Program Notes: Sarah Jeffrey Plays Mozart
Tuesday, June, 22–Tuesday, June, 29, 2021
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born: Salzburg, Austria, Jan 27, 1756
Died: Vienna, Austria, Dec 5, 1791
I. Allegro aperto
II. Adagio non troppo
III. Rondo: Allegretto
Mozart composed this charming work during the summer of 1777, for Giuseppe Ferlendis, the Italian-born, newly-installed oboe soloist in the Court Orchestra of Salzburg. He appears never to have performed it. Friedrich Ramm, principal oboe in the court orchestra of Mannheim, Germany, did, five times during Mozart’s visit there soon afterwards. Mozart prepared a transcription featuring the flute as a solo instrument, and for many years this was the more familiar version. In 1920, the oboe version was unearthed in Salzburg among the papers of Mozart’s son. The concerto is an attractive and entertaining creation. It highlights the oboe’s resemblance to the human voice, in a range of settings from the expressive, aria-like second movement to the folk-like merriness of the concluding rondo.
I. Allegro moderato
IV. Allegro con spirito
In the summer of 1773 Mozart spent ten weeks in Vienna, where he absorbed the latest Viennese music, including Haydn’s. Though just seventeen at the time, he was already a skilled and prolific composer in a variety of genres, but the trip to Vienna seems to have profoundly influenced him creatively. A change in his style is already apparent in the six string quartets, K. 168-173, that he wrote while in Vienna, under the spell of Haydn’s recently published Op. 20 quartets, and is even more obvious in the symphonies that he wrote between October 1773 and May 1774, after returning home to Salzburg—above all, the fatalistic, Sturm und Drang Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183, his first in a minor key, and the Symphony No. 29 in A Major, completed on April 6, 1774, presumably for some important public occasion. In these new symphonies Mozart adhered to the Viennese model (four movements, including a minuet) and moved away from the lighter and more decorative Italianate style of his earlier symphonies. One hears a greater sophistication of technique and greater range and depth of expression in the symphonies of 1773-4; they are more spacious, substantial, and dramatic—and more personal and individual—than the earlier symphonies. Though clearly indebted to Haydn and other Viennese composers, Mozart was already moving beyond his models, and his new symphonies were so novel and complex that some of his contemporaries considered them excessive. Mozart himself, however, thought well enough of them to revive some of them in his own concerts in Vienna, in the 1780s, and today the G-minor and A-major symphonies in particular are generally ranked among his first real masterpieces. (These are the earliest Mozart symphonies in the repertory of most orchestras.)
“He [Mozart] calls for modest orchestral forces, just oboes, horns, and strings—no flutes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, or drums.”
No. 29 was a landmark in Mozart’s stylistic development, notable as much for its tone as for its form: like other of his works in A major—for instance, his late quintet and concerto for clarinet—this is music of special lyricism, warmth, euphony, and sensuousness; even the cheerful and optimistic fast movements have the autumn-coloured beauty characteristic of Mozart’s “A- major mood.” (This was his last symphony in that key, however.) He calls for modest orchestral forces, just oboes, horns, and strings—no flutes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, or drums—and his scoring is often chamber-music-like in its delicacy. But this was also an unusually long, serious, and ambitious work for its time. The first, second, and fourth movements are all set in a fully worked- out sonata form with both halves repeated and a coda appended, and one hears other evidence that Mozart was thinking beyond individual movements to the unity and coherence of the work as a whole: for instance, both outer movements begin with a theme that opens with a downward leap of an octave in the violins.
“Few symphonic movements in 1774 could boast an opening quite so powerful and exciting.”
The opening theme of the first movement is introduced quietly but with slowly mounting intensity, and when the full orchestra finally takes up the theme (forte) Mozart sets it in a busy texture of urgent imitative counterpoint between violins and basses. Few symphonic movements in 1774 could boast an opening quite so powerful and exciting. (Mozart employs the same imitative treatment of the theme in his bustling coda, too.) The eloquent and refined Andante, in which the violins are muted throughout, is deeply lyrical, with a nobility and stateliness conveyed by dotted rhythms that would have reminded Mozart’s listeners of the majesty of the French Baroque, especially the ouverture. There is a concise but surprisingly intense development section in the middle, and in fact the whole Andante is musically substantial (that is, not merely pretty) in ways that look ahead to the profound and emotionally complex slow movements of Mozart’s later works. The elegant Menuetto, which also features dotted rhythms, is more truly symphonic than most contemporary minuets, which tended to come across as merely stylized dance music; the Mozart scholar Einstein noted “contrasts of grace and almost Beethoven-like violence” in this movement. The finale is joyful and impulsive, set in the boisterous 6/8 rhythm characteristic of eighteenth-century chasse (hunting) music (listen for “hunting-horn” calls in the horn parts). The movement is a glittering specimen of Classical symphonic wit. For instance, at every important juncture in the form Mozart writes an upward-rushing scale for unaccompanied violins, followed by a pause; the scale is loud and intrusive, comically so, and the pause leaves the listener wondering what is going to happen next. (Haydn loved to play games like this.) Mozart even incorporates the scale into the very last bars, at the end of a raucous coda, as though to hint that there is still more music to come (there isn’t). But this finale is not only playful: there is a stormy development section in the middle, with string tremolos and imitative counterpoint, that Einstein described as “the richest and most dramatic Mozart had written up to this time.”
Program note by Kevin Bazzana
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