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8.550332 - MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 / Sinfonia Concertante
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Sinfonia concertante in E Flat Major, K. 364
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the younger and second surviving child of Leopold Mozart, a musician in the service of the ruling Archbishop. The same year brought the publication of Leopold Mozart's book on violin-playing, a compilation that won him a wide reputation. Nevertheless his career was sacrificed before long to that of his son, whose genius he soon realised and to the fostering of which he dedicated his energies. He remained until his death in 1787 Vice-Kapellmeister in Salzburg, his final years darkened by his son's departure for Vienna in 1781.
In his childhood Mozart excelled as a keyboard-player, his skill shown in performance, in sight-reading and in improvisation, and as a violinist. With his older sister Nannerl he toured Europe, exciting wonder wherever he went. Adolescence proved less satisfactory. In 1771 the old Archbishop of Salzburg, an indulgent patron, died, and was succeeded by Count Colloredo, a son of the Imperial Vice-Chancellor, a prelate, with progressive views, coupled with a precise idea of what was due to him from those in his employ. At the age of thirteen Mozart had been appointed third concert-master of the court orchestra, unpaid. Under the new Archbishop he was given the paid position of concert-master, but there were now severe restrictions on his freedom, exercised in earlier years in extended tours that had taken him to Paris, to London and on several occasions to Italy. Salzburg, furthermore, could hardly satisfy Mozart's ambitions as a composer, or his father's justified hopes for his son's material advancement. In 1777 he was allowed to resign from the Archbishop's service, an option offered also to his father, but prudently refused, in order to travel to Mannheim and to Paris. The object of the journey, on which he was accompanied by his mother, who fell ill and died during their stay in Paris, was to seek a better appointment. In January 1779 he returned home, reluctantly accepting the appointment of cour1 organist in Salzburg.
In 1780 there came a commission for a new opera for the Elector of Bavaria in Munich, staged early in 1781, and this was followed by a visit to Vienna in the entourage of his patron. Apparent restrictions on his freedom to perform as he wished in Vienna led Mozart to quarrel with the Archbishop, a dispute that ended in his dismissal. For the remaining ten years of his life he remained in Vienna, encumbered by a wife and intermittently increasing family, but without the security of a patron or the support of regular paternal advice. Initial success in the theatre and as a keyboard-player, particularly in a magnificent series of piano concertos he wrote for his own use, was followed by a period of depression, when he found it increasingly difficult to meet the expenses of a style of life to which he had been accustomed. In spite of his father's admonitions from Salzburg, he no longer practised the violin, although he played the viola in informal performances of chamber music in which he was joined by Haydn, Dittersdorf and the composer Vanhal. By 1791 his fortunes seemed to have taken a turn for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute. He died after a short illness in December of the same year.
If Mozart was preoccupied with the fortepiano in Vienna in the 1780s, the previous decade in Salzburg had found him giving much greater attention to the violin. He was concert-master of the court orchestra and took the opportunity on a number of occasions of appearing as a soloist, as he did in the autumn of 1777 in Augsburg and in Munich at the beginning of his journey to Mannheim and Paris. In a letter to his father from Augsburg, Leopold Mozart's native city, he criticised the standard of violin-playing in the Augsburg orchestra and relates how he has played a violin concerto there by Vanhal and his own so-called Strassburg concerto, variously identified as K. 218, or possibly K. 216.
Mozart wrote his five violin concertos for his own use in Salzburg or for the use of the Italian violinist Antonio Brunetti, a man Mozart was later to stigmatise as a disgrace to his profession, a reflection on his manners and morals. The concertos were also played in Salzburg by Johann Anton Kolb, for whom Leopold Mozart implies one of the concertos had been written. In a letter to his wife and son on 26th September 1777 Leopold Mozart describes a concert given by Kolb for the foreign merchants and including a performance of one of the violin concertos. After the concert he tells how they all got drunk and pushed one another in procession round the room, succeeding in breaking the central chandelier. Three weeks later he adds a description of a performance of Mozart's Strassburg concerto by Brunetti in the theatre, while the actors were changing their costume. From Paris in September the following year Mozart talks of the possibility of revising his violin concertos and shor1ening them to suit French taste, a task he never underlook.
The Violin Concerto No.4 in D major, K. 218, whether identical with the Strassburg concerto or not - the nickname would, in any case, be derived presumably from a fortuitous resemblance of a theme in the last movement to a Strassburg dance - was completed in October 1775. It is scored for pairs of oboes and horns with strings. The first movement, a bold Allegro, is introduced by a declaration of the principal theme, later to be taken up by the soloist. There is a lyrical slow movement and a final Rondeau - Mozart uses the French spelling of the word - in which two disparate thematic elements are contrasted, the first an elegant Andante grazioso and the second a rapider Allegro, forming a movement teeming with prodigal melodic invention, including an unexpected dance in G major, a section of it allowing the violinist to provide a drone bass for the solo theme.
Mozart's stay in Mannheim in 1777 and the early months of 1778 introduced him to an orchestra that the English musician Charles Burney had described as an army of generals. It was for the remarkable wind-players of the orchestra that he wrote his first sinfonia concertante, confidently expecting a performance in Paris, when the necessary musicians were there together in 1778. In Salzburg once more in 1779 he turned his attention again to the form and completed his Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin and viola, K. 364, scoring it for the usual Salzburg orchestra, with pairs of oboes and horns, together with strings. The viola part makes use of scordatura, with the instrument tuned up a semitone, although some modern players prefer to play the work on an instrument tuned in the normal way. During the same months of 1779 he started a Sinfonia concert ante for solo violin, viola and cello, but never completed it, while in Mannheim a year before he had written the first 120 bars of the first movement of a similar composition for solo violin, solo piano and an orchestra that included flutes, trumpets and drums, in addition to the usual oboes, horns and strings.
The Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola opens solemnly, the orchestral exposition leading to the entry of the two soloists together, followed by a movement in which generally one player is to answer the other in antiphonal duet. A composed cadenza for violin and viola leads to the conclusion of the movement. After a simpler statement of the principal theme of the slow movement, the solo violin enters, echoed by the viola, the two solo instruments sometimes joining together and sometimes responding one to the other in close imitation. The work ends with a final movement in which the solo violin follows the orchestra with its own lively melody, imitated by the viola, a procedure continued in other strands of melody in music of felicitous and fertile invention.
Takako Nishizaki won Second Prize In the 1964 Leventritt International Competition (First Prize went to Itzhak Perlman), First Prize in the 1967 Juilliard Concerto Competition (with Japan's Nobuko Imai, the well-known viola-player), and several awards in lesser competitions. She was only the second student at Juilliard, after Michael Rabin, to win her school's coveted Fritz Kreisler Scholarship, established by the great violinist himself.
Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many contemporary Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Ming-xin, dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos, among them concertos by Spohr, Bériot, Cui, Respighi, Rubinstein and Joachim. For Naxos she has recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 5, Sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven and the Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bruch and Brahms concertos.
For the Marco Polo label Stephen Gunzenhauser has recorded works by Bloch, Lachner, Taneyev, Liadov, Glière and Rubinstein, and for NAXOS Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5, Beethoven's Overtures, the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, Orff's Carmina Burana and the symphonies of Borodin. He is currently engaged in recording all the symphonies and symphonic poems of Dvorak, also for NAXOS.
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