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Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria

The work was first performed on July 16, 1782, at the Burgtheater in Vienna. It is scored for piccolo, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, percussion, and strings.

Wolfgang Mozart, like his father, Leopold, had been employed in the court of Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg – Leopold as deputy Kapellmeister and Wolfgang as court organist and concertmaster. After the 1771 death of Prince Archbishop Sigismund Christoph von Schrattenbach, a close friend of the Mozart family, he was replaced by Hieronymus Colloredo, a by-the-book micro-manager who held no affinity for music or musicians. Wolfgang grew to despise the harsh treatment of the court’s servants whose ranks included all court musicians. In early 1781, when he was along on an ecumenical visit with the Archbishop to Vienna, Mozart left his position against official orders. In other words, he quit, but his employer refused to release him. Because of his unique family situation, a rift with the court also meant a severance of ties with his father. Much like the Archbishop, Leopold insisted on retaining control of his son. Wolfgang had no choice but to stay away from Salzburg, deciding to remain in the musical Mecca of Vienna. Once it became clear to the Archbishop that Wolfgang was not going to return, he finally granted the young man’s dismissal from the court in May of 1781.

In Vienna, Mozart met Constanze Weber (a cousin of the composer Carl Maria von Weber) and they were married on August 4, 1782. Leopold did not approve, as he was not yet ready to accept that the son who had brought the family so much wealth and recognition was no longer under his control. In hopes that Leopold would accept Constanze if he finally met her, the young couple planned a trip to Salzburg for the following June. Leopold, not to be outdone, never accepted his daughter-in-law.

Just before the wedding of the Mozarts, Wolfgang was involved in a rather large and influential project. A recent artistic trend in Vienna focused on the Ottoman Empire. Just a century before, Vienna has been attacked by the Turks, so it is somewhat unusual that music, art, clothing, and other arts were so influenced by the Near East. Mozart’s contribution to this fad was his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio.

In the opera, Mozart uses the alla Turca style. Inspired by the sounds of Turkish military bands, this style features strong downbeats and jangling grace notes that imitate the sounds of the Turkish Crescent, an instrument consisting of a long pole with an Islamic crescent adorned with small bells that chimed when the pole struck the floor in time with the music. The Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio is the perfect example of this style.

The plot of the opera is far from simple, but may be summed up as follows: the noblewoman Konstanze, along with her maid and her boyfriend’s servant, is taken prisoner by pirates and sold to a Turkish Pasha. Her lover, Belmonte, finds them and fools the guards and gains entrance to the palace. They try to escape, but are captured, only to be pardoned by the fearsome Pasha, who is actually a benevolent leader.

The Overture sets the scene with its use of percussion instruments – triangle, bass drum, and cymbals – to evoke the exotic Ottoman Empire. It opens with a bright C major presto, but soon gives way to an andante middle section in C minor. The major-key presto returns, but the overture, as played in the opera house, leads directly to the first scene, which begins with Belmonte singing the andante theme in a major key. In the concert hall, the overture ends as expected, with a dazzling taste of alla Turca style.

Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K. 364
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria

Although an exact premiere date is not known, Mozart most likely composed this work in Salzburg during the summer of 1779. It is scored for two oboes, two horns, and strings.

In the Baroque period, the word concerto referred to three different types of pieces – a solo concerto for one instrument and orchestra, or a concerto grosso for a group of solo instruments and orchestra. On rare instances, one might encounter an orchestral concerto (some of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos fall into this category). The solo concerto remained throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in is still very strong today. Likewise, but to lesser degree, the orchestral concerto has managed to stay alive surfacing in notable works by Bela Bartok, Witold Lutoslawski, and Elliott Carter. However, the concerto grosso, at least in name, hibernated with the advent of classicism, reawakening two centuries later in the works of Alfred Schnittke. In the meantime, composers built upon the tradition of multiple solo instruments with orchestra to produce double and triple concertos in the Romantic period. In Mozart’s time, the genre was known as the Sinfonia Concertante – usually a three-movement work for just a few soloists, balanced carefully with an orchestra. It is essentially a hybrid of the symphony and the concerto grosso.

Mozart actually completed three works in the genre, all of which he began composing during a trip from Mannheim to Paris in 1778-1779. Mannheim was known for its excellent orchestra, while Paris was the city of masterful wind instrument virtuosos. The combination of the two no doubt inspired Mozart to compose the Sinfonia Concertante (K. 297b) for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and orchestra (though there is some doubt as to its authenticity); as well as the Concerto for flute and harp. The Sinfonia Concertante (K. 364) for violin, viola and orchestra, heard on this program, is the most significant work of the bunch, and is generally viewed as a seminal composition marking the beginning of Mozart’s mature style. Mozart’s orchestra was most likely that of Prince Archbishop Hieronymous von Colloredo of Salzburg. The meager instrumentation lacks flutes, clarinets, bassoons and trumpets. It is interesting to note that Mozart compensates for the lack of midrange woodwinds by subdividing the violas into two sections.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante begins with a majestic first movement, marked allegro maestoso. His themes are more symphonic in scope, but fit the soloists well with added ornaments in the interest of elaboration. Both instruments are equals and share in the decoration and filigree. Beginning in a minor key, the andante is profoundly meaningful. Particularly poignant is the tender moment when Mozart gently shifts from minor to major. The presto finale is a lively rondo. Jubilantly skirting along, the soloists dance in and out of several themes, always returning to the joyous rondo melody.

Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria

Although completed on July 25, 1788, this work was possibly performed on April 16 1791, in Vienna with Antonio Salieri conducting an orchestra of 180 members, but the story is probably apocryphal. It is scored for flute, pairs of clarinets, bassoons, and horns, with the usual complement of strings.

To have been such a gifted composer, recognized across Europe during his younger years as a musician par excellence, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entered his thirties as a fading star. The young prodigy was now a full-fledged adult. He was no longer a precocious youth with abilities beyond his years. Mozart was expected to hold his own against more famous composers, such as Porpora, Dittersdorf, Vanhal and Salieri. In order to counter the fickle public’s harsh judgment, Mozart simply tried harder, producing some of his most enduring works in his early thirties. The last four piano concertos, the Kegelstatt Trio, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the opera Don Giovanni, and the final four symphonies all date from the years 1786-1788, when Mozart was between thirty and thirty-two years old.

Along with public rejection came personal problems. Financially, Mozart was in the direst of straits – which would continue to worsen until his death in 1791. Probably the lowest moment during this time was the sudden death of his six-month-old daughter, Theresia, on June 29, 1788. It was during the very time of Theresia Mozart’s death that her father was feverishly composing his last three symphonies. Written in a span of ten weeks in May, June and July, they seem almost a summary of different aspects of Mozart’s personality. The 39th is joyful, almost flippant, with a finale that is especially robust. His final symphony, commonly called the Jupiter is more pedantic, especially in its meticulous fugal finale.

The middle of the three, the 40th, is introspective and subtly tinged with darker hues. One of only two symphonies in minor keys (the other is the 25th, also in G minor), Mozart explores the poignant territory he normally reserved for his operas – his greatest love and probably his compositional forte. Foregoing the customary slow introduction, Mozart begins the opening movement with a soft murmur in the violas. Without ceremony, the sighing violin melody seems to materialize from nowhere. From the outset, this is unmistakably headier than an ordinary symphony of the Classical period. There are bursts of volume, chromatic harmonies, and an approach to melodic writing that centers on short motifs – not long arching melodies. Such a description may bring to mind the early works of Ludwig van Beethoven, from which this music is not far removed.

The second movement is a graceful Andante, also using a sigh motif to great effect. Here is Mozart at his most adventurous (a trait he explores to an even fuller extent in the final movement). Chromatic lines pull against each other, taking listeners of the late eighteenth century along hitherto uncharted paths.

Stern and aggressive, the third-movement Minuet is far removed from the courtly dance for which it is named. Accents are harsh, almost severe, but a somewhat gentler trio provides a worthy foil.

If the Andante was adventurous, the finale is brilliantly progressive. Built upon a rising arpeggiation, a gesture known in the period as the Mannheim Rocket, this churning powerhouse seems to build momentum until the final measures. The almost feral development section features modulations through many keys, making the grim G minor seems like a welcome refuge after daunting trials of the preceding measures. Many scholars refer to this symphony as a precursor to Romanticism, but our ears tell us, at least for Mozart during a brief moment in 1788, that Romanticism was in full force.

©2015 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin

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