breathless

I’m working on the Mozart Requiem this semester, doing excerpts with my community choir and assisting the school choir.  So when I flipped through my CD case looking for baby music for my new-father friend, I was thrilled to discover that I owned the Ton Koopman recording of the Requiem. It may have come from my husband; I have no memory of buying it or even of putting it in the case, but there it was.  So I popped it in the CD player.

Oh.  My.  God.

After two minutes I was literally breathless and a little dizzy.  And, no, I’ve been off the post-surgical narcotics for days now, so that wasn’t the cause.

It’s not just that the tempo is fast.  It’s that it’s fast and shapely and–because it’s the Mozart Requiem and has everything in it that it has in it–sort of aggressive.  The lines I’m used to developing in liquid layers are suddenly all coming one on top of each other with insistence.  Who cares if I’m not ready for the tenors?  They’re coming in now, and then, yes, altos.  Suck it up.  He’s tossing line after line into the pile backing up around my ears.

And then the homophonic text speaks naturally, like actual speech.  And the soprano–no long, lingering single note here.  Nothing hangs in the air with unnatural shimmer.  She speaks her mind, turns her back, and lets the choir finish the job.  And they do.

And, oh god, the fugue.  Not many choirs who sing the Requiem can pull off those runs at that tempo.  Is that why we don’t do it at that tempo?  Because most of us aren’t good enough?  Or is it to fast?  Did Mozart write with us in mind?  He did think, “these runs should be singable?”

If I’d never heard the Requiem before, would I feel so helpless in the face of all this music being thrown at me?  Would it feel natural for all those entrances to pile up before my ear knew what hit it?  Is it my knowledge, my expectations that make it seem overwhelming?  Would I be able to keep up if I weren’t unlearning my own version at the same time?

Do I like it?  I don’t know.  But I love what it makes me feel.  It’s really exciting–it made my jaw hang open for the first minute.  It’s a huge heaping helping of perspective, that’s for damn sure.  I love that it made me question the possibilities I’d imagined.  I love that it’s something I probably wouldn’t do, but done so well that it makes me wonder if maybe I’d like to try it.

That said, I don’t like the “Lacrimosa” fast.  I had thought the Harnoncourt “Lacrimosa” was fast at 3:07.  The Koopman is 2:42!  All of that weeping torment turns into lilt.  You just can’t make it heavy enough if you want it to move that fast, and it needs the weight.  Skim over the top and you lose the desperation, the grit.

But Koopman’s “Hostias” is a langorous 3:44 against Harnoncourt’s floaty 3:02.

Of course, you have to hear it.  The only way I could figure to put the actual music online was to use it as the soundtrack to a video.  I thought I might as well use a video of my dogs playing in the backyard, looped three times.

Even then, I’m not sure how long the copyright gods will allow it to stay, as-is.  Until then…

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