Scholars wishing to examine the manuscripts of the masters must expect to go out of their way, but since World War II several Mozart operas have required more effort than many other such treasures. Of the principal scores only two have come down in one piece: "Don Giovanni" in Paris and "The Magic Flute" in Berlin. The others are dispersed among various owners.
The wind parts for the finale of "The Marriage of Figaro," for instance, constitute a prime holding of the new Juilliard Manuscript Collection. Other institutions own an aria here, a recitative there. The chief repositories are the Berlin State Library and the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow, Poland. Since the mid-20th century five great Mozart operas have been split between these two libraries in act-size chunks, and, until recently, mutual relations there were cool to nonexistent.
But things have changed. This month, with the publication of "The Magic Flute," a series of bibliophile facsimiles of the seven most important Mozart operas is complete. These are not the autographs, granted, but for study purposes they are nearly as good.
The originator of this extraordinary venture is David W. Packard, president of the Packard Humanities Institute in Los Altos, Calif. A former professor of classics and the son of David Packard, a co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, the younger Mr. Packard is a philanthropist of unapologetically scholarly bent, also involved in digitizing ancient Greek manuscripts and programming Hollywood classics at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, Calif.
Christoph Wolff, a Harvard musicologist and the chairman of the editorial board for the facsimile edition, says the project took about five years, no time at all in this business.
"We started thinking about it in 2004, looking ahead to Mozart's 250th birthday in 2006," Mr. Wolff said recently from Cambridge, Mass. "The idea was to bring together the various portions of the original manuscripts of his operas that have been widely scattered over the generations, especially after World War II. The holdings in Krakow were trophy materials taken by the Red Army, which made things tricky until the Wall fell. Now the collaborative relationship is very good. Still, it was quite complicated to get all the current owners to agree to be gathered between covers with all the others. We're very pleased that our diplomatic efforts bore some fruit. Now everything is back together. Not one leaf is missing."
Bracketing the series are "Idomeneo" and "La Clemenza di Tito," Mozart's early and late essays in the expiring Baroque genre known as opera seria (serious opera). The five remaining titles are in turn bracketed by "The Abduction From the Seraglio" and "The Magic Flute," his sublime examples of the German singspiel, with musical numbers bridged by spoken dialogue. And at the center are the three Italian masterpieces to librettos by Lorenzo Da Ponte: "The Marriage of Figaro," "Don Giovanni" and "Così Fan Tutte." Each opera, in one or two volumes, comes with a companion volume chockablock with research on watermarks and other arcana that have proved a fertile field for musicologists in our time. The price for each opera is $175 (mozartfacsimiles.org).
Cultists venerate autograph manuscripts like pieces of the True Cross, but how revealing are they to an untrained eye? It helps to be shown how Mozart, following the conventions of his time, set up each page, with the violins and violas on top and the bass line on the bottom. Apparently this framework was written first, leaving the vocal lines and instrumental elaborations of brasses, woodwinds and percussion to be added, as it were, from the outside in. Printed scores today are arranged by instrumental sections, each reading from the bottom up, giving less of an impression of looking over the composer's shoulder.
Other casualties of printed scores are Mozart's corrections: often no more than flicks of the pen dashed off in the heat of the moment yet transformational in their power. For example, Mr. Wolff points to the vengeance aria "Or sai chi l'onore" in "Don Giovanni," sung to an accompaniment of tempestuous majesty. As the opening vocal phrases were originally written, Donna Anna seemed to drift along on the tide of emotion surging in the orchestra. Then Mozart bumped her line up a notch, and now she leads the charge, banners flying.
Claudio Spies, a composer and professor emeritus at Princeton University and a member of the faculty of the Juilliard School, has for years taken students across town to examine musical manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum. Publication of the Mozart facsimiles has opened a whole new realm of possibilities.
"There's hardly a page in which there isn't something to stimulate a musician's imagination," Mr. Spies said recently. "Even the color of the ink. These documents let you get into the composer's mind as nothing else can. You see his incredible speed, the reason for every particular decision."
In "La Clemenza di Tito" Mr. Spies has found a textbook example of a highly unusual nature. Evidently pressed for time, Mozart left the speechlike recitatives of the opera to a helper, probably his occasional student Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who by general agreement did a poor job. On a manuscript page one recitative passage is elegantly adjusted in Mozart's hand, the most important word now falling on the highest note. "That's a glaringly lovely case," Mr. Spies said, "and the difference is a gleaming composition lesson. Seeing that, one smiles for a full week."
Mr. Packard refuses to believe that such epiphanies are reserved for professionals. "Nobody owns Mozart," he said last summer in Los Altos. "Millions of ordinary people love him too. I wanted to make it possible for anyone to have copies of his manuscripts. You never know who's out there, and what they'll discover."