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7:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 18, 2003

VMA Arts and Cultural Center
Providence, Rhode Island

7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 20, 2003

Woolsey Hall
New Haven, Connecticut

Pre-concert discussion
Teresa Neff, senior lecturer in music history at Tufts University, will present a discussion 45 minutes prior to the Providence performance.

Providence Journal

 Messiah performed with flair,

 Messiah is in conductor
   Julian Wachner’s blood”


G. F. Handel’s
Sacred Oratorio

by W.A. Mozart

Texts compiled
by Charles Jennens

Notes about the concert

Robert Mealy:

  Messiah and Der Messias:
  Mozart meets Handel

Selected links

Handel’s Messiah Through the Centuries

Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio
(with recommendations on recordings and an extensive bibliography)

Julian Wachner conducting

The Providence Singers
Chorus preparation by Andrew Clark, resident conductor

The New Haven Symphony Orchestra
Jung-Ho Pak, music director

Jennifer Foster, soprano
Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, mezzo-soprano
Noel Velasco, tenor
Aaron Engebreth, bass

Part One

Recitative: Comfort ye my people
Air: Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
Chorus: And the glory of the Lord
Recitative: Thus saith the Lord
Air for Alto: But who may abide the day of his coming?
Chorus: And he shall purify
Recitative: Behold, a virgin shall conceive
Air and chorus: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
Recitative: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth
Air: The people that walked in darkness
Chorus: For unto us a child is born
Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)
Recitative: There were shepherds abiding in the field
Recitative: And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them
Recitative: And the angel said unto them
Recitative: And suddenly there was with the angel
Chorus: Glory to God
Air: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion
Recitative: Then shall the eyes of the blind
Air for soprano: He shall feed his flock
Chorus: His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light

Part Two

Chorus: Behold the Lamb of God
Air: He was despised
Chorus: Surely he hath borne our griefs
Chorus: And with his stripes we are healed
Chorus: All we like sheep have gone astray
Recitative: All they that see him laugh him to scorn
Chorus: He trusted in God
Recitative: Thy rebuke hath broken his heart
Air: Behold, and see if there be any sorrow
Recitative: He was cut off out of the land of the living
Air: But thou didst not leave his soul in hell
Chorus: Why do the nations so furiously rage together?
Chorus: Let us break their bonds asunder
Recitative: He that dwelleth in heaven
Air: Thou shalt break them
Chorus: Hallelujah

Part Three

Air: I know that my redeemer liveth
Chorus: Since by man came death
Recitative: Behold, I tell you a mystery
Air: The trumpet shall sound
Chorus: Worthy is the lamb that was slain


Robert Mealy | Notes on the Concert

Messiah and Der Messias:
Mozart meets Handel

In these days of the early twenty-first century, we are in the privileged position of being free to wander through the entire history of art. Our concert halls are filled with sounds of other times and eras, and even the institutions we have thought as our “mainstream,” like large symphony orchestras, we now realize are continuing their own early twentieth-century “historical performance,” albeit often unawares. The pleasure that we take in this access to the past is a very new phenomenon; until this century, modern music was the only interesting thing to hear, and the music of the past was treated with reverence and interest, but rarely performed.

Of course, there were always a few connoisseurs who savored the “ancient music” of the previous generation. W.A. Mozart met one of these, the polymath abbé Georg Vogler, in Mannheim when he passed through in 1777 while Vogler was preparing a rather scrappy performance of Part I of Messiah. Another far more important, and far more respectable, lover of old music was to occupy a significant place in Mozart’s life once he moved to Vienna. This was Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the son of Empress Maria Theresa’s personal physician. When Mozart first met him in 1782, the Baron had already served as a diplomat in England and Berlin, and had come back to Vienna to oversee the Imperial Library and to serve as President of the Court Commission on Education and Censorship. He was a highly influential person in the court hierarchy, and quite surprisingly he was a gentleman with a extraordinary passion for the music of Bach and Handel.

Mozart reworked Handel’s pieces enough for each of them to earn its own Köchel number. We will thus hear Messiah, K572.

Mozart made van Swieten’s acquaintance soon after his arrival in Vienna, when he began to attend the Baron’s weekly Sunday afternoon musical salons. These occasions featured readings from the Baron’s copious music library, often of works by Handel or C.P.E. Bach that the Baron had acquired during his diplomatic missions. It was for these music parties that Mozart arranged several of J.S. Bach’s four-part fugues as string quartets, the better to hear the ingenious counterpoint. Handel’s larger works were also attempted, but here clearly something was lacking: For van Swieten and his circle, the genius of Handel’s music lay as much in its striking effects as in its craftsmanship, and this could only be realized by performance with the appropriate forces.

Van Swieten first tried out the idea of presenting full-strength Handel to the Viennese in 1779, when he persuaded the Tonkünstler Societät to put on a considerably altered Judas Maccabeus. Unfortunately, the performance did not raise very much money; since this organization was a charity for the widows and children of musicians, this was clearly a drawback. He then began a series of private concerts, forming a “Society of Associated Cavaliers” with several members of the nobility. Starting in 1786, the Society would present one large oratorio each year in the spacious chambers of one of its noble members, followed by a public performance in the Nationaltheater or the Jahn Rooms. These would feature the finest singers in town, along with an excellent and well-rehearsed orchestra.

In 1787, Mozart began to direct the Society’s performances, and soon began to present large-scale works by Handel, having first reworked them himself. Over the next few years, he would revise Acis and Galatea (1788), Messiah (1789), and finally Alexander’s Feast and the Ode for Saint Cecelia’s Day (1790). Recently another addition to this list turned up in Halifax, England, a copy of Mozart’s orchestration of Judas Maccabeus; others may yet be discovered. Mozart’s version of Messiah was first performed at the Palffy Palace, home of Count Johann Baptist Esterházy, with a very distinguished lineup of soloists, including his sister-in-law Maria Aloysia Lange, the alto Katharina Altomonte, the tenor Valentin Adamberger (whom Joseph II thought “incomparable”), and bass Ignaz Saal. All this is scribbled on one of the extant libretti printed specially for the occasion, which also indicates that Mozart conducted the orchestra and soloists while Ignaz Umlauf directed the choir (which, perhaps for reasons of space in Esterházy’s palace, numbered only twelve).

Much of Mozart’s mastery lies in recognizing the power of Handel’s effects and leaving many of them untouched.

Although Mozart’s adaptations were undertaken with the greatest respect for Handel’s craftsmanship and genius, Mozart reworked these pieces enough for each of them to earn its own Köchel number in the Mozart catalogue. At these concerts, we will thus hear Messiah, K572 – or rather Der Messias, as van Swieten was careful to translate these works by a great German into his native tongue. Mozart was provided a copy of the score with wind staves left blank for his additions, and with a German translation underlaid. This was largely the work of Christoph Daniel Ebeling, who also drew on the enormous epic poem of the same name by the empfindsamer poet Klopstock. [The performances in Providence and New Haven will, however, be sung in English.]

Mozart’s reworkings are what literary critics would call a strong reading of Handel’s text: They intensify Handel’s effects and enrich an orchestration that, even by Handel’s own standards, was strikingly minimal. Unlike many other reworkings of Handel at the time (and later!), Mozart essentially trusted Handel’s sense of drama and pacing. He commented to a friend that “Handel understands effect better than any of us; when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt ... though he often saunters, in the manner of his time, there is always something there.”

In fact, Mozart chose to cut only a few items: the chorus “Let all the angels of God” disappears, along with what van Swieten considered a “cold” aria in Part III, “If God be for us,” which is replaced by a brief recitative, probably to heighten the dramatic sweep of the last section. Apart from those cuts, the only aria Mozart significantly re-works is the famous trumpet aria, which became “Sie schallt, die Posaune.” Alas, by Mozart’s time the great clarino technique of the baroque trumpet had gone, and trumpeters were more used to playing simple fanfares than high melodic lines. Mozart recast this aria twice before settling on a version that removes most of the trumpet’s solo material and gives what is left to the horn, which still boasted a virtuoso tradition. Mozart seems to have found the whole aria problematic, and ended up cutting out its lengthy middle section altogether.

Although this is still clearly Handel, he has been made to speak with a fairly thick Viennese accent.

What makes Messiah into Der Messias has less to do with Mozart’s cuts than with the extraordinary orchestral additions that he introduces. Some of these may not be so immediately striking: the doubling of the lower choral parts by trombones, for instance, which continues a standard Viennese church-music practice. But what is immediately apparent, and quite astonishing, is how Mozart transforms the textures of Handel’s arias. What had been a simple orchestration of strings, two oboes, and bassoon, with occasional trumpets and timpani (a model of restraint for Handel) is now something much more complex and deeply Mozartian.

Echoes of the Magic Flute and Don Giovanni abound in the filigree of woodwind writing that Mozart works around Handel’s supple string lines; listen especially for the deft commentary Mozart invents for the bassoon. These additions often elaborate imaginatively on Handel’s harmonies and in some cases even force the singers to cut back on their customary moments of display. Mozart tends to compose through the empty bar intended by Handel for a singer’s cadenza, leaving the singer little time for anything but a trill, and even there the soloists may well find themselves trilling along with some newly accompanying woodwinds.

What is interesting about many of these additions is that they make vivid a side of Handel’s religious music that we tend to forget: In fact, Messiah owes as much to the traditions of opera seria as to church music. (One of Handel’s librettists described the oratorio as a genre “in which the Solemnity of Church-Musick is agreeably united with the most pleasing Airs of the Stage.”) The world of the opera seria, after all, was still very much alive and well in Mozart’s Vienna. So it is enlightening to hear how Mozart’s additions reveal “Why do the nations” (for example) as the rage-aria that we have forgotten it is, even if somehow the specter of Donna Elvira or the Queen of the Night lurks behind the sacred tableau.

Echoes of the Magic Flute and Don Giovanni abound in the filigree of woodwind writing that Mozart works around Handel’s supple string lines.

Of course, part of the reason Mozart’s reworkings succeed so well is because he is so masterful a composer himself, and much of his mastery here lies in recognizing the power of Handel’s effects and leaving many of them untouched. Most of the accompanied recitatives are left as Handel composed them, as is the overture itself (with only the addition of brass to double the string parts in the opening section). And the choruses are often simply reinforced with doublings from the brass and winds. But although this is still clearly Handel, there is no doubt that he has been made to speak with a fairly thick Viennese accent. The question of how appropriate this adaptation might be was raised only when Mozart’s version (with further additions by Hiller) was performed at London’s Covent Garden in 1805. Following its premiere, the Sun politely remarked that “we entertain a very high respect for the genius of Mozart, but we also hold the unrivalled powers of Handel in due reverence, and therefore must enter our protest against any such alterations in works that have obtained the sanction of time and of the best musical judges.”

Times change, tastes change: Soon the English were happily accepting a Handel of such colossal proportions and orchestrations that his “unrivalled powers” were very nearly drowned out in a sea of grandiosity. Now, of course, we enjoy a very different perspective, one where we can hear that all performances are historically informed, only some haven’t realized it yet: A modern symphony performing Handel as they would Brahms is one tradition, a baroque orchestra giving an account of a particular eighteenth-century performance is another. In these concerts we will have the pleasure of a third way, a historically informed performance of one great composer’s encounter with another. And this has the best effect of all on us: It makes the music new to us again.

Robert Mealy teaches workshops on historical string techniques and improvisation throughout the United States and Mexico and has lectured and taught at Yale, Brown, Columbia, Oberlin and the University of California–Berkeley. He is non-resident tutor of music at Harvard College, where he directs the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra.

These notes on Handel and Mozart are copyright ©2001 by Robert Mealy. They appear here by permission of the author and may not be further distributed or published without the author’s consent.