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“MOZART’S ETERNAL REQUIEM” – DPO salutes one of classical music’s finest works

Ah, Hollywood: Entertainer of the masses, distorter of history. In 1997, Titanic featured star-crossed lovers who never existed. Thirteen years earlier, a film nobody thought would do very well became a sensation, telling the amplified story about one of classical music’s brightest lights: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Within its three-hours of screen time, screenwriter Peter Shaffer implied that rival composer Antonio Salieri was responsible for young Wolfgang’s demise. That’s rubbish, of course, but what Amadeus did was to make Mozart’s last work, his Requiem Mass, K. 626, nearly as popular as his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and 40th symphony. This Requiem is the featured work on the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Classical Series concert Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16 at the Schuster Center.

With DPO music director Neal Gittleman off to conduct the upcoming Dayton Opera production of Porgy and Bess, DPO assistant conductor Patrick Reynolds and DPO chorus director Hank Dahlman will share the conducting assignments. Reynolds will conduct the two orchestral works before intermission and Dahlman, no stranger to the podium, will lead the Requiem.

Reynolds’ curtain-raiser may be one of the shortest works on this season’s schedule, but it is certainly one of the most intriguing. John Adams’ Tromba Lontana (Distant Trumpet) is one of a pair of Adams fanfares, the other being A Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The works are polar opposites: Short Ride is boisterous and swift; Tromba is trance set to music.

Imagine the slow, persistent, unwavering rocking motion of a passenger train. That’s Tromba. On top of a sparkling, quiet, understated foundation of winds and strings, Adams presents his distant trumpeter in a random collection of repeated notes: one, then five, then four, then five and so on, with the last note of each set held. Tromba is hypnotically atmospheric, a soul mate to Ives’ The Unanswered Question.

With the last notes of Tromba dissolving into memory, Paul Hindemith’s masterpiece, Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter), an orchestral work culled from Hindemith’s opera of the same name, is next on the program. The opera was based on the life of Matthias Grünewald (c. 1460 – 1528) and explored the relationships among art, politics and society. In Hindemith’s opera, Grünewald gave up painting to become a peasant and join an uprising, only to return to painting, enduring a lot of grief from all sides in the process. Hindemith, whose works were banned by the Nazis, wrote the opera as a statement against political and artistic oppression. The symphony is in three movements and was introduced in 1934 before completion of the opera. The movements are:

  • Angelic Concert, with one of the most glorious opening pages in all of music. Much of this movement shuttles between agitation and radiance.
  • Entombment, a contemplative surrender, with stunning writing for winds and French horn.
  • The Temptation of Saint Anthony, which opens with soaring, stuttering strings that give way to full orchestral muscular, propulsion. The finale is noble and massive.

Mozart wrote 17 masses, large and small, including his Requiem. In 1791, as Mozart’s health declined, a Count Walsegg-Stuppach (not Salieri), using a go-between (not Salieri in a scary mask), commissioned Mozart to write a requiem mass for the count’s deceased wife. Mozart completed only the opening Requiem aeternam, with its squeeze-box wind writing, towering choruses and heavenly solo parts, in its entirety. From the Kyrie to the Confutatis, he finished only the vocal parts and basso continuo. The rest were just sketches. Franz Xaver Süssmayr, with the blessing of Wolfang’s widow, completed the Requiem, but other composers had a hand in the process. Süssmayr also completed other works that Mozart left incomplete.

This requiem is an aggressive, restless work. Most requiem masses create an atmosphere of resignation or contemplation. But even the gentler movements of K. 626 have a defiant-in-the-face-of-death quality. Whether this would have been Mozart’s vision is a question that can never be answered in this life.

The Dayton Philharmonic will present
Mozart’s Eternal Requiem Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16 at 8 p.m. at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets. Tickets are $17-$63. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit online here.

Reach DCP classical music critic Patrick Suarez here