A Requiem for Leopold

When asked by the Wiener Mozartjahr 2006 (Vienna’s celebration of Mozart’s 250 years’ anniversary) to write a percussion concerto for the young Austrian percussionist superstar Martin Grubinger, I was thrilled. When they wanted the work to be related to Mozart in some way or another, I was more reluctant. I hate to be fenced in like that. But when I started to look more into the life and times of good old Wolgang Amadeus, especially a very interesting and quite dark biography by Wolfgang Hildesheimer, things started to come to life for me. The result was Das war schön!, a “biographical concerto”.

Maybe not your idea of family fun? Young Wolfgang Amadeus had a very strenuous relation to his father, Leopold. From an early age, he and his sister Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl, was dragged around between the courts of Europe to entertain as child prodigies. Later, Leopold repeatedly nagged Wolfgang for not being commercial enough and earning enough money.

The first work Mozart completed after his father’s death was oddly enough Ein musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke). This caricature of the musical shortcomings of both the musicians of his time and his often much more popular rivals ends with three extremely dissonant chords.

This is what these three chords sound like!

Quite interesting to see how Mozart has done it: The first violins play totally normal chords in G Major, The Second Violins the same in A, Violas in Eb, Cellos and Basses in Bb, and the Horns in F! Actually, played very softly these chords are quite beautiful, and they serve here as a small requiem for Leopold. Amadeus usually opened his letters to his father with “Mon trés cher Pére”. This misspelled cliché of endearment strikes right into the core of Mozart’s strained relationship to his father.

Here are the 3 chords again, transposed one step up to make it possible to use the wonderfully rich lowest note on the marimba:

“But you can’t play 12 pitches at once on a marimba”, I hear you say. Yes, you can, with Martin Grubinger’s 12 mallets invention. Here is the movement, played by Martin Grubinger and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton:

And here is the whole piece, Das war schön!