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Program Notes: All Mozart (December 9-11, 2022)

Program

December 9-11, 2022


Jane Glover, conductor

David Halen, violin


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425, "Linz" (1783) Adagio—Allegro spiritoso

Poco adagio

Menuetto

Presto


Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218 (1775)

Allegro

Andante cantabile

Rondeau—Andante grazioso—Allegro ma non troppo

David Halen, violin


Intermission


Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504, "Prague" (1786) Adagio—Allegro

Andante

Presto


 

Program Notes

by Yvonne Frindle


Mozart: A Tale of Three Cities

The story, but not the concert, begins at the Salzburg court of Prince Archbishop Colloredo in the 1770s. For someone who travelled Europe as a musical prodigy—moving in exalted circles, admired and feted—Mozart’s life there as a servant-musician must have been galling. The situation wasn’t helped by the dominating presence of his father, at once ambitious for his teenage son and pragmatic about the status quo for a professional musician in the late 18th century.


Leopold Mozart thought his son could, if he put his mind to it, be one of the finest violinists in all of Europe. Wolfgang had ambitions of his own, but even so, the set of violin concertos he composed in Salzburg reveals his remarkable virtuosity and artistry as a violinist, as well as a flourishing musical imagination.


Mozart had his sights set on Vienna, and in 1781 orchestrated his own dismissal from the Archbishop’s employment. Despite warnings of the fickleness of Viennese taste, Mozart was determined to pursue a freelance life in the musical heart of Europe. For a time things went well, but just as Mozart was reaching his full maturity as a composer, Vienna seemed increasingly unappreciative. And so the story, and the concert, takes us to other cities where he and his music were welcomed.


In Linz in 1783, he was showered with kindness by “old Count Thun” and a concert was mounted in his honor. Not having a symphony in his luggage, Mozart promptly wrote a new one for the occasion.


Four years later, Mozart was invited to Prague (Count Thun’s other home) to hear his opera The Marriage of Figaro, which was enjoying phenomenal success. In Prague, Mozart discovered, “they talk about nothing but Figaro—nothing is played, sung or whistled but Figaro.” Mozart himself received a celebrity’s welcome, and two masterpieces are forever associated with his visit: the opera Don Giovanni, commissioned for the city, and the “Prague” Symphony.

 
W.A. Mozart
W.A. Mozart

Symphony No. 36, "Linz"


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria

Died December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria


“On Tuesday, November 4th, I am giving a concert in the theatre here and, since I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at break-neck speed, which must be finished by that time.”

—Mozart to his father, 1783


In 1783, having exhausted his supply of excuses and postponements, Mozart took his bride Constanze to visit his disapproving father in Salzburg. After three strained months, they returned to Vienna, stopping on the way in Linz. There, the reception was much warmer: Count Johann Thun insisted the couple stay at his palace and invited Mozart to appear in a concert with his “first-rate” orchestra. But Mozart had been travelling light: “since I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at breakneck speed…” Less than a week later, he’d completed his most brilliant and original symphony to date.


Mozart may have been composing at speed but he was taking a serious approach to the symphonic genre: adopting longer forms, exploring new colors and expressive effects, and writing for the orchestra (and especially the wind instruments) with a new subtlety and virtuosity.


The “Linz” Symphony was the first of his symphonies to begin with the newly fashionable slow introduction. But this noble beginning with its majestic rhythms almost immediately shifts character: suspenseful lines for bassoon, oboe, and violins lead into the Allegro spiritoso (fast and spirited) section of the first movement, splendid with the colors of trumpets and drums.

On the surface, the second movement with its lilting rhythms is a lyrical Andante like so many other of Mozart’s slow movements. But then he brings in horns, trumpets, and timpani. This was rare in a slow movement of the time and Mozart’s audience would have experienced an unexpected sense of solemnity. Today the trumpets and drums—played very quietly—still bring an ominous edge to this radiant movement.


The Menuetto is cheerful, courtly, and apparently conventional. But even here Mozart introduces sophistications: expanding the proportions of the minuet with a little fanfare figure, and pointing to the Baroque origins of the minuet dance with prominent use of oboe and bassoon in folk-like trio.


The bubbling and exuberant finale reveals the influence of Haydn with its brilliant, clear-cut textures and witty character. There’s a profusion of melodies, sometimes contrasted with each other, sometimes passed around the orchestra as if in a relay. Mozart would have expected musicians to take his Presto tempo marking literally: as fast as possible. And the hushed beginning of the main theme only serves to highlight the festive and joyous outbursts.


First performance: November 4, 1783, in the Linz Ballhaus, played by the court orchestra of Count Thun

First SLSO performance: December 13, 1940, Thomas Beecham conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: March 18, 2010, David Robertson conducting

Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 26 minutes

 

Violin Concerto No. 4


We tend to think of Mozart as a pianist, but he was equally accomplished as a violinist. During the first part of his career, at the Salzburg court of Archbishop Colloredo, his duties included leading the orchestra and playing the violin solos in concertos and serenades. His father, Leopold, was an influential violin teacher, and he assured his son that, if he kept practicing, he could be one of the finest violinists in Europe. But Mozart had other plans…


Meanwhile, between 1772, when he joined Colloredo’s service as concertmaster, and 1781, when he got himself literally booted out of his job in an act of noisy quitting, Mozart wrote five violin concertos. An early effort in 1773 (K. 207) was followed by four concertos of remarkable maturity and originality, composed in 1775. Among the earliest performers were Antonio Brunetti (who joined the Salzburg court orchestra as a solo violinist in 1776) as well as Mozart himself.


The concertos point to Mozart’s own taste as a performer. He was a virtuoso—Brunetti said “Mozart could play anything”—but his style wasn’t flashy. Once, when he’d performed the third concerto (K. 216), he wrote that it had gone as “smoothly as oil,” and everyone had praised his “beautiful, pure tone.” And as a composer he put musical substance ahead of technical display.


The fourth concerto (K. 218) is in D major, a bright-sounding key normally associated with trumpets and drums. But neither of those instruments appear—instead Mozart establishes an assertive mood with fanfares for horns and oboes. In the first movement Mozart exploits the possibilities of the violin’s range, from very high notes to the supple sound of its low register, and teases listeners with unexpected shifts in volume and other delightful surprises. The slow movement is marked Andante cantabile—calling for an easy tempo and, especially, a fluid, singing character—and adopts a serious, contemplative tone. The finale begins with what sounds like a slow introduction. But this turns out to be the recurring rondeau refrain of the movement, its gentle, graceful character alternating with lively, whimsical episodes before one final surprise: the concerto dies away to a subdued ending.


First performance: Probably in 1775 or 1776 in Salzburg, with the composer and violinist Antonio Brunetti as likely soloists. The first reported performance was in October 1777 with Brunetti as soloist.

First SLSO performance: January 27, 1939, Vladimir Golschmann conducting, with Jascha Heifetz as soloist

Most recent SLSO performance: March 3, 2010, David Robertson conducting, with Heidi Harris as soloist

Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings

Approximate duration: 26 minutes

 

Symphony No. 38, "Prague"


The symphonies in this concert bookend an especially fruitful period for Mozart. Between the Linz stopover and his triumphant visit to Prague in 1787, he’d published six string quartets dedicated to Haydn, demonstrating “great and elevated ideas” and a “bold spirit.” And he’d composed and premiered 12 piano concertos that brought fresh drama and expressive lyricism to the genre. Then, in 1786, he wrote the first of his three great operas with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, The Marriage of Figaro.


Around the same time he began what was intended to be a new finale for his “Paris” Symphony in D major (K. 297), but which triggered a completely new creation. This became the symphony that Mozart took to Prague and premiered to the great delight of his fans there.


The “Prague” Symphony stands with Mozart’s three final symphonies in its ambition, dramatic grandeur, and sheer inventiveness. It has two distinguishing features. Unusually for the time, the symphony is in three movements rather than four, dispensing with the minuet. And, like the “Linz” Symphony, it begins with a slow introduction, but on an even greater scale—almost standing as a movement in its own right.


Mozart’s reputation—cemented in the modern imagination by the 1984 movie Amadeus—for writing compositions in fair copy, as if they’d spring fully formed from his mind, is countered by his extensive sketches for the first movement, working out and perfecting the music’s astonishing complexities. The slow introduction (Adagio) anticipates the drama of Don Giovanni with shifts between bright D major and the ominous color of D minor, the ambiguity of the harmony supported by restless syncopated rhythms. The arrival of the fast section of the movement (Allegro) brings a profusion of thematic ideas, ingeniously woven together. And all the while, the traditionally optimistic mood of D major is shadowed by pathos.


The Andante—an easygoing movement with lilting rhythms and flowing melodies—has the character of an operatic duet, and again it’s complicated: graceful but poignant, radiant yet troubled, and, as music critic Sacheverell Sitwell described it, “redolent of regret and affection.” As for the missing minuet, perhaps Mozart thought, as did his contemporary Karl Spazier, that the presence of a dance movement would undermine the music’s seriousness. Or perhaps he simply felt the Andante had combined the best of both worlds: the emotional depth of a slow movement and the formal properties of a pastoral minuet.


The Presto takes us into the world of The Marriage of Figaro—literally—with a bustling theme based on the opera’s Act II duet between Susanna and Cherubino. Its explosive energy makes for a brilliant and extrovert finale. A decade after the premiere, Mozart’s first biographer, Franz Xaver Niemetschek, declared the symphony “a true masterpiece”—full of surprising passages, an impetuous and fiery work that “inclines the soul to the expectation of something sublime and exalted.” It was, he reported, still a favorite of Prague audiences, “although they have heard it at least a hundred times.” We could say the same.


First performance: January 19, 1787, in the Nostitz Theater, Prague

First SLSO performance: November 29, 1935, Vladimir Golschmann conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: December 8, 2013, Steven Jarvi conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 26 minutes


 

Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.

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