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: 11

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: 8

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: 37

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!

Hits: 597

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.

Hits: 495

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. 

Hits: 508

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897) Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1881)

i. Allegro non troppo

ii. Allegro appassionato

iii. Andante

iv. Allegretto grazioso

Compared with some of the great masters Brahms as a composer was something of a late-developer. An accomplished pianist from a very early age and well-known in Hamburg, he nevertheless left it until 1853 to compose his first published compositions, the first two Piano Sonatas, when he was at the height of his friendship with Schumann and his secret love for Schumann’s wife Clara ( which was to remain, unrequited, until his death).

Most of his early compositions centred round the piano, written for himself of course, and the piano remained central to him for the whole of his composing life, his canon of works amounting to one of the major contributions in the history of composition.

His natural caution in terms of orchestral works, however, is well-known; conscious that he was regarded as the natural successor to Beethoven, and having flexed his muscles in 1858 with the elemental First Piano Concerto in D minor, he then, famously, took nearly twenty years, until 1876, to complete his First Symphony. The lyrical Second Symphony and Violin Concerto followed fairly rapidly, by which time he had confidently thrown off the Beethovenian yoke and matured into one of the great romantic masters, powerful yet sensitive, serious yet capable of wit and lightheartedness, all characteristics which appear in the Second Piano Concerto.  

The B flat major Piano Concerto appeared some twenty three years after the D minor, and immediately took its place as one of the greatest of all piano concertos. Although there had been concertos with four movements, including those termed Concerti Symphonique by the virtuoso pianist Henri Litolff, and there would later be other even larger works, including that by Busoni lasting over an hour, Brahms’s B flat was itself a concerto of well-and-truly symphonic proportions.

Written over a three-year period from 1878, begun on a break from composing the Violin Concerto and finished in Pressbaum, the work was dedicated affectionately to his teacher Edward Marxsen. Having initially wondered about adding a scherzo to the D minor concerto and then, even more unusually, to the violin concerto, this time he really took the plunge and added a second movement to the usual three, which combines power and mystery. He was desperately proud of the size of the finished work and having in 1877 teased his friends that the gloriously genial Second Symphony was going to be printed on black-edged paper, he now, four years later, wrote to his friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg about the concerto saying: ‘I don’t mind telling you that I have written a tiny, tiny piano concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo’.

Brahms himself was the soloist at the work’s triumphant premiere in Budapest on 9 November 1881, and it rapidly became a calling-card for its composer/soloist all over Europe, except, sadly, Britain – Brahms couldn’t be persuaded to cross the English Channel. These days it seems to have become customary to say that the B flat is not a virtuoso concerto, perhaps due to the solo piano’s symphonic integration with the orchestra, but in 2006 the great American pianist Emanuel Ax, who would in 2011 give magisterial performances of both concertos on successive evenings at the BBC Proms, wrote: Like all the movements of the concerto the first movement is terrifyingly difficult….certainly none of us could ask for anything harder!’

A solo horn introduces the first theme of the opening movement, quietly suggesting the heroic nature of the movement. Strings answer suavely, then the piano announces its presence, stormily signalling the orchestral exposition of the main themes. A muscular dialogue between piano and orchestra ensues – although not without its moments of delicacy – drawn on a massive canvas lasting nearly twenty minutes and culminating in a dynamic coda. It seems amazing that Brahms could achieve such a massive concept without including trombones or tuba in this or the other three movements..

As if the power of all this were not enough, the piano immediately launches into the scherzo, the lower strings adding still greater force to the proceedings with urgent syncopation. After a short while a second theme arrives, at first mysterious and remote but later just as trenchant as the opening theme. A change of gear introduces a trio section which is full of rhetoric, before the piano calms proceedings down. The scherzo returns, once again leading to a powerful coda.

From here the work begins to reduce in scale, the Andante introducing a heartfelt solo cello to counterbalance the piano, which creates an ambience almost like chamber music. Indeed the extended cello solo begins the movement, its comforting, song-like line accompanied initially by strings and later woodwind and horns in restrained cross-rhythms. As is often the case with Brahms, the time signature, here 6/4, feels very ambiguous. The piano eases in to ruminate on the cello solo, and the movement rises to a height, the cello theme now strident, with stormy trills in the solo part. Soon the cello returns, now heightened in tenor clef, with the piano commenting, and the movement winds its way to a peaceful conclusion. It is thought that Brahms’s cello solo was influenced by a similar passage in the Romanze of the A minor Piano Concerto, Op 7, composed by Clara Schumann herself, a work which one hopes is due for a resurgence.

One now might expect a large-scale finale, but the piano sets us off by itself with the first theme which is playful and light-hearted, joined shortly by the orchestra in similar vein. Yes, the tone becomes a little more stormy, but very shortly the romantic and graceful second theme arrives, to be commented upon by the piano often in filigree textures. The piano introduces a high-spirited third theme and the orchestra joins in with a smile – is this really the Brahms who was jealous of his protégé Dvorak’s profusion of invention? At length the piano subsides into reflection for a moment before launching into the high-spirited coda, which brings the work to a satisfyingly triumphant conclusion.

Hits: 107

JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43 (1901-2)

i. Allegretto – Poco allegro 

ii. Tempo andante, ma rubato – Poco allegro

iii. Vivacissimo – Lento e soave

iv. Finale: Allegro moderato – Moderato assai 

 It’s only just over sixty years since the death of one of the twentieth century’s great composers, Jean Sibelius; beginning as a major participant in the nationalist movement amongst composers such as Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg and Smetana, Sibelius followed the former two in producing a symphony cycle which transcended its origins and developed into a universal utterance of huge importance in the history of music.

His early musical development centred round the violin, and he became proficient enough to audition, luckily for us unsuccessfully, for the famous Vienna Philharmonic whilst studying composition in Vienna with Robert Fuchs. Composition rapidly became his chief interest, and in 1892 he achieved success and popularity with one of his very first compositions, the large-scale choral and orchestral work Kullervo, based on legends from a Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, which was to continue to inspire him. A stream of overtly nationalist compositions followed, including the Karelia Suite, Finlandia, the symphonic poem En Saga and the Lemminkainen Suite, which comprises four Legends based, once again, on the Kalevala and including the magical Swan of Tuonela.

Despite the fact that he resented the hegemony Russia held over Finland at the time, Sibelius’s early compositional influences were the Russian masters; there was more than a whiff of Tchaikovsky and Borodin in the First Symphony, but the plain fact is that within his first decade as a composer Sibelius’s voice had already become uniquely his own. A number of mature tone poems followed, including The Oceanides, an atmospheric seascape, and the Suite: Pelleas and Melisande, of which the first movement has been familiar since the fifties as the theme music of Patrick Moore’s The Sky at Night. In 1905 he completed the final revision of his Violin Concerto, which has taken its place amongst the half-dozen greatest of all violin concertos. Throughout this time the symphony cycle developed through the popular Second and Fifth, the trenchant Third, and the esoteric Fourth and Sixth towards the wonderfully compact Seventh (1924), which has even been described by more than one commentator as the finest 20th-century symphony. Nothing remains of work on a rumoured Eighth Symphony.

In 1926 perhaps his finest tone poem, Tapiola, arrived, and then – silence. Rather like Rossini before him, for the last thirty years of his life until his death aged 91 in 1957 he wrote virtually nothing, living with his wife Aino on their estate, Ainola, in Finland, watching his reputation ebb and flow and occasionally involving himself in recordings of his works, particularly those made by his finest exponents at the time, Robert Kajanus, Serge Koussevitsky and Sir Thomas Beecham. Photographs of the composer range from the dashing good looks and flamboyant moustache of his early career to one taken only days before his death portraying suitably granitic features.

Stimulus for the Second Symphony seems to have begun in the late autumn of 1900 when a friend recommended that Sibelius take his family to Italy for a change of scene, and provided the money too. The friend was one Baron Axel Carpelan, who reminded Sibelius of the inspiration both Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss had found in Italy. The family took a mountain villa in Rapallo and Sibelius found the location a haven of peace; here he sketched some of the material of the symphony, including the main theme of the slow movement, and the Andante’s second theme came to him while he was visiting Florence, suggested by the legend of Don Juan / Don Giovanni. Indeed for a while he considered making what we know as the second movement of the symphony into a tone poem inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.

In the event, he set to work on the symphony in earnest when the family returned to Finland; it was finished in early 1902 and premiered to great acclaim by the Helsinki Philharmonic in March, the composer himself conducting. Where the First Symphony had evoked the wintry landscapes of Finland, the Second was bathed with a touch of Italian warmth; although some saw it as another burst of Finnish nationalism, Sibelius denied this – he felt that he had poured his soul into the symphony. Always given to revising his work, Sibelius tinkered a little with the Second, and the final version was given first in Stockholm in November 1903. The reception was again very enthusiastic.

The work begins memorably, with strings expressively intoning a phrase based on a three-note ascending motif, shortly accompanying a perky oboe tune which turns the three-note motif on its head, horns replying, as they do many times in the work, with noble restraint. The second subject again utilises the descending three-note motif, this time still more romantically. The motif appears in numerous guises, in fact, all through the symphony. The development takes us into dramatic territory, sometimes mysterious, sometimes menacing, sometimes more overtly tempestuous, then the recap and coda bring us full circle, the opening theme disappearing into calm.

Sinister timps introduce basses and then cellos, who begin the Tempo Andante with an extended passage of mysterious pizzicato, from which the bassoons emerge in octaves to take us into more grotesque territory, their material once again beginning with the ascending motif. Events take a more urgent turn, signalling the arrival of the strings, and shortly we are propelled into trenchant, almost tragic territory. The second subject feels on the face of it to be more peaceful – indeed Sibelius here wrote ‘Christus’ in the original score – but there is huge regret there, which quickens into rage, the coda only partly assuaging.

The Scherzo bursts into life like a machine gun, then seethes its way towards climax after climax, the three-note motif still in evidence. A pastoral trio section led by the woodwind with horns and bassoons accompaning calms the mood, but then the scherzo blazes again. As it burns itself out the trio returns, but this time tumultuously makes its way directly into the glorious D major opening theme of the finale – and there is the motif again. Brass, timpani and double basses growl in sinister fashion underneath and horns comment nobly.

Shortly the second theme opens out the textures and lets us nurse a degree of optimism, but then violas and cellos set out on a bleak F sharp minor ostinato, softly accompanying a world-weary woodwind figure above them; the change to major will be majestic next time. We gradually return to the opening grandiosity, but back comes the viola/cello figure which rumbles away for many bars, now in D minor, this time gradually adding woodwind and basses, with desolate strings and later trumpets above. Horns intone an insistent syncopation and timpani a different one, while trombones gradually add a dotted, fanfare-like figure, the whole building through a huge crescendo towards the final conclusive change to D major. At long last the sun bathes the closing bars, with the entire orchestra at full tilt in a blaze of glory. As Robert Kajanus wrote: The last movement develops towards a triumphant conclusion intended to rouse in the listener a picture of lighter and confident prospects for the future – at present a much-needed sentiment!

Hits: 117

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Symphony No 5 in Bb, D485 (1816)

i Allegro
ii Andante con moto
iii Menuetto; allegro molto
iV Allegro vivace

Schubert was born in a suburb of Vienna a matter of months before Napoleon the Treaty of Campo Formio transferring several Austrian territories to France. Musically the 27-year-old Beethoven was beginning to carry all Vienna before him, writing the C major Piano Concerto that very year. By the time Napoleon had met his Waterloo and the Treaty of Vienna had brought European peace in 1815 Schubert was already a prolific composer over halfway through his tragically short life, and in that annus mirabilis alone, although still ostensibly a part-time composer, he completed no less than 200 of his eventual 900-plus works (including 140 songs) and served notice to an albeit rather indifferent public that the Romantic era was well-established.

1816 began with Schubert actually as a full-time schoolteacher, having taken the post aged 15 when he was forced by the sad death of his mother to leave his choral scholarship in order to earn for the family, but during the year he was prevailed upon to become a full-time composer,  completing his  Fifth Symphony later in the year; although it still proclaims his veneration for Mozart the melodic and harmonic gifts which so distinguish his work in lieder and piano music, to mention just two genres which he graced, are very much in evidence.

Like Mozart, but very much unlike Beethoven, Schubert was a rapid worker, and the Fifth Symphony was written within a month in September / October 1816. Mozart was .indeed very much his idol, and on 13 June, shortly before he started the symphony, he wrote in his diary: 0 Mozart! Immortal Mozart! What countless impressions of a brighter, better life have you stamped upon our souls! The scoring is similar to that of Mozart’s Symphony No 40, and the work is the only one of Schubert’s  symphonies which doesn’t  employ clarinets, trumpets or timpani; it is also his first to date which doesn’t start with a slow introduction. Indeed its complete freshness – the antithesis of the tragic Mozart 40 – and the natural ease of its melodies have made it one of Schubert’s most popular symphonies.

Since he was not able to enjoy the same patronage and comfort that Haydn, example, had received from the Esterhazys, Schubert could only expect to have these works performed by local amateur groups with which he was associated. Indeed it is thought that he himself and his brother Ferdinand played viola and violin respectively in the first performance of Schubert was born in a suburb of Vienna a matter of months before Napoleon Bonaparte brought an end to the first phase of the French Revolutionary Wars, the B flat symphony shortly after its completion together with a collection of music officials, merchants and men from various professions, led by a professional leader/concertmaster, Otto Hatwig, who  played at the Vienna  Burgtheater.

Schubert was very poor all his life at promoting himself and making money from his talent, and so the Fifth Symphony, like many other of his compositions, remained a relatively parochial affair until well after his death – indeed the London premiere would not take place till 1873.

The first movement opens in fact with a sunny four-bar introductory phrase in woodwind and strings which leads into the first main theme, a cheeky rising-arpeggio figure which will also colour the developm nt. The second subject proceeds elegantly, also with a touch of dottedness. Unusually the recap begins not in the home key but in the subdominant, E flat.

The second movement shows Schubert completely at ease with himself. The main theme is a heartfelt song, and the only cloud on the horizon is a characteristic sideslip into a slightly darker key, C flat, as the development starts.

The Menuetto is not of the genteel species but full of energy in minor mode, beginning in G minor and surprisingly chromatic. The Trio section is gentler, sunny and completely in major mode, beginning in G major.

The final Allegro molto is busy and full of tingling energy, with a more elegant second subject . Each half ends with a cadence figure in scampering triplets, bringing to a close a completely delightful work guaranteed to usher in the joys of Spring!

Hits: 139

Franz-Josef HAYDN (1732-1809) Cello Concerto No 1 in C, Hob VIIb/1 (1761-5)

i Moderato (Cadenza by Joe Pritchard)
ii Adagio
iii Allegro Molto

Haydn’s role in developing both the symphony and the string quartet to a level of perfection which would be superseded in this era only by the still greater genius of Mozart (whom he mentored) and Beethoven (whom he tutored), is well-known and universally acknowledged.

His contribution to the concerto form, however, is, except for a small handful of works, somewhat underrated, even neglected. There are concertos for keyboards even as early as the mid-1750s, then for violin, horn, flute, oboe, and even double bass, to complement those which are in more regular use to this day, notably the trumpet concerto of 1796 and the cello concertos in C and D. Development of the concerto form over the second half of the eighteenth century, when Haydn was writing, largely fell to Mozart and the new breed of virtuoso-composers such as Clementi (piano) and Vietti (violin), and by the end of the century the form had evolved into a larger scale, usually with a sonata­ form first movement with perhaps an opportunity for virtuoso display within a free cadenza, and possibly a Rondo final movement. Haydn contributed to this evolution, but his major gift to the genre was his trumpet concerto, the first using the keyed trumpet invented by Anton Weidinger and therefore a huge step forward in virtuosity, and his cello concertos, which transcended Vivaldi’s model andintroduced the cello as an agile instrument just as capable of virtuoso display as the violin.

It is interesting to turn to the classic book Concerto, detailing the history and development of the genre by Percy M Young, written in 1957, and to find him, when writing about Haydn, referring only to the D major cello concerto. At this stage there was evidence of a C major concerto since Haydn had included its main theme in his own personal catalogue of works, but the work itself was missing. Then to the delight and gratitude of all cellists, the musicologist Oldrich Puckert, while delving in the Prague National Museum in 1961, discovered the score of what became identified as the missing concerto,almost exactly 200 years after its composition between the years 1761 and 1765.

The concerto is indeed an invaluable addition to the genre, and, having been written some 20 years before the D major,turns out to be a real trailblazer, its very size and the complexity of the solo part raising it to a completely new level. Its authenticity  is now acknowledged  thanks to Haydn’s conscientiousness  in making a record of each new work, although its disappearance for two centuries remains a mystery.

At the time of its composition Haydn was in the early stages of his long tenure as Court Composer for Count Nikolaus Esterhazy in Hungary, a hugely enlightened patron, and the concerto will have been written for the Court cellist Joseph Franz Weigl. Following its rediscovery the work was premiered by the Czech cellist Milos Sadlo and the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Mackerras, on 19 May 1962, and caused a sensation. Since then it has been recorded by the greatest cellists of the later 201h century from Rostropovich downwards.

The first movement begins with a substantial orchestral exposition, which contrasts military dotted rhythms and fanfares with a more lyrical second subject. The cello enters flamboyantly with the opening theme but then sails elegantly over the orchestra for the second . The development is based largely on that second theme, with occasional dynamic passagework from the soloist . All through the movement the cello rises aristocratically above the orchestra, and a cadenza (tonight’s composed by Joe Pritchard himself) towards the end of the movement confirms the instrument’s coming-of-age as a large-scale solo instrument.

The Adagio is hugely expressive, with a romantic tenor which seems ahead of its time – bearing in mind that when the work was completed Mozart was not yet ten years old, and it would be another ten years or so before he would tread similar ground in the lyrical slow movements of his violin concertos.

The Allegro molto  positively fizzesalong  – once again it begins with an orchestral introduction to a sonata-form movement, and the scintillating perpetuum mobile virtuosity of the solo part is a complete revelation.

Hits: 96