One of my first blogs ruminated on the subject of the rediscovered fragment, the little piece of tertiary importance, the scrap of manuscript paper by a great composer and why such things mean so much to us. A new Mozart fragment has just been rediscovered: a complete melody, apparently, from 1787–1791 (obviously; his death year), without harmonization or orchestration, but a complete melody. This scrap was known in the nineteenth century but since its positive identification has slipped under the radar.
I have not seen the melody, so it is impossible to say what I would get from it. This is a period in which Mozart was interested in Church Music, so it is not impossible that the melody could be an example of what Wye Jamison Allanbrook has called Mozart’s “exalted style,” and anything that adds to our ongoing style database is a great gift. Jeffrey Kallberg has an article on the Aesthetic of the Sketch as it relates to Chopin in Early Music XXIX/3 (August 2001)—this includes his famous reconstruction of the early E-Flat Minor Prelude—and my thoughts always go back to that when new discoveries are made. It is not that sketches provide undiscovered masterworks, nor are they footnotes fit only for obsessives and completists. Rather, they expand, even incrementally, the eye-view of the composer’s output and aesthetic. Making this up for speculative purposes, now: an incomplete church piece? No big deal. But, a new relative of what was previously considered an atypical melody? An italianate church melody for a Quid Mariam, or a French, or a German? What would these things mean about how his creativity worked? A relative of a melody from an instrumental piece? A relative of a melody by another composer? What new ideas can we now consider about Mozart’s compositional journey, his relationship to the music of his time and perhaps even to the wider culture?
I wish the thing would be made available to those of us who can’t afford the gazillion dollars to buy the manuscript. Meanwhile, it’s another one in the eye to those who imagine that the study of history (of any kind) is a primarily static, placid endeavor.