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 Recording of the Week  Lost manuscripts continue to be found

Last month it was announced that a sketch for a lost Mozart Mass movement had been discovered in a library in the town of Nantes on the Atlantic coast of France. The score is for a Credo in D major and although it contains only 15 bars of melody with no indication of harmony or instrumentation, it is still a very important discovery not least because it gives insight into Mozart's evolving composition style and provides a clue about the role religion may have played for the composer as his life neared its turbulent end.

Recent Mozart discovery
Recent Mozart discovery

It seems that every year or so a major discovery takes place, and while in this case it is obviously more newsworthy because it is Mozart rather than because it gives us an actual new work to be performed and recorded, that is not always the case. The Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major for example was presumed lost until a copy of the score was discovered in Prague in 1961. It is now one of the standard works in the cello repertoire and is studied by almost every young cellist.

Although it is rare to uncover manuscripts of that magnitude, even in the last few years some important things have come to light. Handel’s Gloria in Excelsis Deo for example was found in an unmarked book of Arias at the Royal Academy of Music in 2001, and in 2005 Bach’s aria for soprano ‘Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn' ihn’ was uncovered in a German library. Both works have now been recorded and even after the novelty value has subsided they are undoubtedly of the quality to remain regulars in the concert and recorded programmes of both composers.

Some manuscript discoveries are important not because they give us new works but because they provide invaluable original sources for existing ones. The score of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony for example was found in a carrier bag in 2004, while a working piano duet manuscript of Beethoven’s ‘Grosse Fuge’ was spotted on the bottom shelf of a cupboard in Philadelphia in 2005. Both are fascinating as they help us to understand the creative processes that the composers went through on route to the final versions. I did a post-graduate degree in musicology before getting involved in the record industry and found working with original manuscripts and sources one of the most fascinating parts – looking at a piece of paper and thinking ‘what did he have in mind when he made that mark, or wrote that note there?’

As mentioned above, the new Mozart discovery is just a fragment and therefore unlikely to ever appear on CD, but the premiere recordings of the Handel and Bach works are listed below. Although other recordings have since appeared of both works these two remain amongst the very finest.

Handel - Gloria in Excelsis Deo

Emma Kirkby (soprano)Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra, Laurence Cummings

Coupled with a very fine Dixit Dominus including Anne Sofie Von Otter)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Bach, J S: Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn' ihn

Elin Manahan-Thomas (soprano), The Monteverdi Choir & The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

Coupled with selections from the Cantatas)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC