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.

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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.

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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.

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JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 – 1809)  Symphony No 45 in F sharp major, (Farewell) (1772)

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 – 1809) Symphony No 45 in F sharp major, (Farewell) (1772)

i.  Allegro assai     ii.  Adagio     iii.    Menuet and Trio    iv.   Finale: Presto – Adagio

The life of a professional composer to this day very often remains precarious, necessitating canvassing for commissions or sending scores to potential performers, unless there is reliable patronage available in the form of employment or retained artistic connections. For composers such as Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven the challenges were still greater, and  penury was a spectre which haunted them for much of the time; Mozart for example, after a childhood during which his father touted him round Europe as an infant prodigy, found it hard to find congenial patronage, even getting sacked by the Archbishop of Salzburg, while Schubert constantly fell victim to his own inability to ‘market’ himself.

Haydn, however, spent his career in enviable security, having found and continued to satisfy a family of enlightened patrons, namely the Esterházys, one of the richer aristocratic families of the Austro-Hungarian empire, whose court was near Eisenstadt, south of Vienna in Lower Austria. Haydn was appointed deputy to the Kapellmeister in 1761 by Prince Paul Esterházy, responsible for everything musical except the religious music, and was retained the following year when Prince Paul died childless and was succeeded by his brother Prince Nikolaus, who would become one of the great musical patrons. Haydn became Kapellmeister in his own right in 1766, and would remain in the Prince’s employ until the succession of Nikolaus’s son Prince Anton in 1790 set in place a looser employment regime. Prince Nikolaus was known as ‘The Magnificent’ on account of his tremendous wealth and generosity, and it is an indication of the value he placed on music in his court and the esteem in which he held Haydn that the composer was the third highest-paid member of his court, after the property manager and the Prince’s personal doctor. How times change!!

Despite his full-time employment Haydn was occasionally free to travel to Vienna where from about 1784 he numbered Mozart as one of his friends and string quartet colleagues, and later taught an up-and-coming composer called Ludwig van Beethoven. It is also well-known that in the early 1790s he visited London for several years in two extended and very popular visits, having had his last twelve symphonies, Nos 93-104, commissioned by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon.

Of course this means that, whilst in the Esterházy Court, amidst all Haydn’s many secular and religious compositions he wrote dozens of symphonies for his resident, hand-picked Court Orchestra, developing the genre to the extent that he became known as The Father of the Symphony. His symphonies are full of vitality, beauty and wit, and it is clear that he must have been a genial and popular figure.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s Haydn’s symphonies numbers 41 to 49 achieved a new maturity as well as exploring a darker energy, and this has become known as his as Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period. It coincided with a similar driving force in literature, in which emotions were heightened and starker motivations such as greed and power were explored, a prime example being Goethe’s reworking of the legend of Prometheus. Two of Haydn’s symphonies from this period were given characteristic nicknames – No 44 is known as Trauer (‘Mourning’) and No 49, possibly the finest of this period, La Passione.

Parts of No 45, Farewell, also fit into this style; in this context the symphony’s first movement and the first half of the last movement could be descriptive of the discomfiture of the players in his Court Orchestra at the time. Their work at Esterházy required them to be away from their families for extended periods and on one occasion in 1772 they became extremely restless, whereupon Haydn,  ever the diplomat and wit, decided on a musical means of gently nudging the Prince into allowing them to go home.

Imagine the scene: the final Adagio of the last movement was underway, and the Prince realised that the work had suddenly turned into something resembling a serenade. Suddenly 1st oboe and 2nd horn closed their music, blew out their candles and quietly left the stage. Moments later the bassoon, then 2nd oboe, then 1st horn did the same, leaving the strings, who then proceeded, desk by desk, to depart too. With the stage becoming ever darker, even Haydn himself walked away, leaving only the concertmaster and principal second violin, muted, to play out a final, poised duet before snuffing out their own candles. The Prince only took a moment to realise that Haydn had created a wonderful means of expressing his players’ needs without any confrontation.

Apart from its highly original structure, another unique feature of the Farewell is that it was the only symphony until the 20th century to be written in the key of F sharp. The first movement is in F sharp minor – only three sharps and not too tricky for most – but the MInuet and the final ‘serenade’ are in F sharp major, which has six. The work is scored for strings plus two oboes, two horns and a bassoon.

The opening Allegro assai (‘very fast’) is in true sturm und drang style – the 1st violins’ descending arpeggios are driven by lower strings and syncopated 2nd violins, with sustained block harmony in oboes and horns, the tensions exacerbated by rapid changes between extreme dynamics. Another complete contrast comes in the development where a new, elegant theme appears after a pause, before the recap restores the anguish.

The Adagio is in A, the relative major to F sharp minor, and despite the first theme’s disjointed nature, the overall impression is comfortable but with a suggestion of longing. The Minuet is in F sharp minor and forthright, with vitality being added by persistent syncopation. The Trio, led off by the horns, is more reflective.

The Finale begins dynamically, once again redolent of sturm und drang with mercurial changes of dynamic, and fights its way towards what appears to be a completed sonata-form movement, except that the halt is inconclusive. What follows is the further, final slow movement, which begins to sound valedictory, especially as the players gradually leave. It’s a uniquely imaginative conclusion not only to a marvellous symphony but also to a ticklish public relations challenge!

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OTTORINO RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite 3 (1930)

i.  Italiana       ii.  Arie di Corte   iii.   Siciliana    iv.   Passacaglia

Respighi was born into a musical family in Bologna, and was luckier than many talented youngsters, for example Berlioz, in that his family encouraged his musical inclinations, his father Giuseppe initially teaching him both piano and violin. Eventually he studied for seven years at music college in Bologna, specialising in violin and viola, and, later in his course, composition with Giuseppe Martucci, At the age of 21 he became principal viola at the Russian Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg for a season of Italian opera, and during the season met the eminent Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose composition style and orchestration he already hugely admired; such was the promise his composing already showed that Rimsky took him under his wing for no less than five months for further advanced study.

Having completed his composition course in Bologna he then spent some years touring as first violin of the Mugellini Quintet, before finally settling in Rome and becoming Professor of Composition at the St Cecilia Conservatoire, a post he held from 1913 until his death in 1936.

When Italy entered the First World War in 1915 Respighi’s position at the Conservatoire gave him immunity from military service; throughout turbulent political times for the rest of his life, including the rise of Mussolini, he managed to steer a middle course, remaining in favour with all sides of the political spectrum.

He composed prolifically from his college days until his death, showing a profound interest in the flamboyant and exotic, presumably the product of his time with Rimsky-Korsakov, and in older Italian musical forms, on which his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances are based.

His big breakthrough came with his tone poem The Fountains of Rome in 1917, which would be followed in due course by The Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals, each full of exuberance and virtuoso orchestration; taken up by the great conductor Arturo Toscanini these three works in particular made his reputation, and also gave him a route into fame in America. On his first visit in 1925 he was also able, as soloist, to give the premiere of his Piano Concerto, Concerto in the Mixolydian Mode, at Carnegie Hall, New York, on New Year’s Eve. A number of his works were premiered in America, and he received commissions from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He even travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a concert season of his works in 1927.

His interest in early Italian composers led him to edit and publish performing editions of  both Monteverdi and Vivaldi, and another of his own works showing the ancient influence was the suite The Birds; older audience members may recall one of the earliest TV antiques programmes from the 60s and 70s, the quiz Going for a Song, which used a theme from The Birds.

The three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances are based on compositions for lute and baroque guitar by Renaissance and baroque composers. The Third Suite is the only one of the three written entirely for strings, and is the most often performed, its premiere taking place under Respighi himself in Milan on 31 January 1931.

The opening Italiana is in the style of a Minuet, in which each part from cello up to first violin shows fluidity in terms of both musical independence and harmony.

Arie di Corte is based on 16th century dances by Besardo, and is framed in a number of sections ranging from Andante cantabile to Vivacissimo, using a variety of time signatures and phrase-lengths.

The Siciliana, once again resembling a Minuet, is by Ignoto, once again from the 16th century, and is perhaps the most conventional of the four dances.

The final dance is a Passacaglia, a complex set of variations on a ground bass, based on a work for lute by Roncalli from 1692. As in Pachelbel’s Canon, the spacious stride of the first section becomes more and more intensely active before the brief coda brings a grand conclusion.

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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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LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat (Emperor) (1809)

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat (Emperor) (1809)

i.Allegro

ii.Adagio un poco mosso

iii.Allegro

Beethoven’s reaction to Napoleon’s self-anointment as Emperor of France in 1804 was unequivocal; he scratched out the dedication he had intended for his epoch-making Third Symphony, saying ‘So – he is human after all,’ and changed it to ‘Eroica’ (‘Heroic Symphony’) – in memory of a Great Man’. One can easily imagine, in that case, what his reaction would have been if he had known that his final, and grandest, piano concerto would posthumously be known as the Emperor. The nickname probably stuck after the piano-maker and composer JB Cramer (1771-1858) described the work as ‘an emperor among concertos’, admittedly a fitting tag for such an aristocratic work.

 

There was nevertheless an imperial connection, since in mid-1809 while Beethoven was in Vienna the city surrendered to Napoleon’s forces, and the work was written during the French occupation of the city and dedicated to his patron Archduke Rudolph. However, having struggled increasingly to perform his own works for piano and orchestra, Beethoven reluctantly realised when the premiere of the E flat Concerto was imminent that his deafness was now far too advanced for him adequately to present the complexities of the ensembleafter this he would write no more for concertante forces, preferring to trail-blaze in the solo piano and chamber repertoire. The concerto was premiered in Leipzig on 28 November 1811 by Friedrich Schneider, and its Vienna premiere would be given the following spring by the celebrated virtuoso and teacher Carl Czerny. 

Having created a unique soft opening to the Fourth Concerto, Beethoven begins the Fifth with another masterstroke;  three regal chords, in the home key of E flat, then the subdominant (A flat)  and then the dominant (B flat), each provide a springboard for the piano to announce its presence with massive cadenza-like split-chords, before finally propelling the orchestra into the exposition of the main themes, the first virile, the second quietly military. The piano’s re-entry is almost self-effacing – a lyrical version of the muscular first subject – but its stature increases until a second exposition arrives with the piano an equal partner. The development is based almost exclusively around the first subject, in particular the fragment of dotted rhythm. With the recap of the exposition there comes the expectation of a cadenza for the soloist, but this does not materialise. Instead there is a thoroughly majestic coda, the soloist riding above the military dotted rhythms with glittering arpeggio figures.

The slow movement is in the remote key of B major, its initial mood not unlike that of Mozart’s Concerto No 21 in C, K467. Strings then added woodwind create a dream-like atmosphere, which the piano continues in ruminative triplets, shortly developing into similarly thoughtful semiquavers. As in K467 time seems to stand still, and even at its height the movement remains restrained. Eventually a sustained B in the orchestra is gently nudged down to a Bb by the horns, returning us to the key of E flat, and the piano quietly explores what, moments later, bursts into life as the dynamic Rondo theme of the finale. Between incarnations of the theme the episodes visit sometimes more lyrical territory, but the movement as a whole is some of the most genial and effervescent music Beethoven wrote. Eventually the piano subsides accompanied by timpani, before setting off on waves of mercurial semiquavers which rush the orchestra into the exultant last few bars. 

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FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No 8 in B minor, D.759 (Unfinished) (1822)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No 8 in B minor, D.759 (Unfinished) (1822)

 i.    Allegro moderato

ii.    Andante con moto

Schubert was the son of a Viennese suburban schoolmaster who was poor but enlightened, so although the composer’s early life was deprived in terms of a comfortable home, by the age of 11 he was a chorister in the Imperial Chapel and receiving a sound training from Beethoven’s teacher, none other than the composer who had been Mozart’s great rival, Antonio Salieri. Even at this early age the creative fires burned within Schubert particularly in the field of setting poetry, and although his first official works date from the age of 15, sketches for songs have been found from his time in the Chapel which fed into mature compositions. By the age of 18 he had already written nearly a quarter of his eventual nine hundred-plus works, including dozens of Lieder (Art-songs) and five delectable, Mozart-inspired symphonies, but life remained difficult, however, partly because he found it hard to make money from his talent. The only performances of his works which he was able to obtain were by local amateur artists, which earned him little or nothing; in addition his health was poor and he had to be supported financially by friends, which caused him severe depression. He also failed to establish what might have been at least some regular income since he had a complete aversion to teaching music, although he had been a schoolteacher for a while as a teenager.

 

Nevertheless music poured from him almost as if he knew all along that his time on earth would be limited, and he graced almost every genre from chamber music and song to religious music and even opera, together with symphonic orchestral music – although wouldn’t it have been wonderful, given his exalted gift for melody, to have had a Schubert concerto or two?

 

In 1821 he made extensive sketches for a 7th Symphony, in E major, but failed to complete it – so in fact there are two Schubert Unfinished symphonies. There have been a number of completions of No 7, although some editors have actually numbered the B minor symphony as No 7we know the B minor as No 8 from the original version of the most comprehensive catalogue of Schubert’s works, that by the scholar Otto Deutsch, published in England as recently as 1951, but revisions of Deutsch are suggesting now that No 8 really should be No 7 – old habits die hard however! Incidentally, Deutsch’s chief challenge was that only about a hundred of the composer’s works were actually published in his lifetime. In fact we owe the discovery of many of his works to musical detectives such as Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms and our own Sir Arthur Sullivan, who on a trip to Vienna in 1867 unearthed no less than six of the nine symphonies and a number of other works. The Great C Major symphony, No 9, had been found mouldering in a drawer by Robert Schumann in 1838 ten years after Schubert’s death.

 

So, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Some eighteen years after Beethoven’s Eroica had broken the symphonic mould, now came Schubert’s B minor in a new mould all of its own, in its way an elemental experience just as potent as the Eroica. The scarcely-relieved tragedy of the first movement and the bleak lyricism of the second offer a complete emotional experience, heralding the burgeoning Romantic movement. Its apparent structural incompleteness has always been an enigma, however, particularly since Schubert lived for a further six years after its composition. Theories abound. Was he just too busy to complete it? Was the onset of the syphilis from which he was to suffer for those last years of his life a debilitating force just at the wrong time as he worked on the latter movements? It seems the theory that he came to feel that the work was perfect in only two movements does not hold water – for one thing it ends in the wrong key, E major, only part-way through what might have been projected as a symphonic key-structure – so it seems most likely that the work remains incomplete by accident.

Reinforcing this theory is the fact that, having dedicated the work to the Graz Musical Society, Schubert somewhat ill-advisedly gave the score as it stood to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a member of the Society, but Hüttenbrenner failed to pass the score on and only revealed that he had it 43 years later in 1865 when he was 76 and, perhaps, realised that he ought not to reach the end of his life without revealing his secret, in case the work proved to be a masterpiece. His confidant was the conductor Johann von Herbeck, a staunch advocate of Schubert, who would conduct the premiere in December 1865, but even he refused to acknowledge the lack of subsequent movements and apparently added the hopelessly inappropriate finale of the D major Third Symphony.

 

It seems that the score entrusted to Hüttenbrenner comprised the two movements we know, together with some sketches for a third movement, the first two pages in full score and the remainder in short score, missing most of the Trio section. It seems also that these pages were torn from the main body of the score and found separately. In fact in 2003 the MSO gave the first British performance of a completion of the Scherzo and Trio by Laurence Wright, a former teaching colleague of MSO principal trumpet Bob Steele. Sketches possibly for a last movement were, it is thought, pressed into service instead for his opera Rosamunde. There have been many completions of the latter two movementsbut the overwhelming majority of performances present the two movements alone as an organic whole, the first orchestral evidence of Schubert’s very own, hugely powerful voice.

 

Allegro moderato: Cellos and basses intone a darkly tragic prelude to the bleak first subject, which is sung by oboe and clarinet accompanied by muttering strings. Drama simmers close to the surface, but as a crisis finally materialises, made still more powerful with the addition of trumpets, trombones and timpani, the horns and bassoons offer some solace, introducing the lyrical second subject, first in the cellos. Peace reigns only briefly, however, and after the exposition repeat the development takes us into desolation and anguish. Following the recap of the main themes the coda finishes the movement almost in nihilism.

 

The Andante once again offers some comfort at the start, horns and bassoons introducing the consolatory first theme against a lyrical counter-melody in the cellos, but the mood changes rapidly into anger, and then becomes bleaker as the first violins are left alone to herald anxious syncopation as a bed for questioning woodwind, and soon conflict rules.  Finally the work ends in cold-comfort, perhaps revealing the composer’s sense of impending doom.

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FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 – 1847) Overture: The Fair Melusine (1833-5)

The Fair Melusine is one of Mendelssohn’s less well-known works, but it does help to illustrate the fact that if only the composer had been in a position to designate this and similar works, such as The Hebrides, as Symphonic Poems rather than merely Concert Overtures he would have been thought a pioneer of the genre. Of course The Hebrides ranks with the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a work of complete genius, but Melusine, subtitled The Mermaid and the Knight, has undoubted virtue in conveying a more peaceful seascape and the melodrama of a narrative derived from legend.

 

The work was commissioned in November of 1832 by the Philharmonic Society of London, which had nurtured a special relationship with Mendelssohn; in fact under the terms of the commission three works were requested for a fee of a hundred guineas, but such was the warmth with which Mendelssohn reciprocated that four were provided, the other major work in the four being the Italian Symphony. Melusine was designed as an overture to an opera by Conradin Kreutzera project which had been rejected by Beethoven; unsurprisingly the opera has disappeared without trace.

 

The plot concerns Melusine, a mermaid, who has the gift of becoming human for most of every week, desiring to taste the pleasures of human life, and marries Knight Raimund on condition that he does not seek her out on a Saturday, the day she reserves for aquatic activity. Eventually, of course, her secret is discovered and Raimund loses her back to the seain the original legend the two are reunited in death.

 

The overture was finished by November 1833 and first performed in London in April 1834, but the response was lukewarm and Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny, also a gifted musician and whose opinion he relied on implicitly, suggested that he could make improvements. By November 1835 he had completed a revision, which is the version in which the work has been heard ever sinceMendelssohn asked the Philharmonic Society to destroy the first version, but this was never accomplished. The new version met with much greater success, the composer Robert Schumann praising Mendelssohn for his ‘characteristic poetic grasp’ and his ‘alluring’ portrait of Melusine. The work as a whole epitomises Mendelssohn’s elegance without perhaps distilling the last degree of his genius to the same extent as those works mentioned above.

 

 

In fact musicologists have been of the opinion that the opening seascape, with rippling wind and strings, influenced Wagner’s portrait of the Rhine and the Rhinemaidens in the first instalment of his Ring cycle, The Rhinegold. Greater drama ensues with dynamic rhythms portraying the tempestuous relationship, before a more elegant secondary theme sheds a more romantic light. Midway Melusine returns to the sea for her Saturday sojourndrama returns, rising to a stirring climax as Melusine’s identity is revealed. Sadly she slips back into her watery home. 

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