What if…….?

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 Classical 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, Josef 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.


What is music?

What is music?  Last night’s rehearsal gave us a timely reminder.

I was reminded of a choir in which I sang many years ago.  We were preparing Bach’s St John Passion.  At the penultimate rehearsal some of us approached the conductor to ask if we could include some dynamics, as we felt we were singing it all at the same volume.  The terse reply was that we could have the luxury of dynamics once we sang each note at exactly the right pitch.  It was something of a dry performance.

Sometimes it is easy to think of music as a series of black blobs on a page, or to go just one stage further and think of the sound that each of these blobs represents.  And when we are singing a piece for the first time, that is what we see and hear – the individual notes converted from their position on the stave to a sound coming forth from our mouths.

Carlos disabused us of that notion well and truly last night.  Even though we had only sung through Domine Jesu  and Hostias once before, it was quite clear right from the start that singing the notes to the right rhythm and pitch would not be enough.  We had to sing phrases rather than a series of single notes.  Loud and soft, fast and slow, legato and staccato, all had to be included right from the beginning.

And that is no mean feat!  At times we struggled, but it was interesting to note how quickly we got the message.  By the break, we were singing these two pieces with reasonably correct notes and quite a lot of light and shade – music indeed.

What is music?  It is certainly a lot more than the notes on the page.  Perhaps a full answer had better wait for another time.



The birth pangs of Mozart’s Requiem

This week I have been following Carlos’ exhortation to learn something of how Mozart’s Requiem came to be composed.  It’s a fascinating story and well worth getting to know.

Much of the detail is surrounded in mystery, and somethings can only be surmised.  There is a mountain of material, which I have tried to condense into something readable, while also leaving pointers to the detail for those who are interested.  You can read as much or as little of it as you have time for.

Click here to go to the top page, and browse at your will.

Happy reading!



Ken Hughes, OAM

It is great to report that Ken Hughes, a Friend of the Choir for many years, was awarded an OAM in the Australia Day Honours list.  This honour is in addition to the Australian Fire Service Medal which he was awarded in 2010.  We send him our heartiest congratulations.

Over the years Ken has assisted the Choir in many activities such as manning the car park and other essential behind the scenes jobs.  He has been very involved in many other community organisations, including the Rural Fire Service and a number of conservation projects, no doubt with the same level of commitment which he gave to Choir activities.   His honour is very well deserved.

Back at Choir again!

It was great to be back at Choir rehearsal last Thursday.  After several weeks’ break, exercising the rusty vocal chords and grappling with the intricacies of a maestro’s choral writing was a good way to spend an evening.  And of course it was great to catch up with friends during the break, hearing about overseas trips, inter-state journeys and other goings-on.  Some familiar faces were still missing, but hopefully they will return in the next few weeks.

Thank you, Naomi, for a great Bulletin this week.  The article from the Guardian and the Wikipedia entries for Mozart and Mozart Requiem are indeed fascinating in giving something of an insight into what we are about to sing.  There are also a number of books about Mozart, all of which contain further material about how Mozart came to write the Requiem, and how it came to be completed.  A particularly interesting one on the Amazon Australia website is by the artist Sacheverell Sitwell, someone who had a deep understanding of the creative process from his own personal experience and that of many artistic friends and colleagues.

Perhaps because of the circumstances of the Requiem’s incompleteness on Mozart’s death, a number of composers in addition to Sussmeyer have made their own attempts at its completion.  I remember several years ago hearing a version “completed and augmented”  by the Australian composer Gordon Kerry, sung by the Sydney Chamber Choir.  My records show that the highlight of the concert for me was not the Requiem, but the previous item, a selection from Victoria’s Tenebrae Responses – over thirty minutes of a cappella singing, brilliantly executed and perfectly in tune.

Maybe that suggests why Sussmeyer’s version seems to be the ending of choice.  Another very powerful reason is that it is most likely that Sussmeyer’s completion was commissioned by Mozart’s widow Constanze.

But whatever the machinations and intrigue that went into the creation of this wonderful piece of music, I have no doubt that we will all enjoy rehearsing it over the next few months, and gain a huge sense of satisfaction when we perform it in May.   We can look forward to hearing Carlos’ insights into the music and to understanding its true meaning and relevance.