Category Archives: Mozart

Mozart – Symphony No. 39

Mozart was 32 when he wrote his last three symphonies in the summer of 1788. Seven successful years as an independent composer-performer-impresario in Vienna had made him prosperous. However when the Austrian Empire, of which Vienna was the capital, declared war on the Ottoman Empire (today, Turkey) in February of that year, the Viennese economy fizzled, and Mozart’s career fizzled with it. His livelihood depended on the Viennese moneyed class, which dwindled as upper-class men left the city to serve as military officers, or went to their country estates to avoid questions about why they weren’t serving.

In June of 1788 Mozart moved his family from his apartment in the centre of Vienna to a more spacious suburban residence at Alsergrund 135 (today Währingerstraße 26), a seven-room apartment with a garden attached. The rooms were spacious and it is speculated that Mozart intended to use the large rooms for rehearsals of music he was about to compose. It was in this house that Mozart would compose his last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41, all from 1788), and the last of the three Da Ponte operas, Cosi fan tutte, which premiered in 1790.

Evidently the music for Symphony 39 was already in Mozart‘s head as he made the move to Alsergrund and he finished it on June 25; No. 40 followed on July 26 and No. 41 on August 10. That’s two months give or take a few days, a compositional speed record for such masterpieces.

Contrary to common belief, Mozart heard and possibly performed the three symphonies. He had orchestra parts copied, an expense he would not have incurred unless he needed them for a performance and he went to the trouble of re-orchestrating the G-minor Symphony to add clarinets, an effort that would have made no sense unless the Symphony were going to be played.

Mozart included symphonies, most likely from this final set, in concerts he gave in Leipzig in 1789 and Frankfurt in 1790, and a Mozart symphony was performed at a concert led by Antonio Salieri in Vienna in 1791. Programs do not include numbers for these symphonies but it is not likely that Mozart would have passed up a chance to show off one or another of his new works. The orchestra for Salieri’s 1791 Vienna concert included the clarinetists Johann and Anton Stadler, probably the reason for the second version of the G-minor Symphony with clarinets.

The Symphony in E-flat is the only symphony from Mozart’s adulthood that does not use oboes, which means that the clarinets are given unusual prominence. It also has a slow introduction, a common feature in symphonies of the day, but rare in Mozart. This slow introduction is a grand procession eventually dissolving in a few misty bars before the energetic Allegro makes a cautious entrance.

The ambling Andante con moto and the energetic Minuet are typical of Mozart’s mature symphonies. The middle section of the Minuet, with one clarinet playing a simple but unforgettable little tune over the other clarinet’s bubbling arpeggios, would most likely have been composed with the Stadler brothers in mind.

Mozart’s finales are often remarkable for their sheer number of melodic ideas, but the finale of this Symphony relies essentially on a single theme, explored, varied and worked over in the style of Haydn.

Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A

Anton Stadler was born in 1753 in Bruck an der Leitha, 40 km southeast of Vienna. In 1756 his family moved to Vienna where his brother Johann was born. The pair were to become two of the finest clarinetists in the city.

In his day, Anton Stadler enjoyed a reputation far beyond the confines of Vienna as an excellent clarinetist and player of the basset horn. It is uncertain just when his friendship with Mozart began, but the two men were probably already acquainted by 1784, when Stadler performed “a large wind piece” by Mozart (perhaps the Gran Partita, K. 361) at an academy in Vienna. Whatever the case, the first time they are known to have played music together was on 20 October 1785, at a benefit concert for Vienna’s Masonic lodges. Stadler also experimented with the construction of the clarinet, adding to the length of the instrument which extended the range of the instrument downward by four semitones, creating what is called a basset clarinet.

At the peak of his compositional abilities and just weeks before his death, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the Clarinet Concerto in A major. He wrote it specifically for his friend and fellow freemason, Anton Stadler and for the basset clarinet which Stadler had created. This was hardly the first time Mozart wrote for Stadler. He was the intended player for numerous orchestral parts and several chamber works, including the “Kegelstatt Trio” K. 498 and the Clarinet Quintet K. 581.

Mozart gave Stadler the completed concerto on October 9th or 10th along with traveling money (about $3,000 today) to travel to Prague, and told the clarinetist to make use of the concerto at the benefit concert the artist had arranged in that city. Stadler arrived in Prague on October 13th or 14th and according to Prague city records, Stadler’s concert took place at the Royal Old City Theater on October 16th, 1791.

Like the original basset clarinet, the autograph of Mozart’s clarinet concerto was lost, or perhaps even pawned by Stadler on the European tour that followed the Prague benefit concert. The concerto we hear these days is a version edited by modern day publishers so it can be played on today’s instruments. Ms. Katz performs the Henle Edition edited by Henrick Wiese.

For this concerto, Mozart chose an orchestra with flutes instead of oboes, bassoons, no brass instruments except for two horns, and a full complement of strings, to make it possible for the soloist to be heard distinctly above the ensemble.

The first movement begins with flowing melodies that exploit the clarinet’s rich tone in an atmosphere of gracious lyricism.

The Adagio second movement is undoubtedly one of Mozart’s most sublime slow movements. This movement displays the exquisite singing quality of the clarinet and the musicality of the clarinetist. A reviewer wrote Stadler in 1784,

Never should I have thought that a clarinet could be so capable of imitating a human voice so closely as it was imitated by thee.  Verily, thy instrument has so soft and lovely a tone that nobody who has a heart can resist it.”

The finale is a capricious rondo that captures the lighthearted, comical quality of the clarinet.  Mozart contrasts the rondo theme with other melodies that are harmonically adventurous and unexpectedly moving.

Mozart Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor (The impresario), K. 486

It was a bleak, late winter day when the well-heeled citizens of Vienna mounted their coaches for the four mile drive to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph. They were heading for a “Spring Festival on a Mid-Winter’s Day,” as Franz Joseph called it, a party to honor Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen, Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands, and his wife, the Archduchess Maria Christine, on February 7, 1786.

The site chosen for this Spring fling was the Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace, a spacious greenhouse used for wintering over citrus trees and other plants from the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace. The preparations for the banquet included elaborate decorations of exotic flowers, blossoms and fruits, a service of excellent food and for entertainment two stages were erected, one at each end of the long glassed-in building.

PIC The Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace. Note the stages at opposite ends of the room.

The Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace. Note the stages at opposite ends of the room.

The Emperor had issued special orders for the evening’s entertainment, which was to consist of a newly composed, one-act opera buffa by Court Composer Antonio Salieri (Prima la musica e poi le parole — “First the Music and then the Words,” a theme treated again 150 years later by Richard Strauss in his last opera, Capriccio) and a one-act farce by the playwright Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger (Der Schauspieldirektor — “The Impresario”) with an overture and a few interpolated musical numbers by Mozart. Stephanie and Mozart had worked together four years earlier, when they produced The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Mozart was frantically busy composing music for his own Lenten concerts but most pressing were the preparations for The Marriage of Figaro, which was scheduled for its premiere at the Burgtheater on May 1st. He put Figaro briefly aside, however, and composed an overture, two soprano arias, a trio and an ensemble finale for The Impresario between January 18th and February 3rd.

Mozart lavished great care on his little overture, which would have been impressive enough to introduce a much grander work.

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453

The year 1784 was a banner year for Mozart piano concerti. In that year he composed six of them not all for his own performances. The Piano Concerto in G, K. 453 was written for one of his most accomplished students, Barbara von Ployer, to be played in a concert at her father’s house in a Viennese suburb on June 10.

Mozart wrote to his father Leopold: “Tomorrow Herr Ployer is giving a concert in the country at Döbling, where Fräulein Babette is playing her new concerto in G…” I am fetching Paisiello (a prominent Italian composer whose opera Il barbiere di Siviglia was having a very successful run in Vienna) in my carriage, as I want him to hear both my pupil and my compositions.” Wolfgang reported that he was paid very well for this concerto.

European starling

European starling

According to Mozart’s expense book, on May 27, 1784, he paid 34 Kreutzer for a pet starling adding it to his beloved personal bestiary that already included a canary, a dog, and a horse. Sturnus vulgaris, European starlings, are virtuoso mimics, and Mozart taught his to sing the variation-theme from the finale of this concerto, though he was amused to find that the bird always held the sixth note (G) too long, and always sang the ninth and tenth notes (both also G) as G-sharp. When the bird died in 1787, Mozart administered last rites, read a poem he had written in its honor, and buried it with great solemnity in his garden at Alsergrund.

The orchestral exposition of the first movement of this concerto is made of an extravagance of melodies, an elegant parody of a military march. Where a traditional classical concerto would give two contrasting themes, this exposition offers no less than six, each one evolving out of the one previous. Contemporary Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf said of Mozart: “I have never yet known any composer who possessed such an astonishing wealth of ideas. I wish he were not so lavish in using them. He does not let the listener get his breath back…” Our soloist will be playing Mozart’s own cadenzas.

The C major slow movement is harmonically dramatic with several powerful modulations and extensive chromaticism giving weight to music of great transparency. The opening statement from the piano swerves from major to minor, and from simple expression to passionate outburst.

The finale is a set of variations on the tune the starling sang. The variations grow in complexity and ingenuity until the fourth, which plunges headlong into the minor mode, laden with chromaticism. The final variation leads straight to a comic-opera finale, the official coda. Surely Paisiello, whose talent seldom ventured beyond the opera house, would have marveled at what seems to be a ready-made opera finale.

Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 “Jupiter”

In June of 1788 Mozart moved his family from his apartment in the centre of Vienna (now called the Figaro House, near St. Stephen’s Cathedral) to a more spacious suburban residence at Alsergrund 135 (today Währingerstraße 26), a seven-room apartment with a garden attached. The rooms were spacious and it is speculated that Mozart intended to use the large rooms for rehearsals of music he was about to compose.

In making this move and finding himself a bit short of cash, Mozart quickly wrote a letter to his friend and fellow Mason, Michael Puchberg on June 17, 1788, asking for a loan:

“In case you couldn’t part with such a sum [one or two thousand Gulden] at the moment, I beg you to lend me at least a couple of hundred Gulden until tomorrow, because my landlord on the Landstraße (a previous suburban rental) was so importunate that (to avoid every inconvenience) I had to pay him on the spot, which put me in a messy situation! Tonight we will sleep in our new quarters for the first time, where we will stay both summer and winter; – on the whole I don’t mind this, I even find it preferable; I haven’t much to do in the city anyway and because I’m not exposed to so many visitors, I will have more time for work; – if I have to go into the city on business, which will not often be the case anyway, any fiacre will take me there for ten Kreuzer, moreover the apartment is cheaper and more pleasant during the spring, summer and autumn, because I also have a garden.”

It was in this house that Mozart would compose his last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41, all from 1788), and the last of the three Da Ponte operas, Cosi fan tutte, premiered in 1790.

Evidently the music for Symphony 39 was already in Mozart‘s head as he made the move to Alsergrund and he finished it on June 25; No. 40 followed on July 26 and No. 41 on August 10. That’s two months give or take a few days, a compositional speed record for such masterpieces. We have no direct evidence as to why Mozart wrote the symphonies since he had never composed music without a specific performance and specific performers in mind, but in succeeding years he made long journeys hoping to improve his fortunes: to Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin in the spring of 1789, and to Frankfurt, Mannheim, and other German cities in 1790. The symphonies may have been shown or played then.

For many years the origin of the nickname “Jupiter” for Mozart’s last symphony was unknown. Musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon has found mention of Mozart’s symphony in the diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello, a nineteenth-century English couple who travelled widely and interviewed the composer’s widow Constanze in 1829. According to them, the name was bestowed by Johann Peter Salomon, the entrepreneur responsible for Haydn’s two visits to London in the 1790s.

The opening theme of the first movement follows one of Mozart’s favorite patterns, one he had learned from Johann Christian Bach (London Bach) and had begun using as early as his First Symphony: an energetic gesture, followed by a soft, almost pleading phrase. Also of note toward the close of the movement is Mozart’s self-quotation from an arietta he had written a year earlier to be inserted in Pasquale Anfossi’s opera Le gelosie fortunate.

The other-worldliness of the slow movement is brought about partly by the use throughout of muted strings and the absence of trumpets and timpani. It was Mendelssohn who discovered that the masterstroke of the main theme reappearing just before the final cadential section was an afterthought. Mozart had added an extra leaf in the autograph score at that point just to include it.

Mozart’s graceful minuet is almost completely derived from its opening theme, a graceful sigh, which develops a contrapuntal life of it‘s own as the movement progresses. Mozart bases the little melodic figure in the more lightly textured trio on the same figure, now slightly embellished. The loud outburst in the trio’s second half seems to preview the main motive of the finale.

The finale’s opening four-note motive (C-D-F-E), having originated in Gregorian chant, was well known in Mozart’s day as the start of the hymn Lucis creator. Mozart employed it in several earlier vocal and instrumental compositions as did numerous other composers. Mozart takes this motive along with a wealth of other ideas and combines them in a contrapuntal tour de force which at one time includes quintuple counterpoint (five tunes fit together to play simultaneously) and that concludes with a magnificent fugal coda.

The quintuple counterpoint

The quintuple counterpoint

Marriage of Figaro Premiere

MAY 1 1786 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 with an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna with Mozart conducting.
Nozze_di_Figaro_Scene_19th_century
PIC Act 1: Cherubino hides behind Susanna’s chair as the Count arrives.

Mozart: Prague Symphony

JAN 19 1787 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart led the premiere of his Symphony No. 38 in D major, “Prague“ K. 504, at the National Theatre (now called the Estates Theatre) in Prague. On the same concert, which he called a “Grand Musical Academy,” Mozart also debuted his newest piano concerto, the magnificent C major, K 503.   As an encore he improvised at the piano one dozen variations on “Non più andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro after he had extemporized at the keyboard for over half an hour on other musical subjects.
EstatesTheatre
PIC Estates Theatre