The Handel Society of Dartmouth College presents a luminous program of choral music spanning three centuries, with the help of singers from three area high schools, on Tuesday, November 14, 7 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth.
The “town-gown” chorus, comprising about 100 singers and joined by a chamber orchestra and four visiting soloists, sings the Mozart Requiem as “completed” by Robert Levin, a Boston-based musicologist and pianist who last appeared at the Hop as accompanist for violinist Hilary Hahn. Animated by acute musical and historical sympathies and deep scholarship, Levin’s is the best regarded among the numerous attempts to finish this work Mozart left when he died. Even in unfinished form, the Requiem is an uncontested choral masterwork of aching beauty and timeless emotional immediacy.
Complementing that work on the Handel Society program is Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna—on which the chorus will be joined by 22 singers from Lebanon (NH) High School, Woodstock (VT) Union High School and Stevens High School in Claremont, NH. A grant from the Byrne Foundation funded time for Handel Society Conductor Robert Duff to work with those choruses and for transporting the students to the Hop for the dress rehearsal and performance. Lebanon High School Chorus is directed by Jonathan Verge, Stevens by Katja Kleyensteuber and Woodstock Union High School Chorus by Lisa Robar, conductor.
After Mozart’s death in 1791 in Vienna, his widow, Constanze, enlisted first Joseph Eybler then Franz Xavier Sussmayr to complete the score so she could collect the full commission to support her impoverished family. Sussmayr’s version was hastily done and is riddled with stylistic and compositional problems—but it nonetheless became “the version” for more than 200 years. Then, in 1960, musicologist Wolfgang Plath discovered previously unknown sketches for the Requiem in a collection of Mozart manuscripts in a Berlin library. Almost four decades later, Levin—then a Harvard musicologist—used those sketches to create his own version. A noted Mozart scholar, Levin had completed many Mozart fragments and specialized in historically informed performances of Mozart piano works. A lifetime of study allowed him to “get into Mozart’s mind,” creating a new and compelling completion of the Requiem.
Joining the Handel Society on the Requiem will be soloists Colleen Daly, soprano (“dramatically powerful”–the Washington Post); Emily Marvosh, mezzo-soprano, a frequent soloist with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society; Charles Blandy, tenor, who has been praised as “a versatile tenor with agility, endless breath and vigorous high notes” (Goldberg Early Music Magazine), and “breathtaking” and “unfailingly, tirelessly lyrical” (the Boston Globe); and Justin Hopkins, bass-baritone, whom the Los Angeles Times lauded for his “stirring voice and commanding presence.”
Lux Aeterna was premiered in 1997, when Lauridsen was 44. It was written for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, an ensemble for which Lauridsen—Distinguished Professor of Composition at the Thorton School of Music at the University of Southern California (USC)—held the position of Composer-in-Residence from 1994 to 2001. Written the year his mother died, it offers a consolation for grief often compared to that of Fauré’s Requiem and Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, both works inspired by the deaths of the composers’ mothers. Like them, Lux Aeterna appears simple on the surface—yet reveals a depth that has made it among the best loved major choral works of today.
Rather than refer to death imagery of angels, rest and judgment, as the traditional Requiem text does, for the dead, but rather a collection of various references to light from sacred Latin texts: perpetual light, light risen in the darkness, Redeemer-born light from light, light of the Holy Spirit, light of hearts, most blessed light and eternal light, or lux aeterna.