July 28 2024 : Mozart – Duo Pianos, Haffner & A Little Night Music

May 8, 2024

July 28
Gemma New, conductor
Christina and Michelle Naughton, piano duo

Mozart, Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Mozart, Concerto in E-Flat Major for Two Pianos, K. 365

Mozart, Symphony No. 35, (Haffner)

Mozart, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525 

For all its popularity, there is no real origin story for Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 in G Major, better known as “A Little Night Music.” Why he wrote it remains a mystery, and a possible fifth movement — a minuet and trio — has long since disappeared. Its title means “a short serenade” (the German term Nachtmusik being the equivalent of the Italian notturno, a term Mozart also used). In 18th century Vienna, serenades were occasional works, used as background music for wedding parties, birthdays, and other gatherings, often taking place in a garden or park. Mozart composed several of these in Salzburg, but after moving to Vienna in 1781, his output tapered off, as he grew increasingly preoccupied with symphonies and operas.  

Number 13 was Mozart’s final serenade, composed during a break from his work on Don Giovanni. Perhaps some of that opera’s adventurous spirit spilled over into this piece, written for two violins, viola, cello, and double bass (and often played by a string orchestra). In phrase after phrase, the four movements show Mozart’s unique combination of sophistication and simplicity, elegance and precision. The extant movements are titled Allegro, Romance (Andante), Menuetto (Allegretto), and Rondo (Allegro). 

Mozart, Concerto in E-Flat Major for Two Pianos, K. 365 

Mozart’s sister Maria Anna was, like her younger brother, a child piano prodigy, and even enjoyed top billing when they toured together. But her musical career quickly fizzled when she turned 18 and married a local magistrate. Nannerl, as she was known to family and friends, taught piano at points during her adult life, but none of her original compositions survived. Yet something of Nannerl’s talent can be gleaned from the Concerto for Two Pianos, a work Wolfgang composed for and performed with his virtuosic sister in Salzburg. 

In 1779 Mozart had recently returned from a tour of Paris, Mannheim, and Munich, where he was exposed to the latest styles and techniques. He began to focus on double and triple concertos, finding that he could fashion engaging dialogues between multiple instruments. In K. 365, passages are lobbed between the solo pianos, creating a stereo-like effect when the first piano introduces thematic material and the second piano echoes it in a lower octave. 

Such dialogues pepper the buoyant first movement, which opens grandly and proceeds with many beguiling turns of phrase. The second movement begins on a profound note, with a lilting oboe melody, before the mood turns livelier, and the pianists offer some playful and elegant banter. The third movement has a witty and carefree air, full of unexpected pivots and hairpin turns. Mozart was clearly energized by the dual-soloist format, and this joyous work remains far more than a simple curiosity in his catalog. 

Mozart, Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner” 

Mozart was skilled at the art of recycling music from one format to another, taking a celebratory piece for a garden party and turning it into a pointedly “serious” work for the concert hall. In 1776, he composed an eight-movement serenade for the wedding of Elisabeth Haffner, the daughter of Salzburg’s late mayor Sigmund Haffner, Sr. The piece used the full forces available in town: pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, drums, and strings. 

This was so successful that six years later, when Elisabeth’s brother, Sigmund Haffner, Jr. was to be elevated to the aristocracy, he naturally asked Mozart to write music for the occasion. By then, however, Mozart had moved to Vienna and was characteristically swamped with other projects, including his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, as well as his own wedding plans. Though unenthusiastic, Mozart obliged. Eventually, he ended up reworking the earlier piece to create a second “Haffner” Serenade, four movements of which were then excerpted to create the “Haffner” Symphony

The “Haffner” Symphony maintained the serenade’s celebratory spirit even as a march movement and one of the two minuets were dropped. Flutes and clarinets, both previously unavailable in Salzburg, were added. The opening Allegro is to be “played with great fire,” as it sets out with a bold opening theme that leaps two octaves followed by darting scale passages.  

The middle two movements inherit the serenade’s lighter sound world, with a graceful andante speckled with operatic embellishments, and a minuet full of regal pomp. Mozart wanted the finale played “as fast as possible.” Its main theme is drawn almost note for note from a triumphal aria from The Abduction from the Seraglio

— Brian Wise

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