2018-2019 Welltower Mozart in the Afternoon Series Program Notes



Welltower Mozart in the Afternoon Series

by Kalindi Bellach ©2018

Jupiter! Moz-Art à la Haydn / Musical Geniuses / Concierto de Aranjuez


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


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

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.

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.”

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


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"

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.


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.


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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Musical Geniuses

Alain Trudel, conductor
Blake Pouliot, violin


Britten - Simple Symphony
Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 5
Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 4 "Italian"

This program celebrates some of our favorite composers—composers known for their impressive contributions to music at astonishingly young ages – by presenting some of their early works.

Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)

Britten is widely considered one of England’s finest composers, an accolade not restricted to the century in which he lived and worked. He reportedly told his mother that he wanted to play the piano when he was only two years old! She began teaching him herself a few years later, but it wasn’t until he was about eight that she enrolled him in private lessons. He proved an apt pupil and later went on to study with Arthur Benjamin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London.

Though his time at the Conservatory made him inarguably an excellent pianist, he rarely performed as a soloist because he had debilitating stage fright. But that fear didn’t seem to cause him problems in chamber music settings, and he performed extensively in groups and duos.

Throughout his education as a pianist, Britten also composed and studied music broadly. By the time he was fifteen, he had written over five hundred pieces of music in a variety of genres. These were generally small-scale works, but the sheer volume of them still constitutes an impressive body of work. It is from among these childhood works that he later drew the Simple Symphony.

The inspiration behind the Simple Symphony is perhaps more banal than we would like to imagine. Britten wrote, “On the off chance of making some money—I am dishing up some very old stuff (written, some of it, over ten years ago) as a dear little school suite for strings.” This was 1934, and he was in his final year at the RCM. The piano pieces
from which the themes are taken had been completed when he was only ten years old.

Britten decided to keep his original movement titles, thereby bringing a child’s whimsy into the Simple Symphony. He also takes liberties with the form and doesn’t follow the traditional form of a classical symphony other than maintaining the correct number of movements. The movements themselves indicate something more like a Baroque dance suite, which is a collection of four or more dance movements.

The Simple Symphony opens with the Boisterous Bourrée. A bourrée is a French dance that is light and fleet but not weak. It is similar to the gavotte which, like the bourrée, is also in duple meter. Commentator Yvonne Frindle points out that there is “even a hint of Baroque imitation between the instruments in [this movement]—almost like singing rounds.” Perhaps an even stronger element is the colloquial likeness of the movement to an English folk song.

The second movement is titled Playful Pizzicato and is marked “Presto possibile.” This is a somewhat humorous marking, because pizzicato has certain physical restrictions on how quickly it can be executed, and any attempt to play it as quickly as possible can have mixed results. The sound of a whole ensemble playing pizzicato together is also much
more buoyant than anything a composer can achieve with the bow.

The third movement is called Sentimental Sarabande, a more dignified dance in triple meter, with the bar’s main emphasis placed on the second beat. The sarabande is also a highly dramatic dance, historically and thematically more alluring than some of the other dances. Annotator Silvia Santinelli writes, “Often reflected in the music of Britten are conflicts between innocence and experience, the outsider and society, and moral good versus unsuspected evil…. Thus, the solemn main theme of [this movement]… lures in listeners to become aware of something very dark.”

Britten brings the work to a close with his Frolicsome Finale, the shortest movement of the piece and, as implied by the title, the most playful. It bears some similarities in shape to the first movement, but feels different because of its overall tempo. Britten plays with elements from the middle two movements here, introducing pizzicato as accompanimental interjections and retaining some of the Sarabande’s richer melodies in the celli and basses.

Britten’s Simple Symphony is not the work of a child but of a fully capable, thoughtful, and mature composer. Britten intended his “dear little school suite” to be performed by students or amateurs, and he wanted to give them something challenging (and therefore satisfying) to work on, but not something so beyond them that they would be shown in a bad light. Additionally, he wanted all of his music to appeal to as many people as possible, not only those educated enough to appreciate it. That is, he wanted his music to be “listenable.”

Simple Symphony is scored for first and second violins, viola, cello, and bass, and can be performed either by string orchestra or string quartet.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

It has been well established that Mozart and his father, Leopold, had a strained relationship, and the tension only intensified throughout Mozart’s adolescence, reaching a kind of peak when Mozart made the decision to marry Constanze without his father’s approval. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon explains that this struggle for power between father and son shaped Mozart’s early choices both in his work and his life. Solomon writes, “Throughout his life, Mozart struggled against the demands of his past, the survival of archaic patterns of behavior, and the incessant invocation of his childhood image.”

One of Mozart’s first appointments was as concertmaster of a court orchestra. A favorite colleague at the time was Antonio Brunetti, who is probably the first violinist to have performed this concerto. After moving to Vienna, Mozart moved away from his past life and chose perform primarily on the keyboard. Annotator Thomas May explains, “In a sense, he was replacing the instrument that must have been closely associated in his mind not only with his father [a noted pedagogue of the violin] but with his ties to the Salzburg he hated.”

Despite this indication that he wished to leave the violin behind, Mozart wrote five concerti for the violin, all of surpassing loveliness and grace. Four of them were written in quick succession, in 1775, during what we now call his “year of the violin,” when Mozart was only nineteen years old. It was generally accepted until fairly recently that his First Violin Concerto was also completed in this year, but we now estimate that it was written several years prior. According to Solomon, these concerti, together with some of Mozart’s serenades, show Mozart at “the first cresting of [his] … creative powers,” because the “serenade style [represents] a youthful music of yearning but not of grief, imbued with an innocent utopianism, a faith in perfectibility, beauty, and sensual fulfillment.” It is the quality of ease and elegance and grace in Mozart’s music that led Tchaikovsky to refer to him as a “sunny genius.” Mozart’s Concerto No. 5, nicknamed the “Turkish,” shows this genius to full effect.

The first movement of this fifth violin concerto is marked, extraordinarily, Allegro aperto, or, “open allegro.” It begins with the expected orchestral introduction, which features some lovely accompanimental lines in the horn part and is stopped in its tracks by the entrance of the solo violin in a seemingly new and unrelated tempo. Mozart did not provide cadenzas for this movement.

The Adagio that follows (adagio is also an unusually relaxed tempo marking for Mozart) is set in E major but manages not to be too bright. The finale is a playful Rondeau and is marked “tempo di menuetto.” It seems at first it will be a conventional minuet, tastefully ornamented, but it’s during this movement that Mozart journeys into more exotic territory— it’s one of the central episodes here that gives the concerto its nickname. In the eighteenth century, anything vaguely “Eastern” or with unexpected rhythmic emphases might be classified “Turkish,” and this is far from the only example of “Turkish” influence in Mozart’s music. Another surprise comes at the close of the movement in the form of the ending itself, which is subdued and sweet.

All of Mozart’s violin concerti are generally required for students, but this one in particular has found a particularly secure foothold in the violin repertoire and is certainly one of the most frequently performed and recorded.

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 is scored for two oboes, two horns, strings, and solo violin.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Mendelssohn was exposed to the arts from an early age. His mother was a musician and an artist, and his father a banker who provided a comfortable living and took the education of his children seriously. Young Mendelssohn was privileged to have the best tutors in several subjects and both encouragement in and the time to work on artistic pursuits. All of this together with his natural talent combined to create what annotator Michael Steinberg calls an “astonishing … composing prodigy.” Steinberg notes, “Mozart was to go much farther, but as a teenager not even he surpasses or often equals Mendelssohn in assurance and certainly not in individuality.”

Mendelssohn was especially close to his sister, Fanny, who was several years his senior. Fanny was also an excellent musician and composer, as supported by an anecdote in which she performed Bach’s full The Well-Tempered Clavier from memory at age thirteen. Sadly, their father would not allow her to continue with music seriously, saying that music could only be “an ornament to her life” and not “its fundamental basis.” Mendelssohn was also discouraged from taking up music professionally— in his case with the admonition that music “is after all no kind of career, no life, no goal.” However, not being a woman left Mendelssohn freer to choose what to do with his life whether or not his father approved of it.

Mendelssohn entered the studio of composer and conductor Carl Zelter, who was reputedly a great lover of Bach’s music. And at this time Bach’s music was undergoing a resurgence of popularity. Zelter not only fostered a similar love for Bach in Mendelssohn, he also introduced Mendelssohn to Goethe, with whom they both enjoyed a friendship until the writer’s death.

Though Mendelssohn was still only twenty-one when he began work on the “Italian” Symphony, as Steinberg writes, “he had found a voice [with the Octet for Strings, completed when he was sixteen and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at seventeen] unmistakably his own and he used it with the confidence of a seasoned professional.” This symphony is, after all, numbered opus 90 despite Mendelssohn’s youth!

Mendelssohn was inspired to write this symphony after a long trip to Italy and other parts of Europe in 1830–31. Though this much seems obvious, there is not a more specific program for the work, and while on his journey abroad he also began working on the “Scotch” Symphony, though this wouldn’t be completed until much later. Mendelssohn himself bestowed these nicknames. In a letter dated from February 1831, he wrote to his family that his “Italian  Symphony [was] making rapid progress.”

Annotator Peter Laki notes that these two symphonies, more than Mendelssohn’s other works, “seem to complement one another in several ways. Not only were they inspired by two completely different landscapes, some of their musical characteristics are also in contrast.” Mendelssohn ultimately finished the work on the “Italian” in somewhat of a hurry in order to fill a commission from the London Philharmonic Society for “a symphony.”

The opening movement, Allegro vivace, opens with quick, driving wind chords, over which the violins run forward with their melody. The second theme is a little more relaxed, paving the way for the clarinet’s theme in minor tonality, which Steinberg calls “a shadow over the landscape.” Listen for the horn calls in this movement.

The second movement is marked Andante con moto and may depict a subdued procession of a religious nature. Laki explains that this movement is sometimes called “Pilgrim’s March” to acknowledge its similarities with the movement of that name in Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy.” There is another possibility, outlined by musicologist Eric Werner, who links this movement’s thematic material to that of a song written by Zelter. Zelter’s piece used an excerpt of text from Goethe’s Faust. Given the importance to Mendelssohn of both Goethe and Zelter and the fact that he had lost them both, it’s possible that this movement was intended as a private tribute.

The third movement, Con moto moderato, is essentially a minuet and trio, albeit a more Romantic setting of the form. Steinberg calls it “delicate and surely quite un-Italian.” In the trio section, Mendelssohn features the horns and bassoons.

The final movement is marked Presto – Finale: Saltarello. A saltarello is a dance originating in the medieval and Renaissance courts that was eventually adopted by popular Italian culture. It’s a light dance – and usually involves actual leaping! – in triple meter. Mendelssohn also slips into a tarantella in the development section of this movement. The tarantella is similar to the saltarello, and Mendelssohn closes the movement by combining the two dances.

Mendelssohn finished his “Italian” Symphony in 1833 and conducted the premiere that spring in London when he was only twenty-three years old. Following the premiere, he withdrew the score for revisions. This is a baffling choice, given that the “Italian” was so well received. Steinberg, trying to account for Mendelssohn’s action, writes: “It was also characteristic of its staggeringly gifted and ruthlessly driven organizer. Mendelssohn, elegant classicist nurturing Romantic fantasies, was amazingly facile and at times no less amazingly self-critical: the twelveyear gestation of the Scotch Symphony and his never-resolved doubts about the Italian tell their own stories.”

Fellow composer Berlioz, who notoriously disliked Mendelssohn, called the “Italian” “admirable, magnifique.” However, Mendelssohn refused to be swayed by others’ opinions and refused either to allow performances of the work or to publish it. He did not complete revisions before he died in 1847, but he left behind sketches outlining what he would have done. These changes, however, were never implemented.

The “Italian” Symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

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Concierto de Aranjuez

Jean-François Rivest, conductor
Gerardo Perez Capdevila, guitar


Mozart - Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez
Mozart - Symphony No. 25 in G Minor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Though Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is remembered best as a composer, his father, Leopold Mozart, introduced him early to both keyboard and stringed instruments, and he became an exceptional performer on both. Leopold was a renowned pedagogue, and he published his treatise on the violin in the same year Mozart was born. So it’s hardly surprising that young Mozart became proficient on the violin, though once he left home he seems to have spent more time on the viola, especially when playing chamber music. 

A serenade, along with its cousins the divertimento and the notturno, is usually a lighter piece of chamber music. They’re intended as entertainment at social gatherings, not necessarily the main event. Each of these terms refers to something specific—a notturno, for example, was meant to be performed in the evening and a serenade outdoors—but these genres are all of the same family. In the eighteenth century, these pieces were especially popular, and composers could make reliable income by accepting commissions to write them. If composers wrote successful pieces, it enhanced their reputations. 

Annotator Paul Horsley points out that “of the many instrumental genres prevalent during Mozart’s lifetime, the serenade or ‘divertimento’ is the category most closely associated with the servile role that most composers played in the European palaces under the old feudal aristocracy.” Mozart produced many of these smaller works, most of them relatively early in his career. The one we are listening to today represents a more mature Mozart, however. He wrote this piece around the time he was working on Don Giovanni. 

Mozart himself provided the subtitle “Eine kleine Nacht-Musik” or “A Little Night Music” to the piece, hinting that the work is basically a notturno even though it still falls into the category of serenade. As I mentioned, most works in this genre were commissioned and then dedicated to a specific event or patron, but we don’t know what was behind the genesis of this particular serenade. Annotator James Keller, citing Mozart biographer Alan Tyson, speculates that Eine kleine Nachtmusik may have been a tribute to Mozart’s father, who passed away just before the piece was written. Tyson, a psychoanalyst as well as a musicologist, writes, “If one had to select a work to serve as a memorial … to Leopold, one’s choice might well fall on the peerless Eine kleine Nachtmusic, K. 525, completed two months after Leopold’s death, the perfect serenade to recall all those serenades and divertimenti of the Salzburg years.” 

Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik is in four movements. The first, marked Allegro, is sunny and clear and perhaps one of the most readily recognized themes in all of classical music. The slow movement that follows it, called Romance, is lovely and tender and presents the theme several times with small variations on each. 

The third movement is a menuetto with an accompanying trio. It’s a short movement tucked into the overall work, and Horsley comments that this “brevity … reminds the listener that this is a serenade, in which dance movements are frequently shorter and more numerous.” The finale is a spritely rondo, which Keller calls “thoroughly effervescent.” 

Mozart completed the serenade in August 1787, but it was not published until after his death. It was originally scored for two violins, viola, cello, and bass, though it’s not completely clear if the scoring was for string quintet or for string orchestra of that configuration. The catalogue indicates only the instruments, not how many of them were to play. It also indicates that there was supposed to be a second dance movement, which was clearly omitted in the final version. 


Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999)

Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo displayed his musical talent at an early age. When he was just three years old and growing up in Madrid, he contracted diphtheria and lost his sight. Five years later, his parents enrolled him in piano, violin, and harmony classes. As a young man Rodrigo especially enjoyed performing the piano works of contemporary composers, including those of Stravinsky. This interest in new music led to make his own foray into composition, starting with small-scale works for violin and piano. 

Rodrigo’s first orchestra work was premiered in 1924, and several years later he moved to France to study with renowned composer Paul Dukas, who is perhaps most recognizable now as the composer of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a short work featured in Disney’s Fantasia. In Paris Rodrigo not only learned from Dukas but also Maurice Ravel and Darius Milhaud. Around this time his work began to take on a more conscious Spanish voicing. In April 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out, and Rodrigo was unable to return home until 1939. He composed Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra just before returning home. 

The title of the piece refers to the town of Aranjuez, about thirty miles south of Madrid, a vacation spot for the Spanish royal family during the eighteenth century. Annotator Richard Rodda writes, “Generations of Spanish kings thereafter settled into Aranjuez every spring, when the countless nightingales would serenade them from the cedars and laurels…. When Rodrigo sought inspiration for a new concerto in the difficult, war-torn year of 1939, it was to the elegant symbol of bygone Spain represented by Aranjuez that he turned.” 

Rodrigo himself explains, “Having conceived the idea of a guitar concerto … it was necessary for me to place it in a certain epoch and, still more, in a definite location—an epoch at the end of which fandangos transform themselves into fandanguillos, and when the cante and the bulerias vibrate in the Spanish air.... [And] some see Goya’s shadow in the music … [The piece brings] to life the essence of eighteenth-century court, where aristocratic distinction blends with popular culture.”

Concierto de Aranjuez was begun at the behest of a friend. Rodrigo explains, “In September of 1938, I was in San Sebastián…. It was during a dinner organized by the Marqués de Bolarque with Regino Sainz de la Maza and myself. We ate well and the wine was not bad … it was the right moment for audacious fantasy. Suddenly, Regino [said] … ‘Listen, you need to come back with a Concerto for guitar and orchestra’—and to go straight to my heart, he added—‘it’s a dream of mine’—and, resorting to a bit of flattery, he continued—‘this is your calling, as if you were the chosen one.’ I quickly… exclaimed… ‘All right, it’s a deal!’ The scene has remained engraved in my mind, because that evening constituted a pleasant memory in my life, and a moment of calm in those times that were not at all peaceful for Spain and indeed threatening for Europe.”

Several years later, Rodrigo added, “I remember also (I don’t know why, but everything relating to the Concierto de Aranjuez remains in my memory), that one morning, two months afterwards, I found myself in my little study in the rue Saint Jacques, in the heart of the Latin quarter … thinking vaguely about the concert ... I heard the complete theme of the adagio singing inside my head, all at once without any hesitation, and almost identical to that which you will hear. And then immediately … came the theme of the third movement…. If the adagio and the final allegro transported me as if by inspiration ... I came upon the first movement by way of reflection, calculation … willpower. This was the last of the three to be written, so I ended the work where it should have began.”

Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is in three movements. Annotator Richard Rodda explains, “Rodrigo adapted the three traditional movements of the concerto form to reflect different aspects of the soul of Spanish music—the outer movements are fast in tempo and dancelike, while the middle one is imbued with the bittersweet intensity of classic flamenco cante hondo (‘deep song’).” 

The first movement is marked Allegro con spirito and follows the traditional sonata form. The Adagio that follows features a lovely melody based on what some think may be a Middle Eastern theme. Horsley presents an alternate (and probably more likely) origin for the theme, however: “The celebrated Adagio is built from a saeta tune … [described] as a ‘flamencolike arrow of song that bursts from people spontaneously’ during Holy Week processions.” Listen for the English horn part in this movement; she has a lovely duet with the guitar. The finale movement, Allegro gentile, is a lilting rondo and closes the work gracefully. 

About the character of Concierto de Aranjuez, Rodrigo writes, “Throughout the veins of Spanish music, a profound rhythmic beat seems to be diffused by a strange phantasmagoric, colossal and multiform instrument—an instrument idealized in the fiery imagination of [Isaac] Albéniz, [Henrique] Granados, [Manuel de] Falla and [Joaquin] Turina. It is an imaginary instrument that might be said to possess the wings of the harp, the heart of the grand piano, and the soul of the guitar.... It would be unjust to expect strong sonorities from this Concierto; they would falsify its essence and distort an instrument made for subtle ambiguities. Its strength is to be found in its very lightness and in the intensity of its contrasts. The Aranjuez Concierto is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks, and it should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty.”

Concierto de Aranjuez is scored for two flutes (two doubling on piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, strings, and solo guitar. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Of the two symphonies in G minor that Mozart wrote, this one is sometimes called the “little” one. It was almost completely forgotten during the nineteenth century, but has since become secure in the repertoire as one of Mozart’s most popular works. Annotator Philip Huscher credits the immense popularity of the 1984 film Amadeus with the audience’s sudden love of this work. 

This symphony is numbered 25, but Mozart didn’t number his symphonies, at least not reliably, and so our ordering of them may not be accurate. Published accounts attribute between forty and fifty symphonies to Mozart. In general, the earliest of these are not often performed. 

When Mozart composed this “little” symphony in G minor, he had just been studying some of Haydn’s symphonies at a time when the older composer was fascinated by Sturm und Drang, or “storm and stress.” While Haydn’s influence can be found in aspects of this symphony—for example, in the use of four horns—the work is unmistakably Mozart’s. Huscher writes, “With this symphony in particular, Mozart made the first decisive step from wunderkind to great composer, from entertainer to artist.” He adds that the opening Allegro con brio “is probably the earliest music that sounds wholly Mozartean to our ears—not the charming, finely crafted, yet slightly anonymous music of the period, but something utterly individual.” 

The first movement communicates urgency and decisiveness, characterized by clear syncopations and accents woven into the melody. The second movement, Andante, is in E-flat major. The violins are muted, giving the sound a more opaque texture. The Menuetto is less playful than that type of dance movement tends to be, and its accompanying trio, which features the winds and brass, is more serene. This use of winds and brass is also characteristic of serenades; the greater volume was an asset out of doors. The finale, Allegro, uses several elements from the first movement, most notably the syncopations. Horsley points out that this “lends not only unity to the whole work, but also helps to sustain the dramatic intensity to the very end.” 

Mozart completed the “little” symphony in the fall of 1773, and it was premiered the same year. It is scored for two oboes, two bassoons, four horns, and strings. 

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