WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Symphony No 38 in D, K.504 ( Prague) (1786)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Symphony No 38 in D, K.504 ( Prague) (1786)

i. Adagio – Allegro
ii. Andante
iii. Presto

In the never-ending search for a steady salary such as Haydn had with Prince Esterhazy Mozart had found himself employed in Salzburg, the town of his birth, by Archbishop Colloredo, with whom he had a very difficult relationship. A free spirit such as Mozart deeply resented being told what, and how, to compose, and although the position had enabled him to write symphonies and concertos as well as the required church music he yearned to spread his wings no matter what the cost to his finances.

In 1781, shortly before his 25th birthday, he was ordered by the Archbishop to fulfil some duties in Vienna; enjoying the freedom, he refused to return to Salzburg at the appointed time, whereupon, to his delight, he was sacked. Except for some European tours he was to remain a resident of Vienna for the remaining ten years of his life, and his maturity led him into composing what remain today as some of the greatest of all operas, concertos and symphonies, not to mention choral, instrumental and chamber music.

As it was for Handel in London, opera was the most lucrative money-maker and Mozart’s Vienna years saw the three classic operas with libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte, The Marriage of Figaro, K.492, Don Giovanni, K.527, and Casi Fan Tutte, K588, plus virtually his last, The Magic Flute, K620, while piano concertos, instrumental and chamber music kept audiences aware of his performing genius.

It remains, however, something of a mystery as to why he only wrote six symphonies over these last ten years; whilst Haydn would find himself commissioned handsomely to write his last twelve symphonies in two trips to London from 1790 until 1794, Mozart seemed to feel that symphonies were somewhat out of fashion. In 1783 he made a tour through Austria and was actually caught without a symphony when his hosts in Linz asked him to include one in the concerts he was due to give; in response he miraculously wrote his wonderful 35th symphony, now known as the Linz, K.425, in a mere four days.

A Symphony No 37 seems to be lost, while the final three symphonies, including the tragic G minor, No 40, K.550, and the heaven-scaling No 41, K.551, now known as the Jupiter, were all written in a sudden burst of energy in 1788, but it is not known what inspired him, and there is little direct proof that they were ever performed before Mozart’s death in December 1791. That leaves No 38, K.504, the Prague.

The city of Prague seems to have been to Mozart what London was to be to Haydn – a home-from-home where he was completely worshipped. Late in the autumn of 1786 his new opera Figaro, which had been premiered to initially lukewarm acclaim in Vienna, became a huge success in Prague, and in January 1787 he travelled to the city to capitalise on his opera’s success, taking with him the symphony he had completed on 6 December .This 38th symphony had been commissioned for concerts in December ‘in Vienna, but it is thought that its actual premiere took place on this visit to Prague, once again to huge acclaim, on 19 January, hence its nickname.

The symphony finds the same effervescent spirit as Figaro in the body of the first movement and in the last movement – there are even pre-echoes of the Overture to his final major opera, The Magic Flute, which also would be a magnificent success in Prague – whilst the slow movement finds a similar consolatory atmosphere to that of Figaro ‘s final scene. The dark, D minor introduction to the symphony and the somewhat feverish opening to the first movement Allegro foreshadow the supernatural drama of the new Da Ponte opera, Don Giovanni, also commissioned at this time in Prague and, once again, premiered in the city later that year, 1787, on 29 October.

The opening Adagio does indeed begin ominously, and becomes still more so, ending with descending chromat ic scales which chill the atmosphere further. Breathless syncopation accompanies the lower strings’ sinister intonings at the start of the D major Allegro , answered by wind, brass and timpani, the horns and trumpets straight out of Figaro; the energy becomes rather more overt and even flamboyant shortly, before calming into a new, more elegant subject . The development explores the material which had begun the Allegro, leading to a dynamic recap which sweeps us to the end without the customary coda.

The Andante, in G major, brings warmth and humanity, its opening five notes a much gentler variant of one of the pervading motifs in the preceding Allegro. A brief foray into minor-key angst is immediately defused; serenity is the lasting impression of this beautiful movement.

There is no Minuet or Scherzo; it is thought that preferences in Prague at the time were for a three-movement structure.

The final Presto immedi<Jtely signals its Puckish, offbeat humour, and the opening witty theme provides the basis of the development , which for a moment takes us into ‘Storm and Stress’ (Sturm und Orang) territory. Of all Mozart’s later symphonic movements this is surely the one which most finds the genial wit of Mozart’s mentor Haydn. The Prague is a work of pure genius, which surely stands on the same exalted pedestal as the magnificent final three symphonies .

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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)  Flute Concerto No 1 in G, K313 (1778)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Flute Concerto No 1 in G, K313 (1778)

i.  Allegro Maestoso    ii. Adagio non troppo        iii.    Rondo: Tempo di Menuetto

 In 1777 Mozart resigned from his first turbulent period of some four years as Court Composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg, Count Hieronymus Colloredo. Despite the fact that he had received a regular, although somewhat ungenerous, salary for one of the few times in his life he had felt stifled musically; longing to spread his wings he even found his movements restricted by the Archbishop, and in 1775 the Court Theatre had been closed, circumscribing his operatic ambition, although a compensation was the composition of his five Violin Concertos.

Eventually Mozart’s father Leopold would broker a return to working for the Archbishop in 1779, but the composer would remain discontented, eventually to be summarily dismissed in 1781, whereupon he moved to Vienna to set up as a freelance musician.

Following his resignation in 1777, however, Mozart had determined to travel to seek his fortune and set off with his ailing mother, first calling at Mannheim, where the orchestra at that time was possibly the finest to be found anywhere. Mozart was vastly impressed by the standard of orchestral playing and resolved to stay for a while to explore opportunities, but his first commission came from an unexpected source.

He was introduced to a Dutch doctor working in the Dutch East India Company named Ferdinand Dejean (variously ‘de Jean’ and ‘Deschamps’), who was an amateur flautist and offered to pay 200 gulden for Mozart to write three ‘short, easy’ flute concertos and four flute quartets. Apart from in an orchestral context the flute was not an instrument he had written for to date, having professed a dislike for the instrument, and he delayed starting on K313 until January 1778, earlier also downing tools after only two-and-a-bit quartets, K285, K285a and K285b (flute and string trio). Since he was normally a rapid worker, the time it took to fulfil even part of Dejean’s commission suggests a degree of reluctance; indeed a poem written to his mother mentioning the G major concerto expresses in scatological terms what he thought of the job, and this was compounded by the fact that to minimise his effort for the second concerto Mozart transcribed his earlier C major Oboe Concerto into D, K314. The Andante, K315, all that he wrote of a third concerto, is also thought to have been a possible alternative slow movement for K313. Dejean was not amused and paid Mozart only 96 gulden.

Nevertheless the works are attractive and purposeful and remain staples of flautists’ repertoire to this day. Certainly Mozart’s apparent reluctance is by no means reflected in the G major concerto. The work certainly does not treat the flute as a pretty and inconsequential instrument, but opens with a virile and athletic orchestral exposition, which is continued by the flute in kind. The movement follows a classic sonata form with rapid passagework often handed between flute and strings.

The  Adagio non troppo bathes us in warm D major from the start, strings muted; first violins and orchestral flutes introduce the first theme, which is then reiterated and elaborated by the soloist.

The finale is an elegant Minuet, which in its episodes gives plenty of scope for both soloist and orchestra to embark on flights of fancy.

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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Serenade: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525 (1787)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Serenade: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525 (1787)

                  i.   Allegro
ii. Romanza
iii. Minuet
iv. Rondo: Allegro

There are some classic works which one feels are instantly recognisable to almost everyone, no matter what their musical tastes – it’s almost as if they have been breathed in through the air. Amongst these would perhaps be the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Johann Strauss the Younger’s waltz On the Beautiful Blue Danube and the Largo from Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony From the New World, and the opening of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (‘A Little Night Music’, or, if you like, ‘A Little Serenade’) is surely also one of these.

It is actually a late work, completed in Vienna in August 1787 shortly before he began work on his final great triptych of symphonies, numbers 39, 40 and 41 (Jupiter), and, although it is not known for what occasion the piece was written, we may be sure that it was an event of the greatest elegance and style. Indeed, for a composer who was during the final years of his all-too-brief life often subject to money worries and stress, K525 seems to portray a composer at ease with himself and the world, however temporarily. Its genial style and attractive themes have made it one of Mozart’s most popular works, in fact the most popular according to many respected commentators over the past two hundred years, but no matter how it has been arranged and presented in all that time its sovereign quality has never been in dispute.

K525 was actually his thirteenth serenade, others including works for wind and small orchestral forces. It remained unpublished at Mozart’s death, and was sold to a publisher by his widow Constanze amongst a number of works in 1799, but publication was delayed until 1827. The work as a whole smiles, full of elegance and energy, leaving little doubt as to why it has remained so popular for nearly 250 years.

The opening is an arresting fanfare heralding music of dynamic energy. The second subject, in D major, is more graceful, and forms the basis of the development.

The Romanza too is the epitome of elegance, the main theme returning twice more between poised episodes – a Rondo in all but name – before the coda brings the movement to a quiet end.
The Minuet is quite forthright compared with some more melting examples, the Trio spinning a slightly more relaxed tale before the return of the Minuet.

The finale is a sonata form with main themes, development, recap and coda, despite its official designation as a Rondo. Its busy opening scarcely relaxes, and the development and eventual coda are dramatic and thrusting.

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Mozart (1756 – 1791) Horn Concerto No 3 in E flat, K447 (1783)

Mozart (1756 – 1791) Horn Concerto No 3 in E flat, K447 (1783)

i.  Allegro   ii.  Romanze (Larghetto)  iii.  Rondo (Allegro)

We are fortunate that the tradition of composers being inspired by and writing for soloists continues to this day; twentieth century examples include violin concertos written for David Oistrakh by a vast range of composers including Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and a similar collection of cello concertos for Mstislav Rostropovich. The late former conductor of the MSO John Wilbraham had a number of trumpet concertos dedicated to him, including that of Malcolm Arnold, and Benjamin Britten wrote his Serenade for tenor, horn and strings for possibly the finest-ever exponent of the Mozart horn concertos, Dennis Brain, whose cadenzas will be played tonight.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Overture Cosi Fan Tutte (1790)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Overture Cosi Fan Tutte (1790)

One of the greatest artistic partnerships in musical history reached the last of its great trio of operas with the composition of Cosi fan Tutte (‘Thus do all Women’) in 1790. Mozart had met Lorenzo da Ponte at the home of Baron von Wetzlar in Vienna in 1783 and the two were immediately intrigued by each other’s genius. Da Ponte was Court Poet to Emperor Joseph II in Vienna and his duties included writing operatic plays (libretti) for Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who had introduced him to the Emperor; we have become familiar with a version of the rivalry between Salieri, a workaday composer who nevertheless retained the Emperor’s favour, and Mozart, the maverick genius, through Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, which of course became an Oscar-winning film in 1984.

Following the huge, overtly subversive success firstly of Figaro (1786) then Don Giovanni (1787) da Ponte wrote a third Italian Opera Buffa (comic opera) libretto, probably on his own initiative rather than having been commissioned, and, it is thought, nevertheless showed it first to Court Composer Salieri, who made an attempt but gave up. Mozart took on the project in1789 and the opera was premiered on 26 January 1790 in the Burgtheater in Vienna. Unfortunately, its initial run was curtailed after only five performances by the death of the Emperor. A handful of further performances followed that summer after the period of national mourning, but after that the opera was not performed again before Mozart’s death on 5 December 1791.

Figaro and Giovanni had covered controversial subjects, and Cosi was no exception; its action concerns a scurrilous, and nowadays unacceptable, wager between Don Alfonso and two military officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that within a day he can prove that no woman can stay faithful to her lover. Ferrando and Guglielmo confidently challenge the bet, agreeing that they will feign being called up to war but reappear almost immediately in what they hope will be impenetrable disguise and woo their own lovers, Dorabella and Fiordiligi. They duly return disguised as full-bearded Albanians and begin the wooing; the ladies’ maid Despina is bribed into helping with the plot by Don Alfonso, and, sadly, the ladies within a short while agree to marry, unwittingly, each other’s original lover. Finally, Ferrando and Guglielmo engineer their return in part-disguise and the ladies realise how they have allowed themselves to be tricked. All is put right, with each sadder and wiser in realising that they have, in the end, at least coped with life’s vagaries.

The opera contains many musical gems, perhaps the most sublime being Soave sia il vento (May the wind be gentle), a vocal quintet, including Alfonso, sung as the officers leave their lovers for the ‘war’. Before the resolution of the opera the three men bitterly reiterate the Cosi fan tutte motto, which appears twice in the overture, first as the forte chords at the end of the introduction, and again just before the coda. The body of the overture comprises busy, conspiratorial material in the strings – in similar style to the opening of Coriolan – which is complemented in the woodwind and punctuated by military fanfares in the full orchestra.

One interesting sidelight: Mozart was constrained to write the role of Fiordiligi for da Ponte’s mistress Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, whom he disliked; apparently, according to the 20th century critic William Mann, it was her habit to drop her chin on low notes and throw back her head on high ones, so Mozart filled her showpiece aria Come scoglio (Like a rock) with constant leaps from low to high to low with the result that in singing the aria her head bobbed up and down like a chicken!                                                           

Notes by HDJ 27 January 2018

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