At 5:30 p.m. this Friday, February 21, WU Libraries and the Department of Music present an event in Gaylord Music Library bringing attendees in close contact with music-making from centuries ago.
Drawing on the library's rich collection of early Mozart and Beethoven prints, "Mozart Opera Arrangements: When the Music Was New" will feature a quartet of Washington University string students playing extracts from Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte, from parts printed from lithograph plates in 1796. Along with the musical performance by Ken Zheng, Gracie Aeschbacher, Madeleine Coutré, and Leora Sherman, the event will include introductory remarks by Professor Emeritus Hugh Macdonald, and a reception will follow.
Librarian Brad Short notes that in Mozart's time, music circulated in manuscript copies and in prints in a wide range of formats, including the edition that Friday's quartet will present.
"An opera, if it enjoyed any success, would be published in a variety of playable arrangements, in this case for string quartet without the voices," Short says. "In an exhibit currently on display in Gaylord, we have another 18th-century string quartet arrangement of a different Mozart opera, one for piano, flute, and harp, and another one more predictably of an overture reduced for piano.
"In the main, these kinds of arrangements were souvenirs for folks who had gone to the opera. But they were also marketing tools in that it is much easier to get your friends together on Friday evening and play through Mozart's newest opera than it would be to try and mount the entire opera just to see if you like it."
Hearing these arrangements now gives insight into the way operatic music was shared and enjoyed in a domestic setting, when the music was new, Short adds.
"While the students have been rehearsing from freely available scans we created last year, on Friday I'll be pulling the actually parts out of our exhibit and putting them on their music stands. Haven't you always wanted to stand up in the audience and start singing with the performers on the stage, or run out onto the Busch Stadium field and start playing? Or go to a library or museum and pull something out of the exhibit and use it? I think it will make the 18th-century print real in a way that it can't be when kept behind glass."
The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Brad Short.