PROGRAM NOTES | Sun June 28, 2020 | 7:30 pm
Copyright Susan Halperin
Overture to Così fan tutte, K. 588
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, in Vienna)
Mozart composed the comic opera, Cosi fan tutte (“That’s What All Women Do”) in 1790, basing it on a cynical story, perhaps factual, then circulating in Vienna. Briefly told, two young Neapolitan military officers bet with an old bachelor that their fiancées’ fidelity is unassailable. The gentleman arranges for the suitors to return, disguised, to try to seduce each other’s fiancée.
Cosi fan tutte is unmatched for its musical poetry’s brilliance, the subtlety of its characterizations, and the intricacy of the relationships it explores. A short, slow introduction to the overture prepares for an effervescent presto. Almost no thematic material from the opera is introduced except the chords at the introduction’s conclusion, which reappear in the aria “Tutti accusan le donne” near the opera’s end.
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E-Flat Major, No. 10,, K. 365 (316a)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart wrote the Concerto for Two Pianos early in 1779, probably as a showpiece to play with his sister, who was almost as good a pianist as he was. It is a joyous work, written at a sad moment in the history of the Mozart family. That January, the young composer returned from a sixteen-month trip to Paris that he had taken with his mother, hoping to find a better job than the one he had on the musical staff of the Salzburg Archbishop. The long tour had broadened his artistic horizons; on the way he had heard and been heard by some of Europe’s finest musicians, but his mother died in Paris. Understanding the reception he received, he also came to the conclusion that he had no great future there.
These sad events did not prevent a powerful resurgence in his creative energies after his return to Salzburg, when he created some of the finest works of his youth, among them this Concerto for Two Pianos and the beautiful Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola. Perhaps both works are really also to be considered products of his travels, for he had made a long stop in the important musical center of Mannheim where concertos with more than one soloist were popular.
In the spring of 1781, determined to leave the Archbishop’s service, Mozart set off to forge an independent musical career in Vienna as a composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher. One of his best pupils was Josepha von Auernhammer. Their brilliant performance of this concerto made it one of the most successful works of the 1781-1782 season. When they played it in November, it was received with what was described as “noisy acclaim.”
The Mozart-Auernhammer relationship was somewhat complicated; he tried to keep it professional while she worked hard to make it personal. Josepha angered him by spreading rumors that she and he were engaged. Mozart wrote that Josepha was “loathsome, dirty and horrible. If a painter wanted to portray the devil he could choose her face. She goes around scantily dressed as if to say plainly, ‘Look at me!’ The young woman is a fright, but she plays enchantingly.”(adapted) He boarded with her family for a while, but her attention to him drove him out of the house and into the arms of Constanze Weber, whom he married in August 1782.
Josepha must have been a fine pianist because the writing in the concerto requires an evenly matched pair of soloists. The soloists must manage their intimate musical interplay in such a way that the listener not be able to tell which soloist is playing what. They echo and accompany each other. The “first” piano is generally first only in stating the themes, which are then often repeated or answered by the second. The first statement is generally heard in the piano’s high register and the repetition, or answer, is pitched lower. The apparent parallel with the high and low voices of women and men suggests that Mozart took the second part and his sister or Auernhammer played the first.
The work has a carefree feel and is joyous in sound as the two soloists have a multi-faceted dialogue. Because there are two soloists in this work, Mozart gave the orchestra a smaller role in the majestic first movement, Allegro, than he did in his concerti for single instruments. He kept the orchestra small, and except in the tutti passages, the orchestra is more a supporting element than an active participant. In fact, there are fewer measures that the orchestra plays in this concerto than in any of the concerti Mozart wrote for a single solo instrument. In the dialogue, the soloists often echo each other by either repetition or by variation or elaboration on the thematic statements the other has made. This technique never becomes boring because Mozart varies the length of time between the soloists’ responses to each other, and even sometimes overlaps their lines. In the second slow movement, a somber Andante, the winds have a larger role and consequently the soloists are in dialogue less frequently. At times, they even seem to combine into one complex instrumental assemblage. In the last movement, a humorous Rondo, Allegro, the dialogue again returns as the commanding force, and the orchestra plays a larger role than it had in previous movements.
The original score calls for two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings. For the Vienna performances, Mozart added two clarinets, two trumpets, and timpani to the first and last movements, which must have made the music more brilliant, but unfortunately these parts were lost. Mozart wrote the soloists’ cadenzas for the first and third movements, probably before he left Salzburg.
Overture to The Magic Flute, K. 620
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart wrote his opera, The Magic Flute, in July 1791; it was first performed on September 30, two months before he died. The last years of his short life were difficult ones. His career as a pianist and composer had reached its climax five years earlier, but then, fickle public taste turned elsewhere for novelty and amusement. Mozart could no longer command high fees for performing his latest concertos and symphonies. He had few commissions and was reduced to writing sets of ballroom dances and other relatively unimportant occasional pieces, and still he fell into debt. The care of his beloved ailing wife became a constant burden although, ironically, she was to outlive him by fifty years.
Some theater commissions did come his way, but he executed them with mixed results. In the end, he wrote The Magic Flute to a libretto in German, instead of aristocratic Italian, the language of opera; it was performed in a barn-like wooden structure in the suburbs of Vienna, next to a tavern rather than in a fashionable theater. The actor-impresario Emanuel Schikaneder wrote the libretto and had Mozart’s name printed under his own in much smaller type. His text was a confusing mixture of fairy-tale enchantment and Masonic symbolism, buffoonery and solemnity, but the simple, elegant beauty of Mozart’s music was so appealing that the opera had eighty-three performances in its first year.
The Overture to The Magic Flute begins with a slow introduction, Adagio, in which three great chords call the audience to attention. The main section is a spirited Allegro in classic sonata-form.
The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K.425,“Linz”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
When Mozart married Constanze Weber in August 1782, in Vienna, Mozart’s family saw her as their intellectual and social inferior. Mozart hoped that bringing his new wife for a visit with his father and sister in Salzburg would reconcile them to such an important development in his life, but their journey did not really succeed in its purpose; Mozart’s wife and sister developed a dislike for each other that lasted for their whole lives. When the young couple started for home, they stopped in Linz at the residence of Count Thun, whose daughter-in-law was one of Mozart’s faithful students and his supporter. Tragically, as they were not informed about it until their return, they did not know that while they had been away from home, their first child had died.
The day after he arrived in Linz, Mozart wrote to his father about the ease with which he and his wife moved in elevated circles: “I really cannot tell you what kindness the family is showering on us. On November 4, I am to give a concert here, and as I do not have a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one, at breakneck speed, that must be finished by then. I really must get to work.” For any other composer, the task Mozart set himself would probably have been impossible, but as he was always storing musical ideas in his mind, he was able to complete his new symphony in only four days. In the one day remaining before the premiere, the orchestral parts were copied, and the musicians rehearsed the new work.
Mozart certainly proved that he could flourish under pressure: the “Linz Symphony” is one of his very finest works, brilliant, complex, long, and original. Musicologists have puzzled at the speed with which he composed this remarkable work and generally concluded that there is no other way to explain it than that it must have existed, more or less in completed form in his head, and that he perhaps was planning it for the upcoming season in Vienna. As Robert Gutman declares in his excellent biography, “Not even Mozart could, in a matter of four or five days, conceive, compose, copy (or arrange to have copied), rehearse, and conduct the Linz Symphony, a four-movement work on a grand scale and high level of inspiration. . ..”
What Mozart had learned from Haydn in Vienna is evident in the symphony, but at the time Mozart completed it, Haydn had not yet written the final two-dozen symphonies that today define the style of his orchestral works for modern listeners. Mozart’s simply organized first movement begins with a slow introduction that he had never used before in a symphony, but had learned to appreciate from studying Haydn’s works. This Adagio hints at what is to come in the main section of the movement, Allegro spiritoso. The two principal subjects are complex three-part organisms, each part differently orchestrated and presented at a different dynamic level, but they are only briefly developed and then restated, almost unchanged. The lyrical but somber slow movement, Andante (in some editions Poco adagio), has a deep emotional urgency, with its rich melody again recalling the music of Haydn. The movement begins with strings alone, and Mozart’s use of trumpets and drums is unusual in a slow movement; some critics have contended that Beethoven got his idea for using trumpets and drums in his Symphony No. 1 from this movement. The rhythmic play and the vigorous counterpoint of the cheerful and courtly Minuet is followed by a more rustic trio section, distinguished by the oboe playing an octave above the violins and the bassoon an octave below. The symphony closes with a short, rushing Presto finale in which, here and there, the festive happiness seems momentarily clouded over with a hint of the melancholy pervading the slow movement.
The “Linz Symphony” is scored for two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings, a very large orchestra for Mozart’s time.