Saturday, October 29, 2011

Program Notes for November 2011 Concerts

By Jeffrey Johnson

An Evening of Mozart
When Mozart died on the 5th of December 1791, he was just two months short of his 36th birthday. You can measure this span against your own life if you were born during, or before, 1976. To many of us the year of the bicentennial celebration doesn’t seem that long ago.

This program allows us the opportunity to compare works written at the beginning, middle, and end of Mozart’s life. Unlike many composers, his compositional voice was immediately identifiable, and he wrote more than 636 works within his lifetime.

Compare the musical language heard in Symphony No. 23 with the music of the 5th Violin Concerto. The compositional style of the Violin Concerto, written at age 19 and two years after the Symphony, shows an ability to work within ever more sophisticated interrelationships. Fluency is evident in both works, but with each new work Mozart seemed ready to embrace a wider range of styles and a wider range of emotional experiences.

On the second half of the program we hear the greatest possible contrast in Mozart’s symphonic output: his 1st symphony (written in 1764) followed by his last (written in 1788). One of the important changes you will hear is in the size of the orchestra. Symphony No. 1 was written for a standard ensemble called á8, meaning there are eight different parts that need to be written (2 for the oboes, 2 for the horns, and one each for Violin I, Violin II, Viola, and Cello/Bass).

Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” is written for the orchestra that would become the new standard in the late 18th and early 19th century, with woodwinds in pairs, horns, in this case trumpets, timpani, and strings. Mozart uses only one flute in the “Jupiter” Symphony because 18th century flutes had a tendency not to blend well in ensembles.

The change in ensemble from Symphony No. 1 to No. 41 reflects a change in technology made possible by general shifts within society during the 24-year gap between the two works. We might better understand this transformation by thinking of it as being analogous to changes in computing technology over the last 24 years.

Mozart uses both technologies to their highest potential, but the biggest difference between the two works is the impact made by the experience of living. Symphony No. 1 speaks with the optimism and blatant force of a boy who has discovered a freakish and seemingly unlimited music talent. “Jupiter” speaks with a voice seasoned by disappointments, disillusions, and even of failures.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 –1791)
Symphony No. 23 K. 181/162b
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, and strings.
Completed: May 19, 1773 in Salzburg
Most Recent Performance by GBS: January 27, 2001

This is one of the last works that Mozart wrote in his birth house at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg. The family was planning a trip to Vienna that summer in search of work for Wolfgang. They returned to Salzburg in the fall and moved into a larger house, in which Leopold ran a music shop on the other side of the Salzach River.

In preparation for the trip to Vienna, Mozart wrote several pieces that would show his potential. To listen to this symphony is to be given a chance to peek into the compositional portfolio of a young composer who was looking for work; this work a sonic resumé. Translated from sound into language it might look like this:

Objective: To obtain employment in Vienna with strong career potential.

• Prior work experience in Italy: This brief symphony is cast in the form of a three-section Italian opera overture with sharply contrasted music played without break.

• Strong communication and organizational skills: The first movement is full of energy and juxtapositions. You will hear abrupt contrasts between loud and quiet, high register and low registers, major and minor inflections. The music follows a sophisticated narrative unfolding. It reveals strength in being articulate.

• Introduced new products: The central movement is a lyrical movement that features an extended oboe solo. The oboe being used in the role of a lyrical operatic soloist is a new element in Mozart’s symphonic style

• Managed cross-functional teams: The finale introduces rustic music into the formal environment of the symphony. He does this by finding ways to blend popular and courtly gestures, changing the way each of them functions. The music proceeds in an orderly succession of four stanzas each of which begins in the rustic style.

Based on this symphonic resume, would you hire this person? The response from Vienna: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Violin Concerto No. 5 K.219
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings.
Completed: 1775 in Salzburg
Most Recent Performance by GBS: October 16, 2010

Having just returned from Munich where he wrote his first six piano sonatas, Mozart settled back into life in Salzburg by composing his opera Il rè pastore, several Masses, and the five violin concertos.

Listen for the entrance of the solo violin in the first movement. After an introduction for orchestra alone during which several themes and gestures are offered, time seems to slow and almost to stop. The tempo changes and the soloist enters with music which speaks of ecstasy and a gentle and elegant flowing motion.

In a sudden awakening the music snaps back into focus and goes about the standard concerto game, with several new ideas and figurations, introduced by the soloist, separated by music first heard in the orchestral introduction. The soloist gets a short break from playing at the end of the exposition.

Like each of the five violin concertos by Mozart, the development section can be identified by an abrupt shift to minor. The harmony pivots instantly into minor as the development begins, and the soloist likewise needs to be able to shift, also transitioning from playfulness into music that is sorrowful and filled with operatic inflections.

With a few flourishes the music returns to playfulness.

Quick shifting between emotional states is one of the hallmarks of the classical style, but does this particular shift have a larger meaning? Is the cheerful music that follows this passage the forced cheerfulness of an entertainer? Are we meant to hear with a new perspective after the passionate exclamations of the development?

The second movement Adagio is a study in poise and tranquility. It opens with an unusual diatonic figure set with simple harmonies that will be repeated throughout the movement like a mantra. After the orchestral introduction the soloist will play ideas that float breathlessly. Follow the sequence of these ideas carefully as this whole passage returns to frame the close of the movement. The centerpiece is another unexpected voyage into minor keys, more meditative than in the first movement.

The third movement is presented as a series of dances in a schematic rondo form where the opening dance returns three times in orderly fashion. Then the surprise for which this violin concerto is famous: its sudden and surprising imitation of Janissary music, which was a cultural memory of the Viennese that went back to the time when Turkish forces almost reached the city walls in 1683.

The Janissary passage that was inserted into this finale was developed from ballet music that Mozart had written two years earlier called Le gelosie del seraglio (Jealosies of the Harem) K 135a. Originally this music had been performed in between two acts of his opera Lucio Silla when it was first played in Milan. The storm music was written especially for this concerto.

Symphony No. 1 K. 16
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings.
Completed: August-September 1764
Most Recent Performance by GBS: This is the first performance by our orchestra

It was at the house of the good Dr. Randal at 180 Ebury Street in Chelsea that Leopold Mozart took refuge during an illness that had life-threatening implications, having come upon him in a weakened state a little more than a year into the 3-year performing expedition with his family that has become known as the “Great Western Tour” (June 1763 – November 1766).

During the 51 days that the family spent with the Randals, the 8-year-old Wolfgang had the time to begin trying extended works, and completed his first two symphonies. “Remind me,” said Mozart to his sister Nannerl, “to give the horns plenty of good music.”

Leopold wrote to his landlord, Lorenz Hagenauer, in Salzburg to tell him of a performance of this symphony in London on February 21, 1965, and complained that he himself had to copy the score and created parts for the performance to avoid paying one shilling per sheet.

Wolfgang opened this symphony with an iconic figure: is a three-measure phrase set in octaves and punctuated by silence. It is a memorable gesture that immediately carved out a space in this world. Sudden quiet: two balanced phrases of classical suspensions pushed by hammer strokes in the bass that spring from a rest at the opening of each measure rather than at the end (as it was in the iconic fanfare).

Mozart repeats both the 3-measure fanfare and the two balanced phrases of suspensions before moving into a classical transition over a pulsing E-flat pedal in the bass. When the bass shifts we are in the key of B-flat major.

There is a cluster of themes in the dominant, an introductory gesture in falling, staccato scales, an active dance figure, and rising scales over tremolos in the violins. A clockwork cadence brings the first-half of the form to a close.

The second half of the work announces the 3-measure fanfare in B-flat, but when the opening sequence is repeated the music shifts into C minor. It seems like development, but this music will never reappear. The remainder of the events that we heard in the first half of the work are stated again, resolved into the fresh sounding key of E-flat major. This is a movement that stands on the very intersection between binary form and sonata structure.

The second movement Andante obsesses almost exclusively on a single texture with triplet repeated notes in the upper strings and a five-note figure in lower strings. Urgency is expressed through phrase lengths that are uneven—the first half of the movement being a 6-measure phrase followed by a 7-measure phrase and closing with a 9-measure phrase. If you listen carefully to the 1st oboe during the second phrase you will hear the notes [C, D, F, E] each sustained as a whole-note in cantus-firmus style. These same four pitches dominate the finale of Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony.” Coincidence?

The third movement is a festive rondo where the returning material sounds like a variation of the gesture that opened the first movement. Four-note descending patterns, balanced later in the movement by 4-note ascending patterns comprise much of the material in the rondo [B] sections.

Symphony No. 41 K. 551
Instrumentation: 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Completed: August 10, 1788 in Vienna
Most Recent Performance by GBS: March 4, 2006

If you remember one piece from your music appreciation class it is likely to be the “Jupiter Symphony,” which is one of the most analyzed works in the repertoire. Generations of musicians have been drawn to the prism-like patterns in this music, which seems able to move at will through authentic human emotions.

The nickname “Jupiter” did not come from Mozart himself, but most likely from Johann Peter Salomon, who is known to most musicians as the person who commissioned the twelve “London Symphonies” written by Haydn. Invoking the Olympian conception and scale of the work, the nickname became commonplace even in the early 19th century.

The “Jupiter” Symphony was composed during the seventeen days between July 25 and August 10 during 1788. It was composed in a set that also included the famous G minor symphony and Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major. Scholars believe that the three symphonies were written for the occasion of a performance in a new local casino.

C major was a key often associated with celebrations, and the “Jupiter” opens with a movement where celebratory marches alternate with quieter passages of entertainment, like the experience of walking through a fairground during carnival. The structure of the movement, with its false recapitulation and other unexpected harmonic deflections, speaks with the voice of a magician.

All is good. Well, maybe not. Listen for the moment, set off by an unexpected silence, when a loud C-minor chord appears. The startling sound is propelled by the timpani, as if Gustav Mahler had suddenly added a few measures to the score. Just as quickly the music shifts back to major and continues in celebration. But did we just glimpse the face behind the mask?

Moments later, another silence. Mozart introduces a new theme in opera buffo style – a self-quotation from an aria that Mozart had recently written called “Un bacio di mano” (K.581). “You are a little naive my beloved Don Pompeo,” sings the mature Monsieur Girò in the aria, “you need to figure out the ways of the world.”

The aria that Mozart quoted was written to be included in someone else’s opera. The aria was written to be included in “Le gelosie fortunate (Fortunate Jealousy)” by Pasquale Anfossi (1727-1797). Was Mozart addressing himself through this quotation? Though the tune is unmistakably cheery, perhaps the energy behind it was broken: Mozart picks up this tune again in the development section, where he eventually focuses on one fragment broken from the tune, pushing it through a maze of tonalities.

The second movement Andante Cantabile confronts the accelerated rate of speed of modern communication. Mozart opens with muted strings; a color that is subdued. He sings of innocence but is interrupted by loud chords and faster figuration. This movement further explores the outbursts of minor music from the first movement, and the unsettled quality of presentation lingers in the mind long after the music continues into major.

The Menuetto is a dance that shows how far the chromatic scale can lean before falling into place. The trio repeats a common progression of closing—over and over again. It says goodbye without actually leaving.

The infamous finale is built from a collection of themes that work like a crossword puzzle. Each theme is wonderful when heard alone, and as they combine they form new meanings. As each new idea appears, mark it in your mind. See if you can hear them as they return and begin to combine. During the final minutes of the movement five of the themes will combine and overlap several times, with each theme appearing at least once in each of the 5-voices into which the music will be divided.

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