A symphony at the theatre…
MOZART’S SYMPHONY NO.26
This symphony from 1773 – when Mozart was still in his teens and employed in Salzburg – is shorter than most of Mozart’s symphonies from this time and has one fewer movement than you’d expect in a Classical symphony. In another departure from expectation, the three movements (fast–slow–fast) are played without pause. In fact, Mozart’s contemporaries would have recognized this symphony as much closer to an old-fashioned overture for the theatre (a ‘sinfonia’) than a symphony for the concert hall.
Other features make this symphony remarkable: Mozart uses pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets, a relatively large ensemble more likely to be found in a theater than other institutions in 18th-century Europe. These orchestral colors – especially in the emphatic, chords of the beginning – give the music magnificence and presence despite its brevity. The first movement (Molto presto, as fast as possible) slides into music of a very different character, somber and impassioned (Andante). Then the music returns to its original assertive mood (Allegro), signaled by the re-entry of horns and trumpets. Symphony No.26 may be short, but it’s rich in emotion and variety – sure to grab your attention as the curtain rises.
Clarinet in the spotlight…
WEBER’S CLARINET QUINTET
Perhaps you’ve noticed: this is an orchestral concert without a conductor. That gives the performances a ‘chamber music’ quality, with the musicians working together as partners rather than looking to a single leader. So it’s appropriate that the ‘concerto’ on the program is really a piece of chamber music.
In its original form, this music by Carl Maria von Weber was a quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello. And yet the clarinet part is so impressively virtuosic and the string parts so supportive, that it’s easy to imagine it as a concerto for clarinet and string orchestra. It’s even easier to make the conversion: two or more players are assigned to each string part and we’ve added a double bass to the cello line.
Haydn and Mozart both knew the clarinet in its earliest form, but the instrument really came into its own in the 19th century, during Weber’s lifetime, and one of the greatest virtuosos of the day was Heinrich Bärmann, for whom Weber composed all his works featuring solo clarinet.
The Clarinet Quintet is in four movements, following the Classical structure established by Haydn. It begins with a substantial movement (Allegro) in which the clarinet has every opportunity to show off its flexibility and mellifluous tone. The second movement is expressive and slow (Adagio non troppo). This is where Weber’s background as an opera composer comes to the fore: the movement is like an intensely felt vocal aria.
The third movement is a minuet (ostensibly a dance) marked Capriccio presto – literally a ‘caprice’ to be played as fast as possible! The soloist’s fingers might be dancing, but it would be nearly impossible to dance a minuet to this dazzling and whimsical music. Weber then brings the Quintet to a close with a joyous (giocoso) rondo finale. The cheerful main theme returns throughout the movement between brilliant interludes: imagine a crystal clear mountain stream burbling over polished stones.
An Austrian in Paris…
HAYDN’S SYMPHONY NO.86
Our headline is misleading, because Haydn didn’t visit Paris in person. He spent much of his working life in the provincial estate of Eszterháza, where he claimed the enforced isolation was perfect for cultivating and original style. But although he stayed at home until he was in his late 50s, his fame as the greatest composer in Europe meant that his music was heard in all the major musical centers: Vienna, Paris, London. Not New York…
Haydn’s great legacy was as a composer of symphonies. It was he who crystallized the form of the symphony, developing it from the short, three-movement sinfonia structure that Mozart adopts in his Symphony No.26 to the four-movement Classical symphony that became the model for Beethoven and virtually every composer who has written a symphony since. If composers aren’t following Haydn’s lead, they’re consciously departing from it.
Haydn’s Symphony No.86 was one of a set of six composed on commission for a concert series in Paris. The occasion called for music that was ambitious and grand, which is one of the reasons why Haydn’s symphony in this concert lasts half an hour to Mozart’s ten minutes, even though the two works were composed within 12 years of each other.
Other things make Symphony No.86 sound grand. It’s in the key D major, which is the key in which trumpets sound their most brilliant, and this is a symphony with trumpets and drums. The effect is uplifting, triumphant and noisy. But that’s not how Haydn begins. The first movement has a slow introduction (Adagio), which he uses to establish the solemnity and importance of the occasion before he launches into much faster and more spirited music (Allegro spiritoso).
The second movement gives the concert its second ‘capriccio’. This one is slow (Largo) and serious in character, but nonetheless ignores conventions and is full of unexpected gestures. Pay attention at the very beginning, when the strings and bassoon play a simple rising sequence of four stately chords: from this foundation Haydn builds music with far-ranging harmonies and often abrupt shifts of mood.
One of the conventions that Haydn established in the Classical symphony was the third-movement minuet – borrowing a lively but elegant dance form from the French court. But the minuet in this symphony has the character of a more modern, Germanic dance: the waltz. In the middle is a contrasting Trio section: the oom-pah-pahs are plucked by the strings, while the woodwind instruments take turns at the graceful melody.
And then there is the finale, once more fast and with spirit (Allegro con spirito). It’s dazzling and energetic music and one writer astutely borrows from an 18th-century review to describe its ‘sublime and wanton grandeur’.
Yvonne Frindle © 2013
Illustrations by Charles Krenner © 2013
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s childhood was spent touring Europe as a prodigy, entertaining and astonishing the courts of Europe with his amazing musical gifts. He died, all too young, at the age of 35, but not before he’d demonstrated mature genius. He composed symphonies throughout his career, from the tiny, ten-minute works he wrote as a boy to the great symphonies of 1788.
Carl Maria von Weber
Weber is famous today for two things: his legacy as a composer of German romantic operas (Der Freischütz is the best known) and as a composer of some of the most idiomatic and gratifying music for the clarinet, with concertos and other pieces for clarinet with orchestra, and the quintet for clarinet and strings (completed 1815). In a neat connection, his father was the uncle of Mozart’s wife, Constanze Weber.
When he died in 1809, Haydn was Europe’s celebrity composer: more famous than Mozart or even Beethoven. He spent much of his life working for the Esterházy princes and rarely traveled from their estates. (It wasn’t until 1791 that he made his first, lucrative visit to London.) But his reputation as a composer of symphonies spread far and wide and in 1784 he was commissioned to write six for concerts in Paris.
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CityMusic with Heather Headley at Masonic Auditorium (May 28)
Mike Telin, clevelandclassical.com, June 2, 2015
On Thursday, May 28 at Masonic Auditorium, CityMusic Cleveland, under the direction of Avner D....