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Revelations by the Score

New York
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center Complex
11/03/2009 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Grosse Fuge, Opus 133, for string quartet – Grosse Fuge, Opus 134, for piano four hands
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Last scene from Le Nozze di Figaro

Afiara String Quartet: Valerie Li, Yuri Cho (Violins), David Samuel (Viola), Adrian Fung (Cello) – Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe (Pianists)
Devon Guthrie (Susanna), Rebecca Jo Loeb (Cherubino), Emalie Savoy (Countess), Benjamin Bloomfield (Count), Adrian Rosas (Figaro), Naomi O’Connell (Marcellina), Martin Coyle (Basilio)
Juilliard Orchestra and singers from Juilliard Vocal Arts, Ari Pelto (Conductor)
Christoph Wolff, L. Michael Griffel (Speakers)

Figaro original score (© Juilliard Manuscript Collection)

It’s hardly a secret that New York music critics have a maniacal jealousy of their professional colleagues in Bismarck, Butte and Boise. Critics on the Boise Tribune have, at the most, a high school piano recital to review every ten days, giving them all the time they need, to meditate, read great tomes and smell the potatoes growing. Not, alas, the slaves of Manhattan.

Last evening was a typical nightmare of options. Do we listen again to Nessun dorma at the Met, with Nelsons, Guleghina, Poplavskaya, Giordani and Ramey? Or do we head to Carnegie Hall where Kronos and Wu Man bring two civilizations together for the gorgeous Ghost Sonata? Or must we eschew those sensual delights for more cerebral pleasures, beholding–perhaps surreptitiously touching–manuscripts upon which Mozart and Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Haydn had rested their fingers and their pens??

Such decisions would drive normal mortals mad with desire. But we music critics are hardly normal, and nightly we torture ourselves with these choices, trying to retain both sanity and good sense. For myself, overwhelmed with mere beauty of the senses, I took myself to Alice Tully Hall, where members of Juilliard, some distinguished scholars, and the original manuscripts of Beethoven and Mozart led to some revelations as well.

What do the scores tell us? Mr. Griffel, chairperson of the Juilliard History Department, showed the only extant manuscript of Beethoven’s Great Fugue, a paper strained and blotted with the Master’s changes, showing how carefully he had transcribed the piece for four-hand piano, how he had to alter time and again the four hands so they wouldn’t collide with each other, yet bringing out the colors of the original.

What he only briefly mentioned was that one of Beethoven’s friends, Anton Halm, had been commissioned to do the same transcription, about which Beethoven was unaware, consequently doing his own. Has that Halm manuscript disappeared? Googling gives no indication, but it would be wonderful to compare those two versions. After all, Halm was one of the best pianists in Austria, so it might have been technically splendid, and we could get a better idea on which musical problems Beethoven would have noticed.

At any rate, the Graduate Resident String Quartet played the string version very nicely, while the famed duo of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe played the dynamic two-piano fugue variations, with all the tremolos and martial spirit needed.

The mightiest revelation was Harvard’s Christoff Wolff who, with a series of screened Mozart scores showed the fallacy that Mozart, like Mohammed, simply wrote down what God dictated to him.

Quite the opposite. We see how, in the fourth act of Figaro, Mozart worked on the love lyric, Deh vieni non tardar, rewriting several times the line of roses crowning the brow, so the line would actually weave around. We see toward the last reconciliation scene that Mozart’s use of winds–and he, more than any other composer–understood how the gentle clarinet and oboe should sound–were written again over and over again, until, on a separate manuscript, they could underline the pastoral atmosphere of the scene.

Nor did I have any previous idea that Mozart’s opera scores were originally “skeleton scores”, with only the voice fully written out, this giving the foundation for the later orchestration.

Grosse Fuge manuscript (© Juilliard Manuscript Collection)

Professor Wolff showed far more in his all-too-brief lecture, but it was time for illustration. For this, that youthful energetic conductor Ari Pelto conducted the last scene with an abbreviated Juilliard Orchestra, and some excellent singers. (Rebecca Jo Loeb’s Cherubino was especially animated and light).

And yes, although, I once again considered a more restful episode as a critic in, say North Dakota. On second thought, after this rare evening, perhaps I will Fargo that pleasure.


CODA: Even this week, Juilliard added two more original scores to their collection of 140 rarities: the only complete manuscript of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and an engraved proof-copy of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

Scholars can pursue them with permission on the fifth floor of the school. The rest of us have a better chance of seeing these rare originals in high resolution, at www.juilliardmanuscriptcollection.org.

Harry Rolnick



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