In a contract dated 8 July, Guardasoni promised that he would engage a castrato "of leading quality" this seems to have mattered more than who wrote the opera ; that he would "have the libretto caused to be written. But knowing that time was tight, Guardasoni had a get-out clause: if he failed to secure a new text, he would resort to La Clemenza di Tito , a libretto written more than half a century earlier by Pietro Metastasio La Clemenza di Tito had already been set by nearly 40 composers; the first had been Antonio Caldara, in Among later settings was Gluck's, from ; there would be three further settings after Guardasoni and Mozart had discussed the possibility of a new opera for Prague two years earlier.
Mozart's music was well loved in the city, where Don Giovanni had its first performance in that commission, too, had probably come from Guardasoni. Instead he had approached Antonio Salieri, who, as the most distinguished composer of Italian opera in Vienna, would provide exactly the lustre which Guardasoni sought. But Salieri was too busy looking after the affairs of the Court Theatre, and he declined the commission. Guardasoni's experience of Mozart's work on Don Giovanni convinced him that the younger composer was more than capable of working to the tightest deadline; that and his popularity in Prague made Mozart the obvious second choice.
And with prestigious commissions drying up in Vienna, Mozart had no hesitation in accepting Guardasoni's offer, even if it meant putting aside his work on The Magic Flute. How could he resist when Guardasoni offered him twice the fee he was used to receiving for an opera in Vienna? Although opera seria was by no means a defunct idiom, taste and musical convention had changed in the years since the first La Clemenza di Tito , and modifications would be required if the new Clemenza were not to seem outmoded.
In its Metastasian form, opera seria abided by several more or less strict rules: the principal set pieces would not be ensembles but solo arias or, occasionally, a duet, although a final chorus might bring the opera to a joyous conclusion.
Almost invariably, a character would leave the stage after singing an aria. These conventions had worked in the past, but modern sensibilities demanded a more flexible structure, and particularly they required more ensembles, at which Mozart excelled. In addition Metastasio's libretto as it stood was too long, too nakedly aggrandizing to be accepted in ostensibly more enlightened times. For his subject, the librettist turned to the life of Titus Vespasianus, Roman emperor from AD Titus could be seen as the exemplar of the benign, enlightened and moderate ruler whose modern counterpart, by implication, was Charles VI, and, by extension, Emperor Leopold.
Did Mozart perhaps perceive a kinship with Sarastro in the opera he had been forced to put aside, The Magic Flute? He simplified the narrative, turning three acts into two and cutting about a third of Metastasio's text. Only seven of the original 25 arias remained, to be supplemented by four new arias as well as by several duets, trios, choruses and finales for soloists and chorus.
Some of the discarded recitative was re-incorporated into ensembles and arias; all of the changes served to make the opera faster moving, more focussed, more psychological, in a word, more modern. Mozart was almost certainly involved in detailed discussion about the changes, and seems to have thoroughly approved of the results: in his work-catalogue, he described La Clemenza with some pride as "opera seria. We should not be misled by that "ridotto" into thinking that Mozart in any way disparaged the circumstances or nature of La Clemenza.
Not the least of his considerations was the hope that, if he succeeded in impressing Leopold and his court, there was a chance of further employment in that quarter. Unfortunately, Leopold was known to favour opera in the Italian style, rather than in the more Germanic manner for which Mozart was best known that is one reason why Salieri had been first choice to write Clemenza.
We do not know what the emperor thought of the opera written in his honour, but his wife, the empress Maria Louisa, is reputed to have dismissed it as "porcheria tedesca": "German swinery". The premiere that impressed the Empress so little took place in Prague on 6 September , a few hours after Leopold's coronation.
This being a coronation performance, admission was free, and we can perhaps imagine that the audience was more interested in the occasion than in the opera. Certainly the reception seems to have been lukewarm, although once the public was admitted to later performances, the response became more enthusiastic. About a week later, Mozart wrote to his wife who was taking the waters in Baden : "It's the oddest thing, but the same evening that my new opera [ Magic Flute ] was given here for the first time with such applause, Tito had its last performance in Prague, also with extraordinary applause".
In the immediate aftermath of Mozart's death, the work flourished it was the first Mozart opera to be performed in London, in , but after its initial popularity, it lay neglected for well over a century.
Mozart: Serbate, oh Dei custodi (from La Clemenza di Tito) (page 1 of 1) | Presto Sheet Music
It is only in the last few decades that taste has allowed La Clemenza back into the repertoire, and then somewhat grudgingly, as if it were a work not entirely worthy of Mozart's genius. Certainly there is one piece of glaring evidence of haste on Mozart's part. Although he worked fast, he fell ill shortly after arriving in Prague a few days before the opera's first performance.
Unsurprisingly these passages lack genuine Mozartian fluency, but there is no evidence that Mozart found them wanting. Whether he would have retained them if he had had the opportunity to revisit the opera is a matter of speculation. The secco recitatives apart, La Clemenza shows Mozart's genius in full flow. The comparatively light scoring, once taken as further evidence of a rushed job, in fact allows the musical action to breathe naturally. If modern sensibilities find Tito's semi-divine clemency hard to swallow, that is hardly Mozart's fault.
Indeed, some modern stage productions take delight in cutting Tito down to size, rendering him all too human: how can we trust a man who, in the course of a single day, contemplates marriage with three different women? Don Giovanni himself could hardly better Tito in that department. In any case, we are more likely to find ourselves transfixed by Vitellia's emotional vacillations than by Tito's marmoreal beneficence.
At the opera's premiere, the basset horn, like the clarinet accompanying Sesto's "Parto, parto", was played by Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart wrote the Clarinet Concerto which he completed barely a month after the first performance of La Clemenza di Tito. In Vitellia, Mozart created a genuinely complex character, and she is the opera's dramatic motor, most notably in her relationship with Sesto, whose music all but matches Vitellia's for beauty.
La clemenza di Tito, K.621 (Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus)
These are the figures who fired Mozart's imagination and, despite the opera's title, they have more arias than Tito, or indeed any other character. It leads directly into the Act I finale, in which a sequence of characters enters one by one, each voicing anxiety about the disaster that they believe is about to engulf them. They, and by extension we, are convinced that Tito is dead, but while they weep and wail, the orchestra gently subsides, as if in a faint. Only Mozart could have brought this tumultuous scene to such an ambiguous climax.
Given that the secco recitatives are not by Mozart, we may tend to think that La Clemenza di Tito is an imperfect, even an unfinished Mozart opera, but in a performance which captures its beauty and its very particular drama, it requires no special pleading. The present recording coincided with a performance at the Edinburgh Festival, just three months before Sir Charles Mackerras's 80th birthday. Reviewing that Usher Hall concert in The Guardian London , Tim Ashley wrote: "The conductor was Charles Mackerras, second to none as a Mozartian and astonishing in his delineation of a world in which the pomp of imperialism hides the personal agonies that can destroy lives.
This is both a reasonably complete discography of Guillaume de Machaut written in as well as a compendium of Machaut's musical lyrics gathered in ref.
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