Drifting peacefully into the evening. Watching the sun. Observing the changing colours of the sky. Remaining in a suspended state of mind until darkness surrounds myself. Questions. What did cross Fanny Mendelssohn’s mind when she wrote the String Quartet in E flat major, H-U 277? It remains a mystery. I went through Fanny’s diary and the letters she wrote to her brother Felix during the first half of 1834 and found nothing. Fanny completed the quartet in August that year and she did not seem eager to share anything about it.
Oriental exotics and intrigue, power struggles, impossible love, betrayal and reconciliation – those ingredients have tempted librettists and opera composers alike. How they dealt with it, had very much to do with the conventions of the time, the taste of the audience, and the availability of good singers. When Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, made his debut in London, he was appalled by the lack of good singers, and though the King’s Theatre asked him in 1762 to write two operas, he initially refused. However, after the audition of several singers, he agreed, and in 1763, he presented an opera that had long been forgotten, and that I have discovered myself only very recently: Zanaida.
Have I ever presented to you the Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst? No? I should have done so long ago for this man transforms abstract notes into music of pure, glittering gold. Fröst was born in 1970 and as a five-year old boy he started to play the violin. Three years later he added the clarinet. He deepened his studies in Germany and Stockholm and also took classes in conducting. In May 2017, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced the appointment of Fröst as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2019/20 season, with an initial contract of three seasons. The “New York Times” qualified him as having “a virtuosity and a musicianship unsurpassed by any clarinettist, perhaps any instrumentalist”.
At some point it had to happen. At some point I had to write about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, KV 626. Too many times I had listened to the overwhelming opening chant “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” (Lord, give them eternal peace). Too many times I had been swept away emotionally by the prospect of the eternal light shining upon me (“Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine”). Yesterday I heard it in an arrangement by Franz Xaver Süßmayr, performed by the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and the Collegium Vocale Gent under Philippe Herreweghe in Luxembourg. Oh Lord, what a blessing! What a performance! Simply exhilarating!