2019-2020 Mozart in the Afternoon Series Program Notes

Mozart in the Afternoon Series

by Kalindi Bellach ©2019

The Three Bs / Symphonic Surprises / Strauss and His Idol

The Three Bs


Bach – Orchestral Suite No. 4
Bizet – Symphony in C Major
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 3

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

The original composition date of the Johann Sebastian Bach’s fourth orchestral suite is uncertain, because there are no surviving drafts of the score. It is likely, however, that he first worked on this piece during his time at Cöthen (1717-1723). We know that this piece can’t have been written after 1725, because a lot of the material was also used in his Cantata, BWV 110 from that same year. 

In 1729, Bach began directing the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, a post he held into the 1740s. The Collegium Musicum was a semi-professional performing ensemble started by George Philipp Telemann at the beginning of the century. The earliest iteration of the group included the best students from the University of Leipzig. In Telemann’s own words, “despite the fact that it consisted mainly of university students, often reaching a total of 40 musicians, nevertheless could be listened to with great appreciation and pleasure.” The Collegium performed quite often, and it is for this group that Bach most likely composed his orchestral suites, as well as various other instrumental works.

Each of Bach’s orchestral suites opens with an overture and is followed by a set of dance movements. This is based on the practice of suites or collections of movements from ballet or opera chosen and arranged for concert performance being preceded by an overture in similar fashion to the full work. In his music dictionary of 1732, Johann Gottfried Walther explained, “the overture takes its name from ‘to open,’ because this instrumental piece opens the door, as it were, to the suites or following music.” This practice of taking dance movements from ballet or opera can be traced back to Jean-Baptiste Lully in France at the court of King Louis XIV, whose influence spread across Europe. 

Bach did not restrict himself to imitating the French forms; he also enjoyed other elements, including the stylized dotted rhythms (long-short-long-short) and shapely grace of phrase. Even outside of any French influence, dance was important in the Baroque period, both for actual dancing and as a structural tool for standalone music. In Bach’s suites (and not only the orchestral ones), his dance movements often included elements inspired by other nationalities, including England, Italy, and of course Germany. These pieces also stand out from the majority of his output, which is mostly sacred and more serious. Besides being something of a respite, these lighter pieces were also a good source of income. 

Bach’s fourth orchestral suite is in five movements. The overture that is mentioned above, followed by a Bourrée, Gavotte, Menuet, and Réjouissance. The Bourrée is a quick, French dance similar to the Gavotte (also quick but with a stronger basis in folk dance); both the Bourrée and Gavotte were popular in the Sun King’s court. The Menuet is another dance of French origin, and is characterized by small steps. The final movement of this suite is titled Réjouissance, which is unusual. This term generally refers to a festival celebrating a national event like a royal birth or wedding. George Frideric Handel also used this title in his Royal Fireworks in 1749. 

The first two orchestral suites call for a slightly smaller performing ensemble than the latter two, which are slightly more expansive and stately. Bach calls for full strings, bassoon, trumpets, and timpani. 

George Bizet (1838-1875)

French composer George Bizet, now known best for his opera Carmen, the sheer popularity of which has almost completely eclipsed the worth of his other work, composed his first symphony while he was still a student at the Paris Conservatory. He began his studies when he was ten years old, taking composition classes with Charles Gounod. Only a few years later, Gounod would achieve fame for his arrangement of Ave Maria set over Bach’s Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier. 

In 1854, Gounod wrote his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, which he constructed in the Classical style after Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The work was received well, and he assigned the young Bizet to write a symphony also. Bizet’s symphony is closely modeled after Gounod’s, and is also infused with elements of the musics of Haydn and Gioachino Rossini. Bizet completed his symphony in 1855 when he was just seventeen years old. However, despite his age, the work does not show a parallel immaturity. 

Bizet’s Symphony in C Major is in four movements, and, like Gounod’s, follows the traditional Classical form. The first movement is a spirited Allegro vivo, featuring phrases that seem almost to lean forward. The answering second theme is more lyrical, performed by the oboe. 

The Andante also features the oboe with a lovely theme in A minor. This movement is filled with beautifully expressive string melodies that show a taste of what is to come in Bizet’s operas. This moves into the Scherzo, marked the lively Allegro vivace. This movement has a slightly heavier, more forceful, folk-like quality. Bizet enriches this aspect with drones and lilting rhythms.

The last movement is also marked Allegro vivace, and returns us to the lighter, bubbly texture. The Symphony overall is wonderfully animated and optimistic. Musicologist A. Peter Brown observes, “As befits the composer’s youth, the Symphony in C Major exudes infectious energy and good spirits: Gounod charms the ear but Bizet excites it.” 

The Symphony almost entirely disappeared following its completion. Bizet never endeavored to have it performed, possibly because it was too closely related to Gounod’s for him to feel comfortable claiming it. Over time, though, Gounod’s work lost familiarity, and Bizet’s work began to gain recognition as its own entity and on its own merit. 

In 1933, almost eighty years after its composition, the musicologist and Beethoven scholar Jean Chantevoine was taking an inventory of the Bizet collection at the Paris Conservatory and found the score for the Symphony in C. It took a little time to set things up for a performance, but it was finally premiered by Felix Weingartner in 1935. Both the musicians and audiences received it warmly.

As a winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome, Bizet was expected to write other symphonic works. He did try, but wasn’t able to finish them, finding it difficult to work on the things he wanted while working on the things required to make a living. The years following school were not easy for him. His output was limited by his early death, and now we remember him almost exclusively for his final work, Carmen. Sadly,  Bizet became ill and passed away soon after the premiere, never realizing Carmen’s popularity. 

The Symphony in C is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) 

In 1792, Ludwig van Beethoven travelled to Vienna to study with Haydn. Though these lessons turned out to be something of a disappointment, Beethoven still learned from Haydn’s work, and took inspiration from being in the city where Mozart had so recently lived, worked, and died. As annotator Phillip Huscher suggests, though, Beethoven may never have met Mozart.  Had he managed it, it would have been sometime in 1787, when the teenaged Beethoven toured Vienna. In any case, Beethoven loved Mozart’s music deeply; the first music he composed after moving to Vienna was a set of variations for violin and piano on an excerpt from Mozart’s Le Nozze de Figaro.  We know too, Beethoven performed works of Mozart’s on several of his own recitals in the years to come. 

Several writers have claimed Beethoven was not merely inspired by Mozart, but that he actually copied many elements of Mozart’s C Minor piano concerto in crafting his own. Huscher remarks, “to suggest [this]… is to confuse the deepest kind of artistic inheritance with plagiarism. The choice of key certainly can’t be taken as a homage to Mozart, for Beethoven seemed unable to get C Minor out of his system at the time.”  Despite the similarities that are certainly too numerous for coincidence, Beethoven’s work is still uniquely Beethoven’s no matter how much he loved Mozart’s concerto. Beethoven’s concerto is a “brooding, even despairing work that became a favorite of the ensuing Romantic generation…” according to annotator James Keller. It might be well to appreciate, instead, how Beethoven honors Mozart’s work by incorporation and creation, producing a piece that is distinctively Beethoven. There is a very popular anecdote about Beethoven hearing Mozart’s concerto and telling his friend, pianist Johann Cramer, “Cramer, Cramer! We shall never be able to do anything like that!” 

Beethoven’s earliest sketches date to 1796, but he didn’t begin working in earnest until 1799. He finished the first movement in 1800,  but the full work was not completed until 1803. Though it bears the Opus number 37, it was actually composed alongside the Opus 18 string quartets and first symphony. This was a good time in Beethoven’s career, as his work was in ever-increasing demand and he was more popular as a teacher than ever before. All of this was beginning to tax Beethoven, though, during a time when he was exhibiting the early symptoms of hearing loss. 

Though he had planned to perform his third piano concerto at a benefit concert in 1802, he had not finished it, and so instead premiered it the following year, in 1803. Even then, the solo part was not yet completely written out. As Beethoven would have performed almost completely from memory, this process was only necessary for publication, not for performance. 

There is another popular anecdote left by Ignaz von Seifert, the conductor for the Theater an der Wien, who reportedly turned pages for Beethoven at the premiere of the piano concerto: “I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs, wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him…. for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper. He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages, and my scarcely concealable anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper which we ate afterwards.”  

Though this account is probably embellished, it wasn’t unusual for Beethoven to play from memory; he had been compiling this concerto for several years, and it seems logical to conclude that he could have written it out had he wished.

The first movement opens with a controlled, almost martial motif underpinned by buoyant accompaniment in the low strings. Beethoven gives the orchestra a lengthy exposition without the piano. The end of this movement features one of the similarities to Mozart’s concerto, which Keller outlines: “Where the first movements of most Classical concertos end with a summation by the orchestra alone… Mozart, in his C Minor Concerto No. 24, provided more intricate interplay between soloist and orchestra right to the end. So does Beethoven here.”

The Largo is in E Major, a daring choice considering the concerto’s overall key. The tempo marking, also, is different from Mozart’s usual Andante or Adagio. The solo piano steps in tenderly and deliberately, to be joined by the orchestra. Listen for the lovely duet between the flute and bassoon that Beethoven suspends over piano arpeggios and string pizzicato. There is a small cadenza, and the movement closes in the softest pianissimo… almost! 

The third movement eases from the second, turning on one note that connects the tonal worlds. Musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey noted this treatment of tonality as one of Beethoven’s most often used techniques, explaining that he likes “a very bright change of key with nothing between the two…. That was one of the first things with which Beethoven startled his listeners, the way of taking two rather remote keys and… simply putting them side by side.” Beethoven serves us a tricky rondo with a bit of a folksy bent, including a dip back into E Major, a little cadenza, and finally landing in C Major. In the final bars, everything seems to push boisterously into the final chords. 

Keller distinguishes another innovation of this concerto: “The work… reflects an important advance relating to technology. In the final decades of the eighteenth century, manufacturers were beginning to stretch the piano’s range by incorporating keys beyond the instrument’s standard five-octave range. Beethoven was not always among the first to make use of these extra notes; doing so, after all, would have limited the practicality of his music for musicians whose pianos were not so equipped. But in his C Minor Piano Concerto, he made full use of the new technology, and he asks his soloist to play all the way up to high G. This concerto, in fact, is thought to be the first piano piece ever to call for that particular note, and Beethoven leads his pianist there right at the outset of the solo part, when the first movement’s main theme is announced…” 

The earliest reviews were mixed, including one that simply stated, “In the Concerto in C Minor, Hr. v. Beethoven did not perform to the complete satisfaction of the public.” Subsequent performances seem to have been both more carefully executed and better received. Another critic later wrote that the concerto should do well “even in… Leipzig, where the audience was accustomed to Mozart’s concerti.” Brahms also added, “I always find Beethoven’s C Minor concerto much smaller and weaker than Mozart’s…. I admit that Beethoven’s concerto is more modern, but not more significant!”  

The score is marked to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, and calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings. 

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Symphonic Surprises


Haydn – Symphony No. 94 “Surprise”
Stravinsky – Dumbarton Oaks
Mozart – Symphony No. 40

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Joseph Haydn was a modest man, and lived and worked during a time annotator Ronald Comber describes as “the ferocious social intercourse of a gold rush,” due to the relatively recent independence of artists. The ease of Haydn’s dealings in comparison with his contemporaries must be at least in part because of his personality, but also must have something to do with the fact that he had secure, steady, and challenging employment with the Esterhazy family. Responsible for the music of their court, Haydn was required to provide up to two operas and two formal performances every week. This is a heavy workload by any standard, but it seems to have suited Haydn. He wrote, “I would sit down [at the piano] and begin to improvise, whether my spirits were sad or happy, serious or playful. Once I had captured an idea, I strove with all my might to develop and sustain it in conformity with the rules of art. In this way I tried to help myself, and this is where so many of our newer composers fall short: they string one little piece onto another and break off when they have scarcely started. Nothing remains in one’s heart after one has listened to such compositions. I was never a quick writer and always composed with care and diligence. Such works are lasting, however, and the connoisseur knows this immediately from the score…. There was no one near me [at Esterhaza] to confuse or torment me, thus I was obliged to be original.” 

In 1790, Haydn’s patron, the Prince Esterhazy passed away, and his situation shifted. Esterhazy bequeathed Haydn money, but now, for the first time in decades, Haydn also had the freedom to live anywhere. This turned out to be Vienna, at least at first. During his tenure at the Esterhazy court, he had become very famous, and it wasn’t long before other job offers were presented. Johann Peter Salomon traveled from London to make just such an offer. Annotator Phillip Huscher explains, “Haydn had regularly turned down offers to appear in England, where his music had long been popular. (Haydn’s name was introduced to London audiences as early as 1765… when six of his string quartets were performed.)” It took some persuasion, but Haydn did agree to travel back with him. The story goes that Salomon went to Haydn’s home without an appointment and announced, “I am Salomon from England and I have come to collect you.” 

Haydn composed his Symphony No. 94 in G Major, “Surprise” in 1791 for a performance in London during Haydn’s first season there. It is one of twelve that he composed for English audiences. The “Surprise” was named for one very loud interjection in the second movement. Huscher explains, “The name itself is the work of Andrew Ashe, a flutist in the London orchestra that first played the piece, who later boasted that ‘my valued friend Haydn thank’d me for giving it such an appropriate name,’ although to most listeners since, there is little else one could reasonably call it.” About this loud note lying in wait in the slow movement, Haydn reportedly said, “That will make the ladies scream!” Another source suggests that an elderly gentleman who attended almost every concert only to sleep annoyed Haydn. However, he also denied this being the reason. Following the premiere, a critic described, “… the surprise might not be inaptly likened to the situation of a beautiful shepherdess who, lulled to slumber by the murmur of a distant waterfall, starts alarmed by the unexpected firing of a fowling-piece.” 

Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 is in four movements. The first, marked Adagio—Vivace assai, opens gently with a slow introduction. This slow introduction was something of a calling card for Haydn, especially in his later symphonies. It moves into the faster vivace, which is presented at first in a different key. 

The second movement is a theme and variations, which really has much more going on than you might hear at a first listen. Haydn alternates simpler variations with more complicated ones throughout. The third movement is a minuet and trio, and Haydn takes inspiration here from the Austrian Ländler. Huscher calls it “out-of-doors music…”

The final Allegro di molto is more sophisticated, and dazzles while also pushing the musicians. Huscher notes that this level of difficulty indicates Haydn’s joyful trust in the abilities of his new English orchestra. The group premiered Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in 1792. It is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. 

Igor Stravinksy (1882-1971)

In the spring of 1937, Igor Stravinsky boarded a ship home to Europe, along with renowned composer, conductor, and teacher Nadia Boulanger. She was returning from a lecture and concert tour, and from visiting her friend Mildred Bliss. Mildred and her husband Robert were great lovers of music. Whether at their home, Dumbarton Oaks Manor, in Georgetown, or in Europe, they were great patrons of the arts, and often hosted concerts in their music room. They also took it upon themselves to commission new works with some regularity. 

Ms. Boulanger wanted the Blisses to commission a work from Stravinsky, and suggested it to both of them. The Blisses wrote to Stravinsky and requested a piece for chamber orchestra to be performed at Dumbarton Oaks Manor in honor of their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Author Stephen Walsh explains, “the suggestion was for a work ‘of Brandenburg Concerto dimensions,’ which implied a small orchestra and no more than fifteen minutes of music.” Stravinsky was not a stranger to J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, having already drawn on them in some of his other works. He wrote about the compositional process for the “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto: “I played Bach very regularly during the composition of the concerto, and I was greatly attracted to the Brandenburg Concertos. Whether or not the first theme of my first movement is a conscious borrowing from the third of the Brandenburg set, however, I do not know. What I can say is that Bach would most certainly have been delighted to loan it to me; to borrow in this way was exactly the sort of thing he liked to do.” Stravinsky must have had the third Brandenburg concerto in mind, at least a little, having just conducted it a few months before. 

1937 was not a good year for Stravinsky on a personal level. He had been ill, as had his family, and once he was starting to feel better he wrote, “I’m feeling very well but bored. I’m not allowed to smoke, not allowed to do any music, have to go to bed early, lie down a lot… a nice life, eh?” He travelled to Monteux with his family in the summer, having already begun on the concerto. He reportedly complained a little about the Blisses’ failing to pay the first part of his fee on time, but nevertheless was making good progress on the first movement. 

Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, generally referred to as being a part of his neo-classical catalogue, is in three movements. They are performed attacca, or without pause. Though there are not direct quotes from Bach embedded in the concerto, there are other impressions. Annotator Phillip Huscher writes, “Echoes of the Brandenburgs are everywhere, from the bustling figuration, spare sonorities, and textbook counterpoint to its concerto grosso-like textures, shifting back and forth from one group of musicians to another. But there isn’t a measure of this score that Bach would recognize…. Stravinsky has reinvented the baroque concerto from the ground up…” 

The first movement is not lengthy, but displays incredibly fine craftsmanship. The strings dance around the woodwind solos, and every voice can be heard, sometimes contrasting with each other with use of the concertino and ripieno (smaller and larger groups within the orchestra). The second movement, marked Allegretto, is in basic arc form, to which Stravinsky has added a coda. In it, Stravinsky plays with rhythms and patterns. Listen for the flute’s part in this part of the movement. This movement is often performed more slowly than Stravinsky originally intended. The finale is very much a part of the first two, sharing many elements with them. 

Stravinsky completed his Concerto in E-flat at the end of March, 1938. Walsh points out that considering how far he had to ship the score and parts, and with advance printing, this was cutting it very close to the first performance, which had been set for May 8th. At some point, Mrs. Bliss decided that the title was too common, and dubbed it “Dumbarton Oaks.” Ms. Boulanger attended the premiere, and wrote afterward to Stravinsky, “The concerto was played honestly, well, really well—and was, I think, understood.” Stravinksy himself conducted the European premiere the next month. The audience was receptive, if a bit noncommittal at first, but the critics generally did not care for it as much. Walsh explains, “they could not endure the spectacle of a composer whose music had once started riots composing such a lucid, classical, un-shocking piece.” Boris de Schloezer wrote, “Stravinsky has always been a ‘composer’…; but in the past, in ‘composing,’ he deployed a fantasy, an audacity, a subtlety which, I freely admit, dazzled us. Now he has arrived at the most dismal, the flattest academicism. Yet Stravinsky is playing his role… he must obey the diabolical dialect of his evolution.”

Though most of the critical responses to Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto were not favorable, and though this is not considered by most to be one of his major works, it has a very special place in the repertoire for many. Its delicacy and craftsmanship, its lightness and vitality, all contribute to its excellence. It is scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, two horns, and small string ensemble. 

SYMPHONY NO. 40 in G MINOR, K. 550
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

1788 saw Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a difficult situation on multiple fronts. He was having financial troubles, demand for his work was declining, and his wife Constanze had fallen ill. To top it off, his new opera, Don Giovanni, had been seemingly rejected by both audiences and critics. Mozart handled the situation by retreating into work and writing three wonderful symphonies. Annotator Robert Markow notes, “this is startling enough in itself, for in Mozart’s time one wrote to order or not at all…. Startling also is the speed with which these symphonies were composed – all three within the space of about ten weeks, along with other material.” 

In 1788, along with the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat and his “Jupiter” Symphony, Mozart completed his Symphony No. 40 in G minor. He later revised it later to include clarinets. However, he rearranged material that was already a part of the work instead of writing new for them. He probably made this change to accommodate a later performance, since clarinets weren’t standard instruments yet, not every performing ensemble included them. 

Symphony No. 40 is quite clear in terms of structure and form, but has sometimes caused debates as to its temperament. Annotator John Burk wrote, “When Professor Tovey found in it ‘the range of passion,’ as the artist Mozart saw fit to express, passion, he was concurring with an authority of traditional opinion. Against him may be set, surprisingly enough, the opinion of Berlioz, who, addicted as he was to emotional interpretations, found in this symphony nothing more deep-felt than ‘grace, delicacy, melodic charm, and fineness of workmanship.’” Whatever this symphony is or isn’t, it is very well made, especially considering the small amount of time Mozart took to write it. 

As is mentioned above, Mozart used the traditional symphonic forms, presenting the work in four movements. The opening is a very quick Allegro molto that begins with the strings—the violas’ accompanimental motif lays the background for the violin melody. This opening tempo is one of the things that Mozart changed. In the first version, it was only “a bit quick.” Annotator Michael Steinberg describes the violas’ opening motif as “breathless,” which fits in well with the overall feeling of upward motion and general lightness. Steinberg goes on to marvel at the voicing, “the transparency Mozart achieves by never having notes duplicated in melody and accompaniment, the new atmosphere that is generated when the cellos and basses first play sustained notes rather than detached, the stretching of horizons at the first appearance of woodwinds, the discreet supporting chords of oboes and bassoons that make the repetition of the first melody not just a repetition, but a development and a continuation. And all that in just the first half-minute [!]”

The Andante, like the Allegro molto, is in sonata form. Also like the first movement, the violas introduce the theme by laying out a pulsing cushion of sound for the theme to rest on. The horns enter with lovely round tones that take over the accompanimental role. This movement features a brief fantasia that uses elements from the second theme, as well as clever use of chromaticism. 

The Minuetto is more contrapuntal in character, and its trio is lighter and more dancelike. Markow describes the trio as “quiet [and] gracious… [and it] offers an oasis of repose, an escape from the restlessness, turmoil, polyphony and chromatic harmony that otherwise prevail in the symphony.” The Minuetto gives way to the Finale: Allegro assai, also in sonata form. This final movement is undoubtedly the wildest and most pointed music in the symphony, though it does have more relaxed and songful elements as well. Steinberg writes, “But for all the anguish Mozart still feels and expresses, and even though it is in this movement that he brings his language closest to the breaking point, the finale must at the last be a force that stabilizes, sets solid ground under our feet, seeks to close the wounds, and brings the voyager safely into port.”

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 is one of the most studied, performed, and recorded works. Biographer Otto Jahn described this symphony as “a symphony of pain and lamentation [in which] sorrow rises in a continuous climax to wild merriment, as if to stifle care…” and the critic F. J. Fetis wrote, “although Mozart has not used formidable orchestral forces in his G minor Symphony, none of the sweeping and massive effects one meets in a symphony of Beethoven, the invention which flames in this work, the accents of passion and energy that pervade and the melancholy color that dominates it result in one of the most beautiful manifestations of the human spirit.” Musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey had a particularly insightful opinion and wrote, “It is not only difficult to see depths of agony in the rhythms and idioms of comedy, but it is dangerous and not very delicate to attempt to see them. Comedy uses the language of real life; and people in real life often find the language of comedy the only dignified expression for their deepest feelings. They do not want the sympathy of sentimentalists who would be hard put to it to tell tragedy from burlesque; and the misconceptions of people who would imagine their situation and language to be merely funny are altogether below their horizon. They rise to the height of human dignity by treating the ordinary language of their fellow-mortals as if it were good enough for their troubles; and Mozart and Moliére are not fundamentally at variance with Sophocles and Wagner in the different ways in which they immortalize this meaning of the word ‘reserve.’”

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 is scored for flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and strings. 

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Strauss and His Idol


Strauss – Serenade for Winds
Strauss – Suite for Winds
Mozart – Gran Partita

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Richard Strauss grew up in a very musical home; his father, Franz, was the principal horn player of the Munich Court Orchestra and known as the country’s finest master of the instrument. Appreciation for his father’s playing is certainly partly to thank for Strauss’s decision to write for wind ensemble, as his personal musical experience seems to have almost all been with opera and orchestra.

Of Strauss’s earliest musical training, author Matthew Boyden explains, “There is little doubt that Richard was unusually gifted as a child; although he never shone as brightly as the wunderkinds Mozart, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns, he was far in advance of his peers, both in musical sympathy and intellectual capacity. His earliest studies took him no further than the rudiments of music, allowing for a sense of fun to enter what is frequently an arduous and painful process, but within just four years he was able to play Mozart sonatas to visitors…” Strauss did attend school as a child (unlike some others whose parents kept them at home in order to foster their musical careers). Nevertheless, he still spent most of his spare time studying music, and when he was eleven he began serious study of composition, and by the time he had completed his studies he had completed some odd hundred works, some of which were published.

According to Strauss, his father “worshipped the trinity of Mozart (above the others), Haydn, and Beethoven.” The most immediate consequence was the over-emphasis on classicism in Strauss’s education. Boyden notes that Mozart’s knack for creating shapely vocal lines in instrumental music may have rubbed off on Strauss, which could only serve him.

All in all, Strauss composed four works for wind ensemble, two early in his career (1881 and 1884) and two late (1943 and 1944). The earlier are more classical in style, and it seems that Strauss had not yet broken with his father’s stylistic authority. Not only did he hold Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven in the highest regard, Franz also detested Richard Wagner, both as a man and as a composer. Interestingly, one of the things Franz was most well known for himself was his enchanting interpretations of Wagner’s horn solos.

The Serenade, Op. 7 is Strauss’s first foray into the genre, and was composed in 1881 at the centennial of Mozart’s Serenade in B-flat, K. 361 “Gran Partita,” to which his Serenade pays homage. Annotator Michael Steinberg describes his Serenade, “The one-movement work is music of charm as well as skill. The Strauss most of us know best—the tone poems of the 1880s and 1890s, and the operas from the early years of the twentieth century—is full of Wagner, and in 1882 that particular magic had not yet made its effect on his work.... The honeyed classicism of the Serenade is a tribute to Franz Strauss’s paternal influence…”

Some years later, Strauss reportedly called the Serenade “nothing but the respectable work of a music student.” However, it was also his first real and public success.

Strauss’s Serenade is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons and contrabassoon, two clarinets and bass clarinet, four horns, and double (string) bass. 

His Suite for 13 Winds in B-flat, Op. 4 actually came quite close behind the Serenade, and there has been some confusion over the numbering because he was almost certainly working on the Suite before the Serenade was premiered. Thanks to his father, Strauss was introduced to the renowned conductor Hans von Bülow, who not only programmed the Serenade, but also gave liberal suggestions about the composition of the Suite. Some sources claim that Von Bülow actually commissioned it, but the timelines don’t quite add up. Upon the completion of the Suite, Von Bülow invited Strauss to conduct the premiere performance in Munich with the Meiningen Orchestra in 1884. As Strauss had no experience leading an ensemble in public, this was a somewhat tenuous undertaking. However, the performance was incredibly successful, prompting Von Bülow to offer Strauss the position of assistant conductor with the group, full time.

Strauss’s Suite has four movements, opening with the Präludium. Listen to these opening themes! They will return throughout the work. The second movement is a temperate Romanze, which features a fairly short main theme set against a horn fanfare and cantabile melodies for the clarinet and oboe. The third movement is a dance movement, the Gavotte, characterized by fine craftsmanship and textural variety. Commentators Michael Votta and Scott Warfield note, “The first two movements… look backward to the Serenade, the final two seem to be moving forward to Strauss’s mature symphonic style. The third movement is labeled ‘Gavotte,’ but the movement has little to do with the eighteenth-century French court dance implied by that title. Rather, its playfulness suggests the mood of a scherzo (but in duple meter)…

“The finale, an ‘Introduction und Fuge,’ is compositional and instrumental tour-de-force.” Some critics have expressed the opinion that the fugue in this movement seems artificial and overdone. Composer Ferruccio Busoni said of Strauss, “[He] is a person of decided talent and has rich gifts. Polyphony and movement are necessary elements to him.

“An admirable facility for making things complicated and spreading out what is small. Strauss seems to write out the principal voices, then the principal middle voice, and afterward cram everything there is still room for in between. One can go on and on with that, but he does not stop in time. He does not understand the mastery of the unfinished.”

The Suite is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon (or tuba), and four horns.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

While both Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart showed musical talent early, it is not an equal comparison. Mozart was performing on multiple instruments and composing practically as a toddler under the tutelage of his father. His complete catalogue includes more than six hundred works, and doubtless would have continued to grow had he not passed away at the age of thirty-five. Besides being impressive in volume, his output is also impressive in breadth, including works in most genres.

The exact circumstances of Mozart’s composition of his Serenade, K. 361 for winds is uncertain. It was around 1780-81, and some time after its completion it was nicknamed “Gran Partita,” or “large wind symphony.” During the time in which it was composed, thirteen wind players was an unusually large ensemble, so “large symphony” is apt.

The Gran Partita is in seven movements, which is also larger than the conventional number—symphonies were traditionally in four movements and most serenades and divertimenti in six. It’s also possible that though the movements are part of the same piece, the movements were not always required to be performed together as a set. British conductor and harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock notes, “certainly Mozart strikes a fine balance between the sequence of dances and his reflective movements. It is questionable, though, how much he thought of it as a unified whole, and we need to be careful about imposing our later preconceptions on to earlier times.” In the end, as with many questions of interpretation, there’s no way to know for sure. Pinnock goes on, “I phone Mozart, by which I mean I use my musical conscience. I feel he’d be delighted with the sound.”

The first movement is Largo—Molto Allegro, and is in traditional sonata form with slow introduction. The second movement is a Menuetto with double trio, followed by the Adagio, characterized by a lovely lyricism. In a 2008 interview, conductor and composer Pierre Boulez said, “The big Adagio is… a moment of genius. You have this introduction that is very slow with just a chord, an arpeggio… But it’s so wonderful, so mysterious that it has you thinking ‘What will happen?’ It’s a magical, ceremonial moment—like a ritual.” And, in the 1979 film Amadeus, Peter Shaffer (playing Salieri) describes the beginning as “nothing… just a pulse… then suddenly—high above it—an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight!”

This is followed by another Menuetto, which also features a double trio, this one reminiscent of the ländler dance. The Romance is in three parts, and precedes the Tema con variazioni. Of this theme and variations movement, Pinnock remarks, “you need to be aware of your starting point and, on the journey, follow your fantasy. You see how wonderfully Mozart has used the characters of different instruments throughout the variations? That miraculous moment in Var. 5 when he has basset-horns and clarinets play in rapid [notes] surprises us, even now, and trying to imagine how people might have been amazed in the period… is crucial. Our ears have been spoilt by too much music—but as musicians we need to point to such remarkable moments and express… that they are very special…” Some of the material for this movement is taken from Mozart’s Flute Quartet in C Major, K. 285b. The Finale closes the work, and is closer to the light character of a serenade.

Mozart’s Gran Partita is one of his longer purely instrumental works, and has more depth and substance than some of his other works in the genre. Though it was probably finished as early as 1780, it wasn’t performed until four years later, when it was given at a benefit concert by the clarinetist Anton Stadler. This performance did not include the full Serenade, but presented four movements. An early review called the work “glorious and sublime.”

The Gran Partita (unlike Mozart’s other music for winds) is scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, two bassoons, four horns, and either a contrabassoon or double (string) bass.

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