Do you ever ask yourself “What might have happened if…..?” It is supposed to be bad for you, but I cannot help but wonder what might have happened if, for example, my family had emigrated from the UK to Canada when I was just four, as they very nearly did. Would I now be in Sydney, enjoying singing with the Manly Warringah Choir, or singing somewhere in Canada, or possibly even not singing at all? There is a host of possibilities.
Likewise, when I was reading about Mozart’s Requiem, I was struck by the number of points at which a modest change in circumstances would have changed the course of musical history.
Suppose Count Walsegg had asked someone other than Mozart to write a Requiem in memory of his late beloved wife, or not thought to have one written at all, would Mozart have even started the composition? Would some other event have prompted him to write a sacred piece as he tried to regain favour with the Church authorities? We might have had a different piece from Mozart, say a Stabat Mater or another straightforward Mass, or have had to make do with Salieri’s Requiem (when did you last hear that performed?) or have had to wait for Berlioz and Brahms for the first Requiems of the Romantic era.
And what might have happened if Constanze had decided after Wolfgang’s death to leave the half-written work unfinished? After all, she married again fairly soon, and the income from completing the commission was not that great, and she had to find a way of satisfactorily explaining the delay to Count Walsegg – not an easy task, and one from which she may well have shied away. In that case, the music may well have languished unseen in a cupboard and been discovered by a 19th or 20th century musicologist, who hopefully, recognising the quality of the composition so far, would have found someone to complete it. Mozart’s Requiem as completed by Benjamin Britten, perhaps. Now that would be interesting!
Then there is the issue of who actually did complete the Requiem. The version we sing, completed by Mozart’s friend and pupil, Franz Sussmeyer, seems to embody the spirit of Mozart and to have been inspired by him. But Constanze could have chosen someone else from among the Wolfgang’s many pupils, friends and even musical enemies. Would that have given us a work so redolent of Mozart throughout? Would it have stood the test of time and become such a staple of the choral repertoire? We can only imagine.
Perhaps it is time for the imagination to cease running riot, and to settle gratefully for what we do have. Mozart’s Requiem is a work full of spiritual exploration brought to light by superbly crafted, sublime music. And it is a privilege to be rehearsing and performing it under the direction of such a consummate musician and communicator, Carlos.
I am not much in favour of many modern expressions, but there is one which suits the end of this musing.