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 .

Hits: 15

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Trumpet Concerto in E flat (1796)

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Trumpet Concerto in E flat (1796)

i. Allegro
ii, Andante
iii. Finale: Allegro

Whilst the trumpet and its ancestors were amongst the earliest of all wind instruments, dating back prehistorically to conch shells and other signalling devices, many thousands of years later the orchestral instrument, usually made of brass and basically an artistically curled-up version of the long posthorn, was still only capable of a relatively limited number of notes, governed largely by the tightening and loosening of the player’s lips, known as the embouchure.

This instrument was known as the natural trumpet, and although it featured in many of the great symphonies of Mozart and Haydn’s own, its limitations meant that its role seldom rose above providing basic harmony. In the latter years of the 13th century there were prototype versions of a trumpet with keys, which made it a little more versatile, but it was the young principal trumpeter of the Viennese Imperial Court, a friend of Haydn, Anton Weidinger, born in 1767, who felt there was enormous further potential in the instrument; although he was only in his mid-20s he developed in the early 1790s a much more sophisticated keyed trumpet, and allied with skilful embouchure adaptation this meant that the trumpet could for the first time play scales in semitones and change key. Weidinger gave it the wonderful title of klappentrompete.

It didn’t take long for Haydn, always looking for exciting new developments, to take the keyed-trumpet on board and in 1796 he wrote a concerto for the instrument which remains conceivably the best-loved trumpet concerto of all time, perhaps challenged only by that of Hummel, who had been Haydn’s assistant at the Court of Esterhazy.

Greatly inspired, Haydn rapidly absorbed the capabilities of the new instrument, demonstrating them graphically in the composition of his concerto with technical help from Weidinger, although it took nearly four years for Weidinger to feel ready to premiere the work, at the Burgtheater, Vienna, on 28 March 1800; strangely the very same night saw the British premiere of Haydn’s magnum opus, The Creation, in London. Although there was great excitement in Vienna over the new capability of the trumpet, Weidinger remained virtually the only exponent of the keyed instrument and composers continued to write orchestrally for the natural trumpet; Weidinger was to live for another half a century, long enough to see the advent in the 1840s of the valve trumpet, which would finally give a new dimension to the instrument’s orchestral role. Sadly Haydn’s concerto fell into disuse for virtually a century after Weidinger’s initial performances and the original manuscript was lost until a trumpeter by the name of Paul Handke found it in 1899 and made a fair copy initially for himself to play. In 1908 the concerto was rescued further by Professor Franz Rossbach, principal trumpet of the great Vienna Philharmonic, who gave its first performance in Vienna for over 100 years. Its first performance in Britain was a BBC broadcast on 30 March 1932 given by Ernest Hall, who served as principal trumpet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1929 until 1953.

Today the Trumpet Concerto is arguably Haydn’s most popular concerto, together with the C Major Cello Concerto, which, by coincidence, was also lost, this time until 1961. Over recent decades the finest exponents of the concerto have included the late former conductor of MSO John Wilbraham, Maurice Andre, Hakan Hardenberger and Alison Balsam.

The pre-eminent Haydn scholar and editor HC Robbins Landon, putting the concerto in perspective, writes “Unfortunately, the revolutionary characteristics of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, so apparent at the time, are totally lost on modern audiences used to hearing the modern valved trumpet.

“The opening Allegro begins with an extensive orchestral introduction of the themes and style of the piece, including fanfares, and the solo trumpet when it arrives reiterates the opening theme – its own fanfares reminding the original audience that yes, this really was the military instrument they were familiar with. Intriguingly Haydn introduces the instrument’s greater capabilities only gradually, making a feature of passages moving in semitones and later in rapid semiquavers, and even demi­ semiquavers in the Andante. Eventually the cadenza offers the solo instrument a chance to show off further .

The Andante is in the style of a Siciliana such as we heard in the Fireworks Music, but is much more openly expressive – indeed it is one of Haydn’s most beautiful inspirations. The lilting character superbly demonstrates the trumpet’s lyrical capability, while also allowing moments of virtuosity as the soloist decorates the melodies.

The Finale, Allegro, once again begins with an orchestral exposition of the main theme, which the trumpet repeats on its entry – here the 1800 audience would have been astonished to hear that the solo part could emulate the agility of the orchestral strings and wind. Once again in this movement the orchestra is an equal partner with the trumpet, whilst allowing the soloist ample opportunity for exciting technical display .

Hits: 16

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL (1685-1759) Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) arr. Mackerras/Baines

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL (1685-1759) Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) arr. Mackerras/Baines

i. Ouverture: Largo — Allegro
ii. Bourrée
iii. La Paix
iv. La Réjouissance
v. Minuet

On 23 February 1685, while the Monmouth Rebellion was fomenting in England, was born in Halle, Germany, one of the greatest Baroque composers of all, George Frideric Handel; a month later would see the birth just over a hundred miles away in Eisenach of his finest contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach. Each would live until the 1750s and bestride the musical world like a colossus, raising the art of composition to a whole range of new peaks. Despite a Europe-wide reputation Bach was to centre himself in his homeland for the duration of his career; Handel, on the other hand, trained in Halle, Hamburg and in Italy but found huge acclaim in Britain, and decided to settle in London in 1712, becoming a naturalised British subject in 1727, the year his anthem Zadok the Priest was written for the Coronation of George II, which inaugurated the tradition of its performance at every Coronation since.

Although both Bach and Handel became giants in oratorio and masses, Bach’s Passions and the B minor Mass and Handel’s Messiah (1742) occupying the highest reaches of Mount Parnassus, they diverged in other aspects; while Bach immersed himself in writing for the Church, perfecting the choral cantata, Handel capitalised upon the thirst of Londoners for the new genre of opera, writing some forty, including Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, Rodelinda and Semele.

The genre in which they found perhaps the greatest degree of similarity was in the orchestral Suite, each following the current model of collections of dances in diverse styles.

Handel, having continued to enhance his reputation in England, became the Royal favourite, and in 1717 King George | requested a collection of orchestral pieces to accompany his progress on the Royal Barge up the River Thames from Whitehall Palace ti Chelsea on 17 July. Fifty Musicians played and repeated several times three large suites of dances between the departure at 8pm and the return to Whitehall after midnight, and of course those Suites have become known as the Water Music.

Handel remained the favourite when George II succeeded to the throne, and was the natural choice to provide a further suite for a concert in Green Park, London, on 21 April 1749 celebrating the end of the Europe-wide War of the Austrian Succession, which had been brought to a close in 1748 with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The celebration was to be marked with a full-scale fireworks display, and was apparently attended by some 12,000, who caused a three-hour traffic jam on London Bridge. (Times don’t change!). The weather rather spoilt the display, however, and there were many misfires, which caused a number of injuries and the burning down of one of the pavilions.

At first Handel scored Music for the Royal Fireworks for full orchestra including strings, but reluctantly had to remove the string parts when it was pointed out that the King’s preference was for a Band comprising only Wind, Brass and Percussion. On the night the massive Band consisted of no less than 24 oboes, 12 bassoons and a double-bassoon, nine trumpets, nine horns (these latter two sections pre-keys or valves) and a huge battery of percussion.

A month later, for the first non-Royal performances, Handel had reinstated the string parts to double the oboe and bassoon parts, with variety being maintained by making sections either Wind-only or Strings-only.

This orchestration is the basis of the arrangement by Charles Mackerras and Anthony Baines, whose scholarship in performance practices in Handel’s day with regard to rhythms, articulation and decoration is integral.in the parts being used tonight.

The opening of the Ouverture, the Largo, is the epitome of baroque style, with angular, double-dotted rhythms throughout the orchestra and a magnificently measured stride. The Allegro dances much more light-footedly, once more with pervading crisply dotted rhythms. A further Largo intervenes, then the Al/egro returns to bring the movement to a splendid close.

The Bourrée trips along merrily, its two halves taken alternately by Wind and Strings. La Paix (The Peace) is in the form of a Siciliana with a rocking rhythm, quietly contemplating the relief at the end of the War, to be followed by the grandest movement of all, La Réjouissance (The Rejoicing), with brass and timpani prominent. Finally the Minuet, in this case expansive and triumphant, brings the Fireworks Music to a suitably celebratory end.

Hits: 20

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony No 101 in D major, (Clock) (1794)

i. Adagio — Presto    ii. Andante    iii. Menuetto — Allegretto and Trio    iv. Finale — Vivace

In 1790 Haydn’s thirty year tenure as Kapellmeister at the Court of Esterhazy became looser with the succession of a new Count, and he was able to escape the ties that he had willingly allowed to restrict his movements.

Having been cloistered for so long he had little idea of the extent of his fame, so it came as something of a surprise when the impresario Johann Peter Salomon called upon him later in 1790 at his home in Vienna to tell him how popular his music was in London and to invite him to visit London personally to compose six special symphonies. Haydn leapt at the chance, despite his trepidation at the thought of a fortnight’s journey through Europe culminating in a perilous channel-crossing. Before he left he and his pupil Mozart met to bid each other farewell; the younger composer expressed his fear that he would not see his mentor, then aged 59, again, but by the saddest irony it would be Mozart rather than the relatively aged Haydn who would be dead within two years.

Haydn was to stay in London on this first visit for a year and a half, directing the successive premieres of his symphonies Nos 93 to 98 with Salomon playing in the orchestra, before returning home to fulfil the commitments he still had at Esterhazy, and to take on a promising young pupil, one Ludwig van Beethoven, a relationship which eventually foundered shortly after Haydn’s second stay in London.

Salomon was anxious to build on the success of Haydn’s first visit and invited him back to London for six more symphonies, Nos 99 to 104, which were duly written and premiered in London between early 1794 and May 1795. Four of the final six have since been given nicknames, the Military (No 100), the Clock (No 101), the Drum Roll, (No 103), and the London (No 104), but Nos 99 and 102 escaped that slightly doubtful honour. Despite the fact that Haydn was to continue composing until shortly before his death fourteen years later, No 104 was his very last symphony; safely settled back in Austria he was to move towards oratorio, producing, amongst others, the groundbreaking Creation in 1798, The Seasons in 1801 and the Harmoniemesse in 1802.

The twelve Salomon or London symphonies continue the development of the form, progressing in the second six, for example, towards making the clarinet an ever-present member of the symphony orchestra where Mozart had used it only sparingly — Nos 98 and 102 are the only two of the last six symphonies which don’t – and introducing trumpets and timpani in some slow movements and Minuets, which he does in the Clock. In the final six symphonies his wit and invention reach new heights, each symphony a total joy, cementing his acknowledged status as ‘Father of the Symphony’.

As regards style, present performance practice in Haydn and Mozart tends towards leanness, with smallish string sections, but Salomon’s orchestra, it appears, consisted of at least sixty players. London’s love affair with Haydn remained undiminished, and reviews both of the composer and the orchestra were consistently in the ‘rave’ category; the day after the premiere of No 101 the Morning Chronicle wrote: ‘Nothing can be more original than the subject of the first movement, and having found a happy subject, no man knows like Haydn how to produce incessant variety without once departing from it.’

The Clock begins with Haydn’s customary slow introduction; the seeds of the movement’s main themes are sown in deeply portentous fashion, including dramatic sforzandos, promising an equally uncompromising Presto. But, lo and behold, it’s yet another of Haydn’s teases — the main body of the movement sets off in a buoyant 6/8 which is full of wit and good humour; it’s truly music to bring a smile to your face and make your toes tap. Melodic and rhythmic vivacity are the order of the day, and it’s easy to see how the audience at the premiere would have been instantly captivated.

Then comes the movement which eventually attracted the symphony’s nickname. The bassoons introduce the tick-tocking bass line supporting the elegant, musical-box style main theme, which is subject to a demonstration par excellence of Haydn’s ‘incessant variety’, including of course a stormier minor key episode and one or two startling key changes.

The Minuet is Haydn’s most extensive and is open to a variety of interpretations. Listen to Sir Thomas Beecham, recorded in the fifties, for example and you hear a genteel Minuet as it could have been heard and danced-to at a ball in the early 19th century. As with many great movements, however, it can also be a virile and ebullient romp, which nevertheless retains its original elegance. The Trio section perpetrates another Haydn tease; strings begin with a subdued but rhythmic drone over which 1 st flute plays an improvisational solo, but at the first playing the strings resolutely refuse to change their harmony to match the flute — everything is resolved for the same solos a moment later. The finale is another dynamic Rondo, once again beginning with a hushed energy but bursting into action with echoes of the sturm und drang (‘storm and stress’) artistic movement of the 1770s and 80s. Those echoes dispelled, the movement proceeds with exhilarating spirit; it’s a virtuoso display of ingenuity, as always, and a complete demonstration of the joyous human spirit.

Hits: 43

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor, Op 37 (1800-1803)

i. Allegro con brio    ii. Largo     iii. Allegro

As the foremost pianist of his day and already flexing his compositional muscles Beethoven was inevitably going to compose vehicles for his own performing genius. By 1800 he had composed eleven of his eventual complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique, Op 13 (1798), together with the first two piano concertos, the Second in B flat, Op 19, written first, (1795), but published second, and the First in C major, Op 15, (1800), carrying the piano concerto genre beyond the perfection of Mozart into new territory.

The young composer had made an extensive study of the piano works of Mozart and was fully aware that he was the composer to carry the torch forward. In particular he greatly admired Mozart’s tragic C minor piano concerto, No 24, K491, and its influence is clear in Beethoven’s own C minor concerto, his only minor-key piano concerto, at least in the first movement. In fact C minor became a talismanic key for him, Op 37 one in a line of major works in the key which include their own brand of Beethovenian anguish, including the Pathétique piano sonata, the Eroica Symphony’s Funeral March, the Coriolan Overture and the Fifth Symphony.

The date of composition of Op 37 has been open to some conjecture; it’s thought by the eminent Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper that the first sketches date back as far as 1796, although it’s most likely that it was largely written in 1800 at a similar time to the composition of Prometheus and of the First Symphony. What is known is that the premiere did not take place until 5 April 1803 with the composer himself as soloist despite the onset of his deafness; the Second Symphony was premiered in the same concert. In common with many of Mozart’s concerto premieres, and despite the fact that the body of the work was some three years old, Beethoven performed his solo part largely from memory; his turner-over for the evening, one Ignaz von Seyfried, later confirmed that the solo part in front of Beethoven consisted of little more than a collection of brief squiggles which reminded him of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Of course the solo part had definitely been crystallised by the time of the work’s publication in 1804, and included Beethoven’s own cadenzas, which remain the most commonly performed today. The concerto was dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, a great friend of Beethoven and a fine pianist and composer himself.

The hushed opening of the Allegro con brio sets an atmosphere of quiet menace, promising an orchestral introduction of volatility. The first extended forte brings a taste of the major key, but it doesn’t last long. The second subject, however, brings a more classical duet in the major between the first clarinet and first violins over a lyrical accompaniment. The end of the orchestral exposition brings a challenge to the piano which is accepted forthrightly, and the solo part leads a second exploration of the main themes, but seems intent on calming some of the angst of the first. The development is largely reflective, then the recap carries us to Beethoven’s cadenza — here the piano pulls no punches, acknowledging the more trenchant aspects of the movement; the coda begins sublimely with the piano quietly floating descending arpeggios over hushed, sustained chords and purposeful timpani, but brings us shortly to a suitably turbulent ending to the movement.

In contrast, the Adagio brings one of Beethoven’s most beautiful and heartfelt slow movements in the surprising key of E major, the piano musing by itself over the introspective opening theme before the orchestra bathes itself warmly. Woodwind solos in subsequent material are accompanied by the piano, and on its journey to its seemingly peaceful conclusion the movement sees continued sharing between piano and orchestra of the roles of prime mover and accompanist.

The finale is an ebullient Rondo despite returning us to C minor. Once again the soloist introduces the rondo-theme, then hands it to the orchestra. The episodes take us into a variety of moods, but the general atmosphere is genial, although later on there is a mysterious fugal episode in the minor. Finally a brief, flashing cadenza introduces a scherzo-like coda in C major, Presto, in an entirely new time signature — 6/8 — its humorous touches bringing an effervescent end to a concerto which began in potential tragedy.

Hits: 41

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, Op 43, (1801)

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, Op 43, (1801)

As a musical giant who, despite all the trials and tribulations of his life, sought to change the musical world with what could be thought of as an incendiary talent, it seems more than fitting that Beethoven should find himself writing a ballet based on the legend of Prometheus.

The Greek God Prometheus, one version of mythology has it, looked down from Mount Olympus and saw that humanity was struggling in ignorance, so he stole fire from the Gods to pass down – as interpreted by the Greek writers he gave not only the gift of fire itself but also by extension culture and scientific knowledge. As a punishment Prometheus was sentenced to be bound to a rock and subjected to having his organs eaten by an eagle by day only to have them replenished overnight ready for the next attack. Eventually he was freed as one of the Twelve Labours of Heracles.

Sadly, Beethoven’s life somewhat mirrored that of Prometheus — his music was one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed upon humanity, but his deafness and other physical suffering might be interpreted as a punishment from the Gods for his temerity.

Late in 1800 in Vienna Beethoven was approached by the composer and dancer Salvatore Vigano who had been commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa to produce a ballet for the Court Theatre. Vigano had chosen the story of Prometheus but realised that whilst he was confident of his choreographic ability, the composition needed a greater talent.

Vigano’s scenario adapted the myth of Prometheus and borrowed that of Pygmalion to bring the work into a more suitable form for the ballet conventions of the time. In his libretto Prometheus, an artist, dies and is resurrected to create two inanimate figures, a man and a woman, whom he brings to life with the fire he has stolen. He helps civilise them through music and art before proudly presenting them, his creatures, to the Gods. If all that sounds familiar, it explains firstly why Mary Shelley subtitled her novel Frankenstein ‘A Modern Prometheus’, and, secondly, the derivation of the title of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.

Normally Beethoven was a slow and painstaking composer but he worked uncharacteristically quickly for the ballet, which came to be called The Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven wrote the Overture, plus an Introduction, fifteen movements and a Finale, and the ballet was premiered in March 1801, but in truth his score, the only complete ballet score he ever wrote, was too powerful and difficult to choreograph.

Latterly the Overture is the only section from the ballet which is heard regularly, except that in 1802 Beethoven recycled one of the themes from later in the ballet to become the Eroica Variations and Fugue for solo piano, Op.35, and elevated it still further in 1804 to form the skeletal core theme of the finale of the Eroica symphony.

The Overture, in C major, begins with a slow introduction; the opening chords declare the serious intent of the piece but the general tenor of the introduction is one of aspiration. The sonata-form Allegro arrives shortly with a perpetuum mobile, hushed to begin with, then bursting into life with the full orchestra. Woodwind introduce the jaunty second theme, but drama with complex key changes and vivid dynamic contrasts is not far away in the remainder of the development. The lengthy recap eventually brings us to a satisfying coda and a triumphant conclusion.

Hits: 36