Serenade No. 12 in C Minor, K. 388
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, in Vienna
Mozart wrote more than a dozen serenades for performance on special festive occasions in the grand houses of Salzburg and Vienna. When wind ensembles were called for, serenades were probably intended for outdoor performance at garden parties.
Whatever the immediate occasion for the Serenade, Mozart’s depth stemmed from his discovery of Bach and Handel’s music. Their music was a revelation to him, for in it he discovered that counterpoint and fugue could greatly expand his musical vocabulary.
This Serenade has only four basic movements and loosely follows symphony form with its firm structures and fully developed ideas.
The Serenade’s intensely developed first movement, Allegro, has a stormy rather explosive opening. It begins with a huge main theme, more than twenty measures long. Its first four notes are a simple but powerful statement of the C minor chord played by all the instruments, and the rest of the theme supplies several motives that are fully developed in the course of the dark-toned, gloomy music-drama that follows. The Andante is a compact sonata-like movement with a plaintive hymn as its main subject. The Minuetto and Trio in Canone uses the style of canons, a procedure Haydn had made popular. The Trio is a reverse or inverse canon in which the melody is turned upside down in its successive entrances. The final Allegro is a theme and eight variations that continually increase in intensity until, after a momentary relaxation, the key changes from minor to major, to bring the Serenade to an optimistic conclusion.
Piano Concerto No. 27, in B-flat Major, K. 595
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart completed Piano Concerto No. 27 on January 5, 1791, during the last year of his life. It was his last piano concerto and his last public performance.
Critic, Eric Blom, described it as a “truly valedictory work, with a kind of chastened mood occasionally verging on a feeling of oppressive foreboding.” This Piano Concerto contains hints of what a later Mozart style might have become.
Overall, this concerto utilizes a basic musical palette, one purified and refined, elemental and skeletal, as well as monumental, and all at the same time. A sophisticated beauty permeates the first movement, Allegro. The themes are not Mozart’s most glorious extended melodic inventions, nor do they have the grace and charm of his early piano concertos, but they share the attributes of both. Mozart composed this initial movement in sonata form; its development section has both originality and subtlety. The themes of the second and third movements take the style of what were then popular songs, almost certainly chosen to offer contrast and relief from the more grandiose Allegro first movement.
The second movement, Larghetto, has an apparent simplicity within a symmetrical structure, but that simplicity only results from the skill and subtlety with which Mozart composed. The serenity of this music is undeniable.
The principal theme of the rondo finale, Allegro, derives from a folk song from the Swabian region of southwestern Germany. Mozart used this theme again for the first of three songs he entered in his catalog nine days after the concerto. The folk song’s title is “Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling” (“Yearning for Spring”) and the first words are “Komm, lieber Mai…” (“Come, dear May, and make the trees go green again”), a text that Robert Schumann set to music in 1849 for his Album of Songs for Young People, Op. 79. This last movement has a cheerful enough theme but feels, nevertheless, tinged with yearning.
Mozart died nine weeks after the first performance of The Magic Flute, at the end of a year that began with the composition of this concerto and concluded with the mysteriously commissioned uncompleted Requiem that many historians feel Mozart sensed would be his own. Within two years, an important composer in Berlin jealously complained of the “inordinate fuss” being made about Mozart’s music. Publishers energetically mined the huge collection of his works still in manuscript. His widow engaged musicians to finish compositions left incomplete and to assemble whole pieces out of fragments. The first attempt to publish a uniform edition of his complete works began in 1800. Mozart had quickly become, in the words of Alfred Einstein, “the universal composer who transcends history.”
Piano Concerto No. 27 is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings.
Symphony No. 39, in E-flat Major, K. 543
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart composed the great trilogy of his last symphonies in a remarkably short time between June 26 and August 10, 1788. Until then, he had composed at least one symphony almost every year since he was eight, but after these three, no more followed in the three and a half years that remained of his short life. Further, no record of any performances of these symphonies during his lifetime exists, and no mention of their first performances has been preserved. Even more mysterious is why the composer would be prompted to write three symphonies in such short order when there is no evidence of a commission for any of them. If he did not compose them for financial reasons, could an inner compulsion to express his musical thoughts have been the sole reason for their writing?
Regardless of why Mozart composed the work, Symphony No. 39 has received kudos from commentators for the last two centuries and has become one of Mozart’s best-loved and most recognized symphonies. The composer Richard Wagner could not praise it too highly:
The longing sigh of the great human voice, drawn to him by the loving power of his genius, breathes from his instruments. He leads the irresistible stream of richest harmony into the heart of his melody, as though with anxious care he sought to give it by way of compensation for its delivery by mere instruments, the depth of feeling and ardor which lies at the source of the human voice as the expression of the unfathomable depths of the heart.
The E-Flat Symphony is different from the other two symphonies contemporaneous with it. Regardless of the circumstances in which Mozart found himself during the period of its composition, most of the symphony breathes a spirit of joy and gaiety, especially in the latter half. Also, the scoring of this symphony departs from the usual. Mozart had been becoming increasingly interested in the clarinet, although the famous clarinet quintet and the clarinet concerto were yet to be written, and in place of oboes, Mozart uses two clarinets in this symphony. The clarinets appear throughout the work but have a special effect in the trio of the minuet, where the first clarinet establishes the melodic theme and the second clarinet embellishes that line with arpeggios.
This ebullient symphony has a slow introduction, Adagio, that is meditative and solemn in character but harmonically audacious, a favorite device of Haydn, but relatively uncommon in Mozart. It expands the proportions of the vigorous Allegro first movement, an intense, dramatic and romantic opening to a serious work. The violins introduce the first theme, which is restful and melodious. The second subject is a cantabile melody of beauty and grace, divided between the violins and clarinets. The development section is relatively short and does not manipulate the principal musical material very intensively.
The slow movement, Andante con moto, is not very slow but is one of the longest movements in all of Mozart’s symphonies. It begins with a simple folksong-like subject; the second part has a passionate theme. At the close of the theme, there is a harmonically interesting section in which the bassoons play an important part. The end of the development of the themes recalls a style familiar from the twelve great piano concertos of 1784 to 1786.
The Minuet, Allegretto, begins cheerfully and has fluent writing for the still new and “modern” instrument, the clarinet. The rustic sounding dance may be musically related to or even derived from the kind of dance music that Mozart was then composing.
The symphony comes to an end with a brilliant and light-hearted Finale, Allegro, an extended movement built, like some of Haydn’s, on a single theme, in this case made up of nine notes. In this movement the composer allows his humor and fancy to play freely, especially in the merry development in which he expresses a variety of gay, sunny thoughts. The themes of the movement are less important than the fanciful, elaborate structure for which they function as foundation. The movement ends dramatically and suddenly.
The score calls for flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Program notes © Susan Halpern unless otherwise noted.