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New music professor gets a mention in “Mostly Mozart” notes

Assistant Professor of Music Mark Nabholz, who joined the Erskine College faculty this fall, is engaged in research on Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803), the composer who completed the Requiem in D Minor when Mozart died leaving the work unfinished.

Assistant Professor of Music Mark Nabholz

Erskine’s new choral director is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina and is reconstructing a secular cantata by Süssmayr.

The significance of Nabholz’s investigations was underscored in program notes for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at the “Mostly Mozart” festival last month at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Questions about Süssmayr’s work are addressed in the notes, which were published in August for the festival.

Had Süssmayr “merely followed Mozart’s deathbed instructions” in completing the work? This is what was first assumed, with critics claiming that Süssmayr’s other music “seemed much less interesting” than what he wrote for Mozart’s Requiem.

Süssmayr’s completion of the Requiem required him to “imitate the intricacies of Mozart’s style,” a style that “was often criticized at the time.”

The cantata at the center of Nabholz’s labors, Süssmayr’s Der Retter in Gefahr (“The Rescuer in Danger”), is described in the Lincoln Center notes describe it as “currently being reconstructed by the young conductor Mark Nabholz.”

The music of that  cantata, according to the Lincoln Center notes, “recalls the portions of Die Zauberflöte that Mozart intentionally wrote in a popular style,” rather than in his usual intricate style, and the formerly obscure Süssmayr “is now emerging as a skillful composer who was capable of emulating Mozart’s manner but—for the good of his career—chose not to do so.”

Nabholz characterizes Der Retter in Gefahr as “a positive piece of pro-Austrian, pro-Kaiser, anti-French, anti-Napoleon propaganda art.” Its premiere in 1796 and subsequent performances “raised funds to equip a volunteer army sent to help the Italians deter Napoleon’s advance—an effort that eventually proved futile,” he added.

The score is not yet published, but Nabholz has given concerts and lecture recitals featuring the Süssmayr work. “A full performance is now under consideration in the Washington, D.C., area in 2012,” he said. The year 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Polotsk, the first major defeat of Napoleon’s Russian campaign.

Happy that his research is gaining recognition, he plans to encourage performances of the cantata. “It’s a worthy work, filled with drama and beautiful melodies,” Nabholz said. “Süssmayr’s voice deserves to be heard again after more than 200 years.”

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