Orig­i­nally in­tended to be sung by a small-town choir, Mozart’s Ave Verum Cor­pus is a beau­ti­ful but ac­ces­si­ble piece, which Brid­get Mer­mikides has ar­ranged for clas­si­cal gui­tar.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Brid­get Mer­mikides ar­ranges and tran­scribes for gui­tar, a stun­ning work from per­haps the all-time ge­nius of clas­si­cal com­po­si­tion.

In this in­stal­ment we adapt for the gui­tar a work by the ar­che­typal mu­si­cal ge­nius, Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Space does not per­mit an ad­e­quate ac­count of Mozart’s mu­si­cal skill and stag­ger­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity. Suf­fice it to say that his ca­reer, which started aged five and despite con­stant money and health is­sues and hav­ing six chil­dren, by his fi­nal year at the ripe young age of 35 he had pro­duced over 600 works. These in­cluded 41 sym­phonies, over 40 con­cer­tos (for pi­ano, vi­o­lin and horn), 26 string quar­tets and over 20 operas and works for stage. It’s quite hard to con­tem­plate this work rate, let alone con­sid­er­ing that each one is a work of ex­quis­ite skill and many of them genre-defin­ing and ex­pand­ing mas­ter­pieces.

Here we look at one of his short­est works, writ­ten in Baden on 17 June 1791 just a few months be­fore his un­timely death. By this point his tech­ni­cal and ex­pres­sive mas­tery had long been es­tab­lished, and this motet (a gen­eral term stem­ming from the 13th cen­tury for a cho­ral work with of­ten sa­cred words) man­ages in just 46 bars to evoke serene beauty and deep ex­pres­sion. Ave Verum Cor­pus (K618 – his 618th work un­der the Köchel cat­a­logu­ing sys­tem) uses a 14th­cen­tury hymn as the text and was writ­ten for An­ton Stoll, a friend of Mozart who helped his wife Con­stanze (preg­nant with their sixth child at the time) and it is be­lieved that the piece was writ­ten as a type of in­for­mal re­pay­ment. Stoll was the Baden Bei Wien Par­ish mu­si­cal co­or­di­na­tor and used the work to cel­e­brate the feast of Cor­pus Christi.

The text and gen­eral tex­ture bor­rows much from the Re­nais­sance motet, but there’s a suc­cinct­ness in the melody and har­mony, which is both orig­i­nal and pro­gres­sive for the time. Orig­i­nally scored for SATB choir, strings and or­gan, but such is the di­rect­ness of the com­po­si­tion that vir­tu­ally the en­tire melodic and har­monic con­tent can be trans­lated to the gui­tar (although I’ve trans­posed the orig­i­nal key of D to A to bet­ter use the gui­tar’s range). The sim­plic­ity of the work is per­haps due to Mozart’s aware­ness that this was to be per­formed by a choir of a small town which shows that, far from be­ing in an ‘ivory tower’ he was a prag­matic com­poser, writ­ing works to be heard not just on the score.

The main chal­lenge here is not the tempo (which is serenely ada­gio and sotto voce: ‘sub­dued’) but to keep the melody legato like a sung voice while main­tain­ing a suit­able bal­ance be­tween it and the sup­port­ing chords. There are also nu­mer­ous di­ads (dou­ble-stops and gen­er­ally in 3rds) that re­quire fret­ting­hand flu­ency and an even­ness of tone to make ef­fec­tive. This is a great ar­range­ment to learn as it’s a per­fect ‘minia­ture’ piece for per­for­mance and quiet con­so­la­tion, and one of the tech­ni­cally eas­ier pieces in our se­ries. It is, how­ever, by no means rudi­men­tary mu­si­cally - it has the sur­face of sim­plic­ity but a depth of so­phis­ti­ca­tion – the so called ‘sec­ond sim­plic­ity’. Or, as the Aus­trian pi­anist Ar­tur Schn­abel so elo­quently puts it, it is: “too sim­ple for chil­dren, and too dif­fi­cult for adults”. En­joy!

there’s suC­CinCt­ness in both the Melody And hAr­Mony thAt MAkes it pro­gres­siVe And orig­i­nAl for its tiMe

Mozart: com­posed over 600 works in his all-too-brief 35-year life­span

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