Thursday, January 29, 2015

What do you think?

This month we have been looking at various pieces of music by famed composers that were left unfinished. There are many more compositions that fall into this category and I want to hear from you! What is your favorite piece of unfinished music? Mine is probably Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, which explains why I started off the month with this wonderful work!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Mozart!

Happy Birthday Mozart!

Last time we began the story of Mozart’s Requiem, the piece he left unfinished at his untimely death. Today, let’s continue the tale, finding out what happened to the unfinished work following the composer’s passing.

After her husband died, Constanze still needed the money from the Requiem commission and thus, after asking several composer friends, found Franz Xaver Sussmayer to be willing to complete the work. Sussmayer studied with Mozart, who had given his pupil instructions on how he intended the work to be completed prior to his death. Sussmayer likely agreed to this daunting task because he was a newer student who longed for any experience he could obtain.

After Mozart died, a Requeim Mass was held in December of 1791 in honor of the composer. The completed “Requiem” and “Kyrie” movements were performed during the mass. Several years later, in 1793, a benefit concert was held for Mozart’s widow and sons. The version heard here was most likely the completed Requiem by Sussmayer. While other composers have attempted to complete this Mozart masterpiece, Sussmayer’s version has remained the most popular.

What happened to the mysterious stranger who commissioned the work after Mozart passed? Scholars believe the stranger to be Anton Leitgeb, valet of Count Franz von Walsegg who commissioned the work. Walsegg was known to commission music and then claim them as his own compositions. This was his plan with the Requiem, which he intended to use to commemorate his late wife. Ten years following Mozart’s death, Constanze actually had to pay him for the rights to publish the work under her husband’s name!

Below you can hear a performance of Mozart’s Requiem:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Writing His Own Requiem?

In July of 1791, Mozart received a letter informing him that he would have a visitor the following day. Upon arrival, the visitor explained that he represented the man who wrote the letter and wished to commission Mozart to write a requiem. The visitor then gave Mozart two rules if he chose to accept the commission: to refrain from questioning who sent the letter and to never seek out where the requiem was to be performed following its completion.

Needing the money, Mozart accepted the offer and began work alongside his operas The Magic Flute and La clemenza di Tito. While he completed the operas that were both premiered during the fall of that year, the Requiem lay unfinished at the point of the composer’s premature death.

This month on Clef Notes we are looking at several famous works that were left unfinished by their composer. Over the next few days, let’s explore Mozart’s Requiem and the story surrounding its mysterious commission and the composer’s death.

Following his acceptance of the Requiem commission in July, Mozart fell ill in October with what would soon kill him. As he grew weaker physically, Mozart became more obsessed with his work on the Requiem. His wife, Constanze, eventually had to take the score away in fear that this obsession was only making matters worse. Mozart apparently even admitted to her that he believed he was writing the Requiem for his own death!

Prior to his passing, Mozart was able to complete the “Requiem” and “Kyrie” sections of his work, leaving the rest in the hands of his wife to decide who would complete the masterpiece.

Who did Constanze choose to complete her husband’s Requiem? And did they ever find out the identity of the mysterious man who commissioned the work? Join me next time for the rest of the story!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tchaikovsky's Third Piano Concerto

The next piece of unfinished music we are going to look at this month is a relatively obscure work, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Tchaikovsky began working on this piece in May of 1893, leaving it incomplete at his death later that year. He had planned the work to contain three movements, adapting it from a prior Symphony in E-flat major that he began and then discarded.

Following Tchaikovsky’s death, only the first movement and sketches of the second and third were found. Tchaikovsky’s student, Sergey Taneyev, completed the last two movements and published them as a separate work titled Andante and Finale, Op. 79. Taneyev gave the first performance of the completed concerto in 1895 in St. Petersburg. While many people aren’t very familiar with this work in comparison with many of Tchaikovsky’s other hits, some may find it familiar because it was used as the score to George Balanchine’s ballet Allegro brillante in 1956.

You can listen to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3 below. Are you familiar with this piece?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mahler's Unfinished Symphony No. 10

Last time, we began our story by discussing Mahler’s life leading up to his Tenth Symphony. Believing that to compose more than nine symphonies was to ask for a death sentence, Mahler initially tried to defeat the “curse of the Ninth” writing ten symphonies but naming what should have been the ninth The Song of the Earth.

During the year 1910, however, Mahler experienced a personal tragedy that led to his fateful attempt to write a Symphony No. 10. Mahler discovered his wife, Alma Mahler, to be having an affair. Desperate, Mahler found two methods in dealing with his anguish. The first was to visit Sigmund Freud. The second method was to begin his tenth symphony, writing cries from his broken heart on the score as he composed. Phrases such as “Madness, seize me, the accursed! Negate me, so I forget that I exist, that I may cease to be!”, or “To live for you! To die for you!” were found on the score after Alma turned it over to a publisher 13 years following the composer’s death! Why do you think she waited so long to reveal her husband’s sketches of a new symphony? Perhaps she felt ashamed at what his written cries for help revealed about her own character?

Just shy of his 51st birthday, Gustav Mahler died of a blood infection, leaving the Adagio first movement of his Symphony No. 10 and a fully-orchestrated portion of the third movement.

Below you can listen to the Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. Do you think it sounds like a cry for help? What are your thoughts on Mahler’s fateful attempt to compose more than nine symphonies? Crazy, right?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Curse of the Ninth: Mahler's Attempt to Cheat Death

Continuing our topic of unfinished music this month, this week I’d like to look at Mahler’s Symphony No. 10.

Gustav Mahler had a rather superstitious personality, believing what was known as the “curse of the Ninth.” This curse referred back to the legendary Ludwig van Beethoven who died after completing nine symphonies. From that point on, no major composer ever completed more than nine symphonies before passing away. Mahler feared that, if he attempted to write more than nine symphonies, death would get the best of him. That is why, when he came to write his ninth symphony, he decided to leave the work without a number and instead call it The Song of the Earth, in a sense cheating death.

During the year 1909, Mahler ended up deciding to write another symphony and label it as No. 9. He was living a tumultuous life at this point, having stepped down from his Artistic Directorship of the Vienna Court Opera for anti-Semitic reasons. During this period he also lost his beloved daughter to scarlet fever and diphtheria and was diagnosed with heart trouble!  This didn’t seem to stop the composer from pressing forward with his busy lifestyle.

Things in Mahler’s life seemed to come to a sudden stop in 1910 when he heard devastating news—news that would lead to his fateful attempt to write a tenth symphony that he would never have the opportunity to finish. Join me next time as we look at Mahler’s Tenth and the story surrounding his death.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Schubert's Eighth: The Unfinished

Why is Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 unfinished? Last time, we talked about this famous work, looking at what the composer left behind. Since then, scholars have speculated as to why he never completed the work. While we have some good guesses, the reason still remains unknown.

It is interesting to note that Schubert’s Eighth Symphony was not his only unfinished work. Scholars have found various other pieces from this period that the composer abandoned. We do know that this particular work is dated October 30, 1822 and was left with Schubert’s colleague Anselm H├╝ttenbrenner following the completion of the first two movements. Perhaps Schubert was content to just have the two movements performed alone? Or maybe he was hoping to receive some sort of feedback from his friend, which he never received, before moving forward with the work? Did Schubert perhaps lack confidence in his symphony? We know that he often feared falling into the shadow of the great Beethoven who mastered the art of symphonic composition.

It wasn’t long after the date written on the score that Schubert contracted syphilis. He didn’t pass away, however, until six years later. This symphony was never referenced during Schubert’s lifetime. It wasn’t until 1865 that the work was discovered and given a premiere, adding the finale of his Symphony No. 3 to create a “finished” work. Since then, others have attempted tagging on various endings but, in my opinion, the piece is perfect in its original form! What do you think? 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Unfinished Music: The Mystery Remains

This month on Clef Notes, our topic is Unfinished Music: The Mystery Remains. Throughout history, there are many examples of compositions by well-known composers that, for various reasons, were left unfinished. For obvious reasons, this idea of unfinished music by some of the “greats” in music history is intriguing which is why scholars seek to find answers for their abandonment. While historians have been able to find adequate answers for many incomplete works, others still leave us with a sense of speculation.

This week, I would like to talk about a famous work whose title gives away its incomplete nature: Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished.” How do we know this piece is unfinished? Well for one thing, it’s only two movements in length when, at that time, it was standard to have four (or maybe three) movements. On the back of the final page of the Andante, Schubert wrote nine measures of a fully-scored scherzo followed by four blank pages. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a missing page was discovered that was meant to come before the blank pages, as it contained measures ten through twenty with an abrupt stop at the end. A piano sketch of the Symphony No. 8 was left behind, indicating the composer had planned a scherzo and parts of a trio section.

Why is Schubert’s wonderful Symphony No. 8 unfinished? Next time, we’ll look at theories as to what prevented the composer from finishing as well as when this masterpiece was discovered. In the meantime, you can listen to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony here: