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FL 2 3076

Mozart: Opera for Two - Late 18th Century Transcriptions

Release date September 13, 1996
Album code FL 2 3076
Periods Classical

Album information

Few composers — save, perhaps, Beethoven — enjoyed a posthumous life as fertile, as diversified as Mozart. In the decades following his death, “Romanticism” already begins defining a generation’s quest for its identity: oppositions are set, between the “naïve” and the “sentimental,” “romantic” and “romanesque,” ancient and modern; dreams, fantasy, irony, devilry — in other words, imagination —, all become instrumental in an increasingly æsthetic construction of the self; history — here, the genius of a Dante, a Homer, a Shakespeare — is addressed anew, drawn into a freer mode of conversation.

To all of this Mozart participates. For Romanticism, for example, his youthful death soon became a powerful metaphore for a particular mode of the “tragic,” transfigured — this is an era uninhibited in its desire to intimately link life and art — in the Requiem, seen as the expression of the foreboding of an imminent death.

Die Zauberflöte also contributes to Romanticism’s self-fashioning, from the combination it offers of fantasy, evil, ethics, metaphysics, and elements taken from the Bildungsroman. The myth of the “eternal child” also plays an important role: a genius becomes one who is possessed, unaware of the superior forces which express themselves through him, and which he cannot resist. Hence, Goethe to Eckermann, concerning Don Giovanni: “He who wrote this did not fragment or experiment, did not procede according to simple wishes, but was possessed with the demon of his genius, and had to execute what this demon ordered.”

Constanze Mozart is very much involved in the development of the Mozartean mythology. Gernot Gruber has accurately described her as a “mixture of grail-guardian and businesswoman.” The terminology is well chosen: because of the care with which she cultivates elements of the Mozartean lore such as the “eternal child” (paradoxically following the work of Leopold), and by the selective — and quite cunning — manner in which she chose to circulate Mozart’s works, Constanze helped in making man and work a single legend and in heightening its popularity. Editors are quick to follow. Soon after Mozart’s death are announced forecoming Œuvres Complettes (Complete Works): from J.P. Spehr (Collection complette), André, and Breitkopf Härtel; also starting to proliferate are transcriptions and arrangements of Mozart’s works.

Such adaptations of a composer’s work was nothing new: in the second half of the 18th century, editors had already taken advantage of the increasing taste for Hausmusik (music for the home) to publish transcriptions and arrangements of pieces by popular composers. And opera, at that time and through much of the 19th century, was the genre most exploited: for example, of Mozart alone we find from Böhme (c1800) a Dom Giovani [sic]. Grand Opera… arrangé pour le Piano-forte avec un Violon obligé…, from Simrock (1804) a Il Don Giovanni. Grand’opera ridotta a quartetti per flauto, violino, viola basso, in London (1812) a Favorite airs [of Le Nozze di Figaro]… adapted for a Harp and Piano Forte with an accompaniment for the German flute by F. Fiorillo, or, from Simrock (1800), a La Clemenza di tito. Grande [sic] Opéra… arrangée en quatuors à Deux Violons, Alto Violoncelle.

Perhaps the best example of the editors’ keen sense of marketing is the Die Zauberflöte… arranged for Two Violins or Two Flutes… by Mr. Mozard [sic] found on this recording: the prospective buyer does not know whether “by Mr. Mozard” refers to “Die Zauberflöte” or to “arranged.” This is not to deny the historical importance or the artistic merit of such works. Editors, by offering this music in such a way that the amateur can now enjoy them, can now have access to a more immediate experience of the music, contribute to the spread — and canonical establishment — of the great works of the repertoire.

This, of course, was accomplished by those — most assuredly quite a few aspiring composers — whose task was to simplify these complex pages without sacrificing their beauty and artistic integrity: in the transcriptions found on this recording, the tone of each aria is faithfully respected, the orchestration reduced without loss of textural richness, the typically Mozartean wit of the dialogue between voice and orchestra enhanced. Cimarosa, Paisiello, Rossini, Weber — in other words, all popular opera composers — were transcribed, arranged, adapted in such a manner. But Mozart’s operas were nevertheless the most popular. Apart from the transcriptions mentioned above, more faithful editions of his opera begin to appear on the market, and in proportions that clearly indicate the variations in popularity of each opera. Around 1800, for example, 9 different vocal scores (piano and voice) of Die Zauberflöte and 3 of Don Giovanni were published; by contrast, around 1830 the count becomes 15 of Don Giovanni and 9 for Die Zauberflöte.

Thus, Mozart both follows and precedes Romanticism: after drawing from Die Zauberflöte key elements of the romantic “décor” (and in this Die Zauberflöte competes with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest), the new era appropriates Don Giovanni, uses it as source to develop and vary such fondamental concepts as eroticism, madness, evil, death, redemption, love, and the power of music. Thus, Stendhal, underlying the profound correspondance between music and verb, writes that Mozart “triumphs in the terrifying accompaniment of the statue’s response […]: it is, for the ear, Shakespearian terror”; the narrator, in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story Don Giovanni speaks of the characters he sees on stage not as if they were played by actors but as if they were real: the confusion is such that Donna Anna appears by his side, tells him how “music is her entire life, and that often she seems to understand, while singing, many things that lie obscured in her heart”; finally, Kierkegaard, in the “æsthetics of desire” that are The Immediate Erotic Stages, wrote: “He who wants to view Mozart in his true immortal grandeur must contemplate his Don Giovanni; next to this work everything is fortuitous and non-essential. […] the true power of music has been exhausted in Mozart’s work.” Note:

The arragement “for Two Violins or Two Flutes” of Die Zauberflöte was published in 1792 by B. Schott, Mainz.* Die Entführung aus dem Serail “arranged for duo with two flutes” was published in 1799 by Simrock, Bonn.* The “DUOS / for / TWO FLUTES / arranged / from the / Marriage of Figaro” was published in 1799 by Simrock, Bonn.* The first edition of the arrangement “for two flutes” of Don Giovanni was published ca1809 by Cappi, Vienna.* *(published by Universal Editions)

© Alex Benjamin

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Angèle Dubeau
FL 2 3034
FL 2 3034

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