Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ is his enduring legacy

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.

That’s the message maestro Arthur Post delivered to an enthusiastic bunch of classical music-lovers Wednesday at Sorrel Sky Gallery for his regular “Musically Speaking” preview of Saturday’s concert by the San Juan Symphony. Post was speaking of Mozart’s famed “Requiem,” the 55-minute piece that will close the program “Dread, Redemption, Nirvana.” He dispelled many of the myths of Mozart’s death as purported in the 1984 film “Amadeus,” including one that had Mozart claiming he wrote the Requiem for himself on his death bed after being poisoned.

“It’s more than probably not true,” Post said.

More likely, the Austrian composer succumbed to a food-borne illness and died in 1791 with the Requiem mostly unfinished. That’s more because of procrastination than anything. He was commissioned to write the Requiem for a Viennese nobleman whose young wife had died. He wrote and completed two other pieces before starting on the Requiem and died about two months later. He completed only one of 14 movements, as well as some portions of the others, but the last three were entirely ghostwritten by his contemporary Franz Sussmayr after his death.

That has led to many variations of the final movements over the centuries as composers and conductors are more likely to amend the work of a Sussmayr while Mozart’s own notes have been treated as much more sacred. Post is no different.

“In a couple of places, I changed the rhythm of the trumpets and tympanies; I’ve heard others do it, and I liked it, so I did it, too,” he said.

The “Requiem” requires a lot of voices, and there will be plenty Saturday. Soloists Gemma Kavanagh (soprano), Laura Beckel Thoreson (mezzo-soprano), Brian Patrick Leatherman (tenor) and Peter Van de Graaff (bass-baritone) will be joined by the Durango Choral Society and Caliente Community Chorus of Farmington as well as several Telluride singers. Guest musicians from area high schools also will play side-by-side with their professional comrades.

The program will open with Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3; the air is among the most recognizable selections you’ll hear this season. The suite has evolved over the years from its original Baroque style to one more attuned for large orchestras, but the Period Performance Movement has recently reversed that trend as conductors attempt to more accurately reflect Bach’s original composition. Saturday’s version will be a hybrid of sorts; there won’t be any harpsichords but Post’s arrangement emphasizes trumpets and tympanies.

“We’re doing a version for the students,” Post said in deference to his young musicians.

The final – actually, second in sequence – piece is a modern one; the “Nirvana” of the program. Most listeners have probably never heard Tim Brady’s “Three or Four Days After the Death of Kurt Cobain,” but don’t expect any grunge on the Concert Hall stage. Although he was a huge fan of the late Nirvana front man, Brady’s elegy is entirely orchestral in note and spirit.

“What’s audible here is the lament. What isn’t audible is the rock and roll, although he does include a riff from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” if you can identify it,” Post said. “Every concert in this Lollapalooza season has a tie-in with popular music and this is it.”

ted@durangoherald.com

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