Carnegie Hall kicks off its two-year celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with a major premiere. On January 15, the Carnegie Hall Festival Chorus, under Helmuth Rilling, will give the world premiere performance of Robert Levin's completion of Mozart's Mass in C Minor, K.427.
The Mass occupies a curious position in Mozart's output. "There is a sense of frustration that the work‹the most significant setting of the Mass between Bach's Mass in B Minor and Beethoven's Missa solemnis and on that same huge scale‹is but a torso," Levin explains. "People long for a liturgically complete Mass that would place what Mozart finished in an overall context." Carnegie Hall, through generous support from The Maria and Robert A. Skirnick Fund for New Works, commissioned Levin to provide this context.
A recognized expert on Mozart, Levin is ideally qualified for this project. As a scholar-pianist, he is equally at home in an academic setting and on the concert platform, and his completions of Mozart fragments have been published, recorded, and performed throughout the world. As a performer, Levin is unique among today's pianists in his restoration of the classical-period practice of improvised embellishments and cadenzas; his Mozart and Beethoven performances have been hailed for their mastery of classical musical language.
Over the course of a year, Levin visited library collections in Austria, Germany, and Poland to study all known manuscript sources for the Mass. In addition, he examined Mozart's surviving sketches from the years 1781 to 1785 in search of music that might have been intended for the work. To his surprise and delight, Levin unearthed material not previously associated with the Mass and found a number of sketches from 1783‹the year of the Mass's composition‹that can plausibly be deemed ideas for movements never executed. Levin describes this breakthrough: "The discovery of applicable sketches was a major thrill. Until I realized that such sketches, which I thought might exist, actually did exist, any hope of providing more of a completion than the scope of the other versions was more or less a pipe dream."
The resulting 80- to 90-minute work is a significant contribution to our understanding of Mozart's music. "For listeners familiar with the standard performing versions of the Mass," Levin says, "seven of the 19 movements will be new ... so there will be many surprises." In its new form the work will be 50 percent longer than the version that is usually performed.
For the world premiere performance, Rilling will lead the Carnegie Hall Festival Chorus and the Orchestra of St. Luke's with soloists Juliane Banse, soprano; Marlis Petersen, soprano; James Taylor, tenor; and Nathan Berg, bass-baritone. Kathy Saltzman Romey is the choral preparer. Tickets for the performance are available at the Box Office or through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800.
Robert Shaw: Preparing a Masterpiece is a series of video programs documenting the first eight Carnegie Hall Choral Workshops, led by the legendary Robert Shaw. These eight programs are now available on DVD for the first time on four 2-DVD sets, each priced at $29.95 and only available from the Shop at Carnegie Hall. Call 212-903-9610 for more information.