Classical Opera and Ian Page release the seventh recording in their acclaimed Complete Mozart Opera Cycle – the world premiere recording of Mozart’s original 1768 version of Bastien und Bastienne

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Classical Opera and Ian Page release the seventh recording in their acclaimed Complete Mozart Opera Cycle – the world premiere recording of Mozart’s original 1768 version of Bastien und Bastiennepaired with the 1767 cantata Grabmusik (also the original version) – on 14 September on Signum Classics. The ensemble will then perform the first modern performance of Mozart’s original version of Bastien und Bastienne at Wigmore Hall on 18 September, 250 years after the twelve-year-old composed the one-act singspiel.

Ian Page – conductor, founder and Artistic Director says:It was only when I started preparations for this recording that I realised how complex and convoluted the origins of Bastien und Bastienne were. Mozart’s autograph manuscript was missing for a great many years, but it was finally rediscovered in Krakow in the 1980s.

As a result it has been possible to establish the provenance of this charming work and to recreate the text as Mozart himself set and performed it. We are coupling the piece with Grabmusik, one of the most astonishing and visceral of Mozart’s childhood compositions, and a particular favourite of mine.”

Ian Page brings together a cast for this album comprising of Anna Lucia Richter (soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Jacques Imbrailo (baritone) and Darren Jeffery (bass-baritone). Fisher is one of Classical Opera’s Associate Artists, who recently performed in La finta semplice with the ensemble. At Wigmore Hall he and Darren Jeffery are joined by soprano Ellie Laugharne (another Associate Artist of the company), and this concert performance is prefaced in the first half by Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 (‘La Passione͛’) and a selection of arias from Teutsche Comoedie Arien, an anonymous collection of arias that were sung in Viennese comic operas of the 1750s.

Musicologists have suggested that some of these arias might even have been the work of the young Haydn, who at the time was embarking on his career and studying Italian vocal composition in Vienna with Nicola Porpora. These arias provide a rare example of the specific style of music that Mozart was seeking to recreate in Bastien und Bastienne. 

Bastien und Bastienne is the only one of Mozart’s operas to be conceived for a performance in a private house rather than a theatre. It was commissioned by the controversial German physician Franz Anton Mesmer in mid-1768, when Mozart was 12 years old, and set a 1764 libretto by F.W. Weiskern. This libretto was essentially a German adaptation of a French libretto which was itself an adaptation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1752 intermezzo Le devin du village. When Mozart returned to Salzburg in 1769, a few months after the composition of Bastien und Bastienne, his friend Johannes Schachtner – who wanted to be a librettist and later wrote the text for Mozart’s Zaide – felt that Weiskern’s text was too hard and angular, and he set about the task of ‘improving it’.

Because Mozart had already composed the music, Schachtner limited his changes in the sung text to sporadic words or phrases that have the exact same stresses and syllable-count, but he completely rewrote the spoken dialogue, rejecting Weiskern’s prose in favour of a versified text which he hoped Mozart would set to recitative (Mozart did indeed set the first few recitatives before seemingly losing interest). When examining Mozart’s autograph it is clear that the original text has been crossed out in a different pen wherever Schachtner made changes to the sung text. The Bärenreiter Urtext edition – along with other editions – however, was made before the rediscovery of the manuscript, and therefore follows an inauthentic hybrid of Weiskern, Schachtner, dialogue and recitative. Ian Page’s recording reinstates Weiskern’s deliberately rustic and unrefined language, the first recording of the opera to do so.

Also featured on the disc is Mozart’s Grabmusik, which is supposedly the result of a test set by the Prince of Salzburg. The Prince was sceptical that a child could write ‘such masterly compositions’, so the ten-year-old Mozart was shut in a room for a week with manuscript paper and words of an oratorio. The anonymous text represents a dialogue between a tormented soul, who is lamenting Christ’s death, and an angel. When the work was revived in the mid-1770s, Mozart added a final recitative and chorus, but this recording again presents Mozart’s original version, ending with the conciliatory duet between the soul and the angel. The work was conceived for performance in Holy Week and its title can be translated as “Cantata on Christ’s Grave” – literally ‘grave music’.

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