2018-2019 Welltower Mozart in the Afternoon Series Program Notes

 

 

Welltower Mozart in the Afternoon Series

PROGRAM NOTES
by Kalindi Bellach ©2018

Jupiter! Moz-Art à la Haydn 

Jupiter!

Alain Trudel, conductor
Ran Dank, piano
Lauraine Carpenter, trumpet

Program: 

Mozart - Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Shostakovich - Piano Concerto No. 1
Mozart - Symphony No. 41 in C Major "Jupiter"

OVERTURE TO THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) was the first of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s three collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and was completed in 1786. It is based on the second part of
the Figaro trilogy, a comedy by the French playwright, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Only four years earlier, when Beaumarchais had completed the play and presented it to King Louis XIV, it had been deemed “detestable” and banned from all future production. Because of its being placed off limits and doubtless because of its sheer cheek, it became one of the most popular works of the decade – in secret, of course.

Finally, despite various efforts to quash the play, it appeared in Paris in 1784, and it was no longer possible to hide it. Mozart’s opera begins somewhere in the middle, picking up where Rossini leaves off in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). Figaro is all set to marry Susanna, but of course the wedding is put on pause due to various obstacles.

Le nozze di Figaro was not as immediately popular as the play. Da Ponte had to get special permission to finish it after an early version of the libretto was banned. He then had to temper and cut some of the content, thereby increasing the pace of the narrative. Mozart and Da Ponte also only had weeks to produce the opera, which must have had at least a few shaved corners – for example, the overture was finished only a couple of days before the opening show.

The opera ran only a few times in Vienna before Mozart was forced to take Figaro to Prague, where it was far more appreciated. In a letter to his father dated 1787, Mozart writes, “Figaro – nothing is played, sung, or whistled but Figaro; nobody goes to any opera but Figaro; everlastingly Figaro!” Mozart completed his “Prague” Symphony quite soon after this, and then was commissioned to write Don Giovanni.

Unlike others of its time, the sparkling overture to Figaro does not clearly reference or quote themes from the opera itself. But it does clearly prepare us for the opera’s tone – humorous, quick, and clever. The overture begins softly, with many busy little notes, which annotator Marianne Williams Tobias likens to “whispers of gossip … [that] ultimately [form the] theme which romps happily throughout the overture” as the piece takes off.

Mozart originally included a slower middle section in the overture, but decided to take it out in the final version and not upset what commentator Herbert Glass calls “the swirling, manically jolly mood.” Le nozze di Figaro was premiered in 1786 in Vienna, and Mozart himself conducted. The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1 (FOR PIANO, TRUMPET, AND STRINGS)
Dimitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

Shostakovich finished his first piano concerto in 1933, when he was twenty-seven years old. Like several of his contemporaries, he was an excellent pianist and performed the work himself; he also went on to compose many works for his instrument. Despite his relatively young age, Shostakovich had already completed three symphonies, two full ballets, an opera, and various other smaller works. He was also not yet (publicly, at least) in trouble with Stalin; that would come on the heels of his second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, about two years later. For the moment, all was well. Shostakovich was, at this time, according to annotator Peter Laki, “youthful … full of wit and energy but also displaying a rich lyrical vein.” Lake goes on to outline the decade as a “happy time for the composer [who] was the darling of Leningrad musical scene. His music was everywhere: in the concert hall, at the theatre and in films.”

Shostakovich’s first piano concerto is not, strictly speaking, only for piano. Sometimes called “for piano, trumpet, and strings,” or “for piano with the accompaniment of string orchestra and trumpet,” the trumpet is called on for more than just part of the accompanimental ensemble. When Shostakovich performed this piece, he reportedly sometimes performed with the trumpeter sitting near him instead of in the back of the orchestra, where trumpeters normally sit.

Already drawn strongly to sharp incisive humor, Shostakovich is also clearly influenced here by extra-classical music. Commentator Kenneth Woods cites Shostakovich’s experience in the 1920s of playing for silent films, which “obviously shaped this piece, which is full of music that sounds like it could have been ripped from a Charlie Chaplin film.” Annotator Richard Freed adds, “The First Concerto is not far removed from the burlesque character…. [It] is, indeed, all about clashing musical styles, and about blurring the boundaries between joke and serious matter – with the evident goal of delighting, but also confusing, the listener.” Besides references to popular musical styles, Shostakovich also referenced Beethoven in this work, and he quoted himself, too, including a few things lifted from his own earlier work!

Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 is presented in four movements rather than the traditional three. The first opens in the piano and trumpet, immediately after which the piano presents the first theme. This first theme is supposedly inspired by or based on Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano in F Minor, his “Appassionata.” The second theme leads into what scholar Ian MacDonald calls “a circus-world of comic turns,” before the movement ends softly with the opening material.

In the second movement, Shostakovich displays a gentler side, permeated with a reflectiveness and sweetly sad character. The strings are muted here, as is the trumpet, and set in something of a waltz. Shostakovich uses a short but jarring faster section to interject in the middle, but brings us back to the soft waltz in the trumpet. Laki describes the close of this movement as “ethereally soft.”

Despite the addition of a movement, the third movement really functions more as a transition between the second and fourth movements rather than as a whole in its own right. It opens with piano alone before moving straight into the last movement, marked a lively Allegro con brio. Shostakovich quotes Beethoven again in this final movement, this time his Rondo a capriccio, Op. 129, “Rage over a Lost Penny,” in the cadenza. Laki also cites references to Haydn and Mahler.

Aside from any outright references to Mahler that may be found in the Finale, Shostakovich also shared something of his ethos with this composer. Woods points to the constant rub between “humour and grotesquery on the one hand … [and] the deepest tragedy and vulnerability on the other.”

SYMPHONY NO. 41 IN C MAJOR, K. 551 "JUPITER"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)


Mozart spent much of his life in the spotlight, recognized as a genius and living well because of it. However, by the late 1780s he found it increasingly difficult to secure and complete commissions and performances. At 31, Mozart was battling failing health and ever increasing debt. At this point he tried to borrow money from friends and get advances from his publisher, but these efforts didn’t solve his predicament. Researchers have also cited the composer’s penchant for overspending as a contributing factor.

In the summer of 1788, Mozart wrote his final three symphonies – Nos. 39, 40, and 41 – all in a period of about nine weeks. This is a ridiculously short amount of time in which to complete works of this size, but he probably wrote them in such a hurry in order to perform them at a series of concerts he had scheduled in Vienna later that year. His pressing need for speed doubtless also had to do with his need for funds. All three of these works are towering contributions to the symphonic genre.

Completed in 1788, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major is the last of his symphonies. It’s also the largest and possibly the greatest, as its nickname suggests. Incidentally, it wasn’t Mozart who called the work “Jupiter”; renowned impresario Johann Peter Salomon was the first to bestow the moniker, which has become inextricably linked with the music, especially its outer movements. Music writer Ethan Morrden remarks, “It is surely an Olympian work, expansive both emotionally and structurally.”

The first movement opens with a piece of a theme that is a recurrent structural element throughout. According to commentator Peter Laki, Mozart “borrowed” this theme from a bass aria he’d written earlier that year called “Un bacio di mano,” or “A Hand-kiss,” the text from which reads “Voi siete un po’ tondo, mio caro Pompeo, le usanze del mondo andate a studier,” or “You are a bit naïve, my dear Pompeo, go study the ways of the world.” Laki points out that throughout the development, “this theme becomes the starting point for a whole series of transformations, as if the simple melody were indeed ‘studying the ways of the world.’” Annotator Michael Steinberg adds, “The opening gestures, with their orderly contrasts and symmetries, are more formal, indeed more formulaic, than anything else in the last three symphonies. But whatever Mozart touches becomes personal utterance … [this first movement is]full of gentle unobtrusive complexities.”

The Andante marks a departure from the sunny optimism of C Major, and Mozart illustrates this change in mood with touches of chromaticism and rich ornamentation in the muted strings. Mozart also plays a little with the rhythm in this movement, leading the ear into little surprises.

The third movement, a Minuet, is characterized by a lovely falling melodic fragment that runs throughout. Listen also for the duet in the middle of this movement between the oboe and the violin. Steinberg points out, “Aside from having the proper meter and speed, [it] is not particularly minuetlike … [but is nevertheless] wonderful in a quiet way.” 

In the Finale, Mozart brings us back to the splendor of the opening movement. This, with its four-note theme fragment (hinted at in the third movement) based, most likely, on the hymn “Lucis creator,” or “Creator of Light,” is the true “Jupiter” movement. As Steinberg notes, the themes are all on the short side in this movement. “They are material to work with more than objects presented for the sake of their intrinsic charm, and Mozart whirls them by us with a fierce energy that is rooted in his dazzling polyphony…. The expressive intensity … is exhilarating, shocking, uplifting all at once.” As commentator Elizabeth Schwartz notes, Mozart sets the “glorious finale” in a sort of “fuguestyle Baroque counterpoint, which he learned from studying the music of J. S. Bach, with balanced classical phrases.”

This symphony, and this movement in particular, is a prime example of Mozart at his most controlled and compositionally mature. The way he ties the movements together, particularly by clever thematic and melodic relationships, lends the whole work a sense of cohesiveness.

The great conductor Claudio Abbado said of the “Jupiter” Symphony, “[It] is one of Mozart’s greatest creations. The finale has all these ideas superimposed, bursting out, one after the other, like fireworks. There’s a pile-up of musical lines, a proliferation of colors. The ingenuity is almost unimaginable, limitless.”

Having the final movement be the most important was somewhat unusual at the time, a position usually held by the opening movement. Laki remarks, “Music has never been closer to what eighteenth century philosophers called the ‘sublime,’ a term defining an experience at oncepowerful, uplifting, and transcendent.”

It isn’t certain when “Jupiter” was premiered, as researchers have been unable to find documentation of premieres of any of Mozart’s last three symphonies. It’s scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

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Moz-Art à la Haydn 

Anja Bihlmaier, conductor
Kirk Toth and Téa Prokes, violin

Program:

Haydn - Symphony No. 85 in B-Flat Major "La Reine"
Schnittke - Moz-Art à la Haydn for Two Violins and Orchestra
Mozart - Symphony No. 36 in C Major "Linz"

SYMPHONY NO. 85 IN B-FLAT MAJOR, "LA REINE"
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Haydn spent a great portion of his career as Kapellmeister in the employ of the Esterházy court (1761–1790). While he was mostly quite comfortable there, having at his disposal an ensemble to perform his music and a musically educated audience excited to hear it, he was also artistically isolated. Eventually, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy granted Haydn permission to accept outside commissions, and the composer quickly acquired several international patrons. Even though he had lived only in Eisenstadt for years, Haydn’s music had been published throughout Europe – not always with his knowledge – and he had become both famous and beloved.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 is one of six (nos. 82–87) that he completed for presentation in Paris for the concert series Le Concert de la Loge Olympique’s 1787–88 season, organized by members of the Masonic Order. Haydn had joined the Freemasons on Mozart’s recommendation a year earlier.

Haydn’s numbering of his own works is not particularly accurate in regards to chronology, and the numbering of this set is no exception, and so their first printed edition is in a different order than how we currently publish them – and even that first edition was different from what Haydn initially suggested. Out of the six, no. 85 is the most difficult to place definitively in the timeline. It was most likely completed, along with nos. 83 and 87, in 1785, with the remaining three following the next year. 

Although a few of these symphonies have nicknames that were bestowed on them almost because the music itself seemed to demand nicknames – “The Bear,” “The Hen” – the name given to no. 85 is based on the dedication Haydn wrote for it after it was completed. “La Reine” (“The Queen”) refers to Marie Antoinette, who stated that this symphony was her favorite of the set. Once she had made this declaration, the inscription “La Reine de France” was printed on the score’s title page when it was published in Paris in 1788.  Commentator Eric Bromberger notes, “When Haydn wrote this music, it was simply the Symphony in B-flat major.”

The first movement opens with an imposing adagio, which moves into a faster and more delicate vivace. The movement is relatively concise and gracefully structured, with a clear accompanimental punctuation given by basses underpinning the soaring melody. Set in sonata form, the lovely singing melody and the more lively second part of the theme contrast beautifully instead of relying on the use of a second theme to create the contrast. Annotator Richard Freed writes, “This work in particular contain[s] a number of elements readily identifiable as French. The slow introduction to the opening movement is in a direct line of descent from the French overture style taken up earlier in the eighteenth century by Bach and Telemann.” Haydn briefly cites his own “Farewell” symphony (no. 45) in this movement.

The second movement is marked both Romanze and the moderately brisk Allegretto. In another nod to France, Haydn set this movement as a set of variations on the theme from the popular folk song La gentille et jeune Lisette. The third movement is a Menuetto, also marked Allegretto. Bromberger notes that because the “two briskly paced outer movements, marked Vivace and Presto, frame inner movements both marked Allegretto, [this allows the] symphony no true slow movement.” This third movement is light and, like the second movement, features the bassoon.

The Finale: Presto is in rondo form with repeated episodes interspersed with the opening material. Like the first movement, the Finale also features one theme instead of more. However, as it is Haydn, there are some thematic surprises to look forward to!

“La Reine” is scored for one flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings.

 

MOZ-ART À LA HAYDN FOR TWO VIOLINS AND ORCHESTRA
Alfred Schnittke (1934–1998)

“Contemporary” or “twentieth-century” can sometimes be worrisome adjectives when applied to music. It’s easy to expect dissonances, abrupt or unusual noises, and less to hold on to in terms of melody. In short, it can sometimes be difficult to understand what we’re hearing. There are some composers, though, who carry a different musical ideal. Schnittke is such a one of those. While he doesn’t altogether avoid dissonance, he uses it to color a traditional landscape in a new way. Schnittke explained, “I set down a beautiful chord on paper – and suddenly it rusts.” Schnittke saw his use of dissonance as an illustration of the influence of the present on the past. His use of harsher sounds is always intentional and carefully thought out, and they transform his music into something deeply meaningful.

Music writer Georg Predota explains, “During the 1970s, the perceived elitism and dissonant sounds of atonal academic modernism were gradually giving way to artistic expressions that favored a synthesis of familiar styles. By reintroducing traditional elements of musical styles – openly influenced by popular music and world music traditions –composers sought to close the gap between themselves and the listening public, and hoped to restore music to its former position as the language of emotions.” This gap was certainly a concern for Schnittke; it also reflected a pervasive problem faced by Communist-era musicians of how to make art authentic to themselves in a restrictive political climate. Schnittke got around the problem by mixing musical styles and techniques and steeping his compositions in the intensity of his own experiences and losses. None of this precludes the sense of humor he displays in this piece.

Schnittke received his first musical training in Vienna, where his father worked as a translator. The family moved to Moscow in 1958. After earning a degree from the Moscow Conservatory, he felt an intense anxiety caused by living under the Communist government, and identified in some ways with Shostakovich, whose influence is also evident across much of his work. Schnittke managed to keep his career afloat with a combination of teaching at his alma mater and scoring various government-approved films. It was during work on these film scores that he began to experiment with what would become his unique “polystylistic” sound.

Schnittke wrote, “My musical development took a course similar to that of some friends and colleagues … across piano concerto romanticism, neoclassical academicism, and attempts at eclectic synthesis, and I also took cognizance of the unavoidable proofs of masculinity in serial self-denial. Having arrived at the final station, I decided to get off the already overcrowded train and proceed on foot.”

Schnittke composed Moz-Art à la Haydn between 1976 and 1977, and it is an excellent example of his startling ability to take seemingly disparate elements and fuse them into a new whole. Like several of his other works, it is based on fragments of music written by other composers. In this case, he used Mozart’s unfinished “Pantomime Music,” K. 446 (1783), which was to have been for two violins, viola, and bass, but Mozart only completed the first violin part. Schnittke also pulled material from Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, and from Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony (no. 45 in F-sharp Minor).

Schnittke’s title for this work is descriptive and at least partly a joke. The fragments of Mozart’s original work are clear but skewed in context. Commentator Seth Brodsky claims that the term Moz-Art means “sort of” in German – something interesting to consider! The “à la Haydn” portion of the title serves two purposes: it provides a nod to Haydn’s generally acknowledged sense of humor and a reference to the “Farewell” symphony, where Haydn instructed the musicians to leave the stage one at a time before the piece ended!

Schnittke opens Moz-Art à la Haydn in darkness, with an improvisatory treatment of Mozart’s piece. Then, the lights come on and the musicians respond with a forceful dissonant chord. Brodsky describes what follows: “Conductor onstage, ensemble poised, they commence a fantastical Allegretto which Schnittke spins out like a musical marionette theater.” Schnittke closes the work (after one of the soloists intentionally loses his tuning) “à la Haydn.” The ensemble leaves the stage in a slightly meandering fashion, leaving the conductor alone, absently beating time for no one, the work unfinished.

There is an excellent statement by musicologist David Fanning describing Schnittke’s treatment of the various fragments in this piece that are lifted from other works. Sometimes Schnittke treats them with gravity and care, leaving them more or less intact, and at other times he treats them with “the detached bemusement of a visitor from outer space confronting an artifact from a dead civilization.” Given Schnittke’s views on how the present acts on the past, this metaphor seems particularly apt.

To quote the New York Times, Schnittke crafts and curates his music with “extraordinary virtuosity, wit, and flair.” It is scored for two solo violins, two small string orchestras, double bass, and conductor.

 

SYMPHONY NO. 36 IN C MAJOR "LINZ"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)       

In 1781, twenty-five-year-old Mozart left his home city of Salzburg and moved to Vienna, where he joined the household of Cäcelia Weber. Several years earlier, he had met Cäcelia’s four daughters and fallen hard for one of them (Aloysia), although she later married someone else. When Mozart moved in with the family, though, Frau Weber still had three unmarried daughters living at home, a prospect that unnerved Mozart’s father, Leopold, sufficiently for him to insist that Mozart find other lodgings before Frau Weber could have time to marry one of her daughters off to the young composer. However, Leopold was too late and, much to his dismay, Mozart married Constanze Weber.

Due to various musical engagements and the threat of possible arrest for failure to pay a debt on time, the couple was not able to visit Salzburg for an entire year after the wedding. This only added to Leopold’s disgruntlement. When they did finally visit and Constanze finally met her father-in-law, Leopold and Constanze could barely hide their hostility.

On the journey back to Vienna, Mozart and Constanze decided to stop in Linz, at the invitation of Count Thun, an old family friend. They felt a small break before returning home might dispel the tension of their visit to Leopold. On their arrival, Mozart wrote his father: “When we arrived at the gates of Linz [at the end of October], a servant was standing there to conduct us to the Old Count Thun’s, where we are still living. I really cannot tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, the fourth of November, I am going to give a concert in the theater, and, as I have not a single symphony by me, I am writing away over head and ears at a new one, which must be ready by then.”

Despite having only four or five days to complete a full symphony, Mozart was enthusiastic. Annotator Richard Freed describes the symphony that resulted as “clearly Mozart’s finest work in this form up to that time,” explaining that this work “marked the beginning of a new and magnificent phase for him as a symphonist.” Aside from the desire to please his host and the inspiration he felt at being in such a congenial atmosphere, Freed writes, perhaps Mozart also felt a need to “[reassure] both himself and his obdurate father of his stature as an artist.”

The symphony opens with a slow introduction. While this is certainly not the first example of such an opening, it is the first time Mozart ever employed the technique. Moreover, he used a slow opening only two other times – in his “Prague” symphony (in D Major, K. 504) and in his symphony in E-flat (no. 39, K. 543). Annotator Phillip Huscher notes that this slow introduction “[gives] the impression … of deliberate, carefully considered music, more deeply serious than customary to open a symphony. (Beethoven is said to have tried to recapture Mozart’s achievement at the beginning of a C major symphony he left incomplete before moving on to his First Symphony.)” It’s also worth noting that this opening is far more in line with works by Haydn than by Mozart, although most of the Haydn examples that bear commonalities with this work came after Mozart’s death.

The slow introduction leads into an exuberant and joyful Allegro section. The first theme is quintessential Mozart, with a slightly held or staid first phrase that seems to spill helplessly into the subsequent bars. Mozart follows this movement with an Andante, which was erroneously marked for years as poco adagio, a misprint only relatively recently found out. The two markings do share something of their spirit, but andante, or “walking,” may contain more inherent motion in the phrases. Another point in favor of the original marking is the time signature. Music writer Michael Steinberg writes: “This Andante, touched by the 6/8 lilt of a siciliano, is in F major, but yearns always for minor-mode harmonies.” Freed also cites a connection to the Largo alla siciliana (La Paix) from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Another point of interest here is Mozart’s use of both trumpets and drums, which lend the movement a gravity and depth, without which it might simply be called graceful. Huscher notes, “Again, Beethoven followed suit – in his First Symphony, in the same key – probably not knowing that Haydn also had begun to include those instruments by then.”

The third movement is an elegant Minuet that Steinberg calls “demurely rustic.” Mozart liked this movement quite a bit, later using elements in Le nozze di Figaro (K. 492) and Don Giovanni (K. 527).

Mozart finishes the symphony with another quick movement, marked presto, which is even more energetic than the symphony’s opening. This final movement also shares elements of, or at least nods to, Haydn. But, as German musicologist Alfred Einstein pointed out, Mozart’s unique use of chromaticism and the care shown with orchestration in the shifting of textures are less characteristic of Haydn, and “betray Mozart’s hand.”

The “Linz” symphony is scored for two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

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