with her family briefly after he had been turned out of the household of his patron, Archbishop Colloredo.  Now, it would seem Mozart showed interest in Aloysia’s sister, Constanze – also a soprano.   The young woman’s meddling mother, fearing impropriety, asked Mozart to move out of the house at the same time nudging him and Constanze toward marriage.  Mozart’s father, Leopold, was less keen on the match.  Wolfgang wrote to his father that the wedding should take place sooner rather than later because, “all of the good and well-intentioned advice you have sent fails to address the case of a man who has already gone so far with a maiden.  Further postponement is out of the question.”  They married on August 4, 1782.  Leopold’s consent wouldn’t arrive in the mail until the next day.  Hoping to smooth things over, Mozart vowed to compose a mass which would be performed when he and Constanze made their first visit to Salzburg as husband and wife – a composer and his promising soprano. Thus the C Minor Mass became one of the greatest showpieces for sopranos in the choral repertoire.  In the “Christe Eleison,” “Laudamus Te,” and “Domine Deus,” the sopranos’ voices must flip, spin, and leap across chasms from ledger lines below the staff to the ledger lines above it, from one extreme of register to another, while maintaining the weightless grace so characteristic of Mozart.  It is as though they were executing elements of both an Olympic gymnastics routine and a grand ballet solo, magically free of the force of gravity.  Because Mozart supports them with just the right amount of orchestral accompaniment and weaves them into the harmonic narrative, these cadenza-worthy acrobatics feel not superfluously decorative but fully integral to the musical line.  Standing apart from the entire Mass, on par with Mozart’s greatest opera arias, is the “Et Incarnatus Est.” At once sensuous and sublime, it lulls us into levitating from the loamy earth of its orchestral introduction up into its gently swirling zephyrs of voice and woodwind trio.  A solo flute, withheld from all other movements, cameos here to beautiful effect.  Musicologist Alfred Einstein’s summation of Mozart’s music provides an apt description of this movement: “Here is pure sound, conforming to a weightless cosmos, triumphant over all chaotic earthliness.” In contrast to the Baroque-inspired movements and the operatic solos, the “Credo” and “Gloria” present Mozart’s grand, ceremonial style.  In the “Credo”, Mozart let’s the orchestra do the work: The choir recites the long creed text in straightforward homophonic blocs while the orchestra sustains forward momentum with fanfare figures and high-velocity passagework in the strings.  Mozart dispatches the first part of the lengthy “Gloria” text in similar fashion but with more imitation of the choral texture. While it’s gratifying to hear Mozart’s engagement with Baroque, operatic, and ceremonial styles, it’s the opening “Kyrie Eleison” that, for me, demonstrates Mozart’s most compelling compositional style – one that has fully synthesized all of its influences, concentrating them into an expressive, dramatic musical language.  Here, Mozart uses music theatrically, establishing in just a few measures a strong sense of atmosphere and setting.  The shadowy C Minor tone dims the lights.  A hesitant, resigned melody in the violins opens the work accompanied by a loping ostinato pattern of chords in the lower strings.  The melody descends through a C minor triad in the first bar and then searches through the darkness for a sense of Mozartian grace, but the flowing sixteenth-note loops in the middle of each bar lead only to poignantly dissonant appoggiaturas on the downbeat.  The choir’s entry loudly corroborates the pervasive C Minor tonality with overlapping, widely yawning, arpeggios.  Where Mozart omitted oboes from the orchestra for the Concerto for Clarinet, he uses them to great effect here along with trombones, trumpet, and timpani, notably without the softer sounds of flutes and clarinets.  A fugal subject emerges from the sopranos – a slow-moving, plaintive melody outlining a chromatic descent.  As the orchestra continues its churn, each section in the chorus in turn presents the fugue subject.  A gentle scale ushers in the relief of E-flat Major, clearing away the storm clouds and welcoming the soprano solo whose wide-ranging scale and roulades point up the constricted quality of the fugue subject.  The choir picks up again in the soprano’s warm E-flat Major but then winds its way back to C Minor, ending the movement in the somber atmosphere in which it began. The Mass in C Minor has not come down to us in complete form, and it’s possible that it was never completed.  In January of 1783, Mozart admitted to his father that he had “the score of half a mass … lying here waiting to be finished.”  While it’s certain that an entire liturgical mass was performed during the Salzburg visit, it’s uncertain whether Mozart had, in fact, completed the work – parts of which were subsequently lost – or whether he fashioned a complete setting by filling in the missing movements with other extant works.  (The fragmentary sections of the Mass do exist suggest the latter.)  While Mozart was writing the mass, Emperor Joseph II instituted reforms reining in the length and scope of sacred music.  Then, in 1783, he cut funding for church music in half.  Perhaps Mozart saw no financially viable future for the work.  Writer Michael Steinberg puts forth two hypotheses for Mozart’s failure to complete it: The composer worked on the Mass in the period immediately following his wedding during which, at least in so far as he reports to his father, “I found that I have never prayed so fervently or confessed or communicated so devoutly as at [Contsanza’s] side, and it was the same for her.”  Steinberg suggests, “It may be that some months into his marriage his observances cooled into their previous less fervent and less devout temperature, with the consequence that he found it impossible to continue with his only liturgical work written not on commission but ex voto.”  Another possibility is that the work, written during a time when Mozart had completed other style studies and exercises, had served its self-educational purpose and lacked the tail-winds to go further.  Steinberg surmises:

“It is not difficult to imagine [Mozart], early in 1873, looking through the growing pile of manuscript pages of the Mass in C Minor, scratching his head, wondering where in the world this monster wanted to go, and then, in the absence of a stronger inner compulsion to move forward, deciding either to put off thinking about the problem or to abandon the project then and there.  After all, there was so much else to do, and surely the problem of what to perform in Salzburg would solve itself somehow.”

Mozart would not compose further works on sacred texts until his Ave Verum Corpus and the Requiem, both written in the last year of his life.  The two movements that, to me, most clearly embody Mozart’s mature style – the “Kyrie” and “Gloria” – were in fact repurposed in a later cantata, Davide penitente. Given the evidence of absorption of new (yet old) musical styles in the Mass in C Minor and the stylistic synthesis exhibited in the Concerto for Clarinet (not to mention the Requiem and other works written near the end of Mozart’s life such as The Magic Flute), I can’t help but mourn the many musical monuments of which we, lovers of Mozart, were deprived due to his untimely death (an event that musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon labelled, “The greatest tragedy in the history of music.”)  I admit to feeling disappointed by the completions and ?additions? required by the lacunae in Mozart’s unfinished work.  They’re generally excellent, but oh, that we had the complete works from the composer’s own quill!  Furthermore, as a late thirty-something just starting to figure out what he wants from music, I pine for the works of “maturity” that never were.  It was shortly after Mozart’s death that Haydn made his greatest contributions to the Mass genre and then penned two magnificent oratorios – a genre into which Mozart ventured but once at age fifteen.  A young Beethoven arrived in Vienna the year after Mozart’s death.  What might that relationship have fostered?  What new musical languages might Mozart have fashioned from his fecund imagination and compositional facility?  Alas, we can only imagine.  In the meantime, how lucky we are that so many scores remain from this once-in-a-century gorgeous, musical mind.  Mozart’s music has always been, and will remain for millennia to come, the epitome of Enlightenment balance and the paragon of grace.  Reviewing the Concerto for Clarinet at its 1791 premier, Bernhard Weber wrote, “Such an abundance of beauty almost tires the soul, and the effect of the whole is sometimes obscured thereby.  But happy the artist whose only fault lies in all too great perfection.” © November 2019, Ryan James Brandau