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The 'Masonic Funeral Music' (Maurerissche Trauermusik) K477 (479a) was written for memorial services commemorating the deaths of Mozart's brother Masons, Duke George August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Count Franz Veith Edler von Galántha (November 1785). This brief and somber opus combines elements of elegiac march and chorale.

To start with Mozart wrote Maurerissche Trauermusik for two violins, two violas, clarinet, basset horn, two oboes, two horns, and bass; later he added parts for two additional basset horns and bassoon, -- a scoring unique in his huge output.

He makes use of the plainchant 'tonus peregrinus', (wandering or 'pilgrim tone') which appears at first in the clarinet part. This tone is used in connection with Lamentation chants sung on Good Friday, and here it serves to hold together what is for Mozart an unusually flimsy texture. The strings and winds alternate in responsive groups, beginning in a tragic C minor and finally settling on a C major chord -- suggesting a surpassing spirituality.

The 'Masonic' miniature has been slotted onto numerous CDs; more than a few of them of extraordinarily expressive excellence. Though faultlessly executed the NZSO's reading of this minor masterpiece just fails to convey Mozart's evocation of subdued yet spine-tingling frisson [listen -- track 4, 2:59-4:00].

The disc concludes with the Lacrimosa and Amen (according to Levin's completion) from the Requiem K626. 'No other work by Mozart has caused so much ink to be spilled,' wrote Alfred Einstein (1880-1952), 'and none has been so unjustly estimated -- chiefly by people who knew none of Mozart's other church works, not the C minor Mass, nor the litanies, nor any of the C major Masses of 1776. In fact it is difficult to remain completely cool and to let the facts speak for themselves.'

Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach commissioned the Requiem in honor of his wife, who died the preceding February. In July 1791 Franz Anton Leitgeb, steward of the Count (and the fictional 'messenger of death') is understood to have delivered the commission to Mozart, along with an unrecorded sum of money. The balance would be paid upon delivery. The whole deal was to be kept secret. Whether Walsegg intended to take full credit for the Requiem (as frequently alleged) remains a matter of conjecture.

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Copyright © 18 September 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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