Sunday, December 09, 2007

Musical Mountains

Last night I played a performace of the entire Handel Messiah in the German re-orchestration by Mozart. Most violists would agree with me that the original orchestration is not much fun for our section. Handel (or maybe one of his copyists, who knows?) gave the violists little to do on many of the solo numbers, and the parts we do play are filled with awkward passages and annoying string crossings.

Mozart not only gave us a viola part (and a challenging one at that), he even gave us divisi parts once in a while. We get to accompany the duet "O Tod, wo ist dein Pfeil" ("O death, where is thy sting?") in the third part of the work by ourselves--the violins get the number off. Clearly Mozart was thinking and acting with the mind and heart of a violist. Mozart also added parts for winds and brass, simplified some of the alternating tutti and concertino exchanges, and updated the voice-leading. The result is kind of like the way someone would modernize an old house by putting in indoor plumbing and electricity: making it easy to live in, and making it easier to appreciate the brilliance of the work.

It is like two having two musical mountains rolled into one.

After my Haydn Seasons experience of last weekend, I feel as if I have been creeping around at the feet of giants, and because I have been able to play the viola parts, I have been able to look at the inner workings of their musical minds.

And now I am in the process of writing program notes for Verdi's Otello, a mountain that is just as high, and kind of similar to the Mozart Messiah since it is a translation and an operatic re-thinking of a play by Shakespeare.

Needless to say, I might not be posting for a while.

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