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8.550871 - MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 1 - 5
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Symphony No.1 in E Flat Major, K.16
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of the violinist and composer, Leopold Mozart, a musician employed by the ruling Archbishop, and a man of some intellectual ability. In childhood Mozart and his elder sister Anna-Maria, known in the family as Nannerl to her brother's Wolferl, toured Europe as infant prodigies, received at court in the countries they visited and providing a general subject of curiosity and interest. The children's education and musical training was supervised by their father, who was quick to realise his son's genius and sacrificed his own career to foster it.
As Mozart grew to manhood there was evident a disparity between his natural expectations and the realities of provincial Salzburg, where an indulgent patron had been succeeded by an Archbishop very much less willing to allow members of his household to absent themselves for months or years on end. Leopold Mozart had, perforce, to be content with his lot as Vice-Kapellmeister, but in 1777 his son left Salzburg, accompanied only by his mother, to seek employment elsewhere, in Munich, Mannheim or Paris, where, in June, 1778, his mother died. Nowhere did there seem to be a position available in any way equal to what Mozart saw as his desert, and early in 1779 he returned reluctantly to Salzburg, where he was given a position once more, with equal reluctance, by the Archbishop.
The summer of 1780 brought a commission for an opera in Munich. Idomeneo, re di Creta, was staged therewith some success in January, 1781. There followed a summons from the Archbishop to attend him in Vienna and an uneasy few months in which the young composer grew increasingly resentful, irked by his subservient position and the refusal of his patron to allow him to earn money and honour by performing before the Emperor. In May there was an open quarrel, resulting in Mozart's dismissal. For the remaining ten years of his life he was to seek to earn a living in Vienna, independent of a patron, although he was later to be given a relatively unimportant position at court.
The Vienna years, during which Leopold Mozart was no longer at hand to control his son's wilder plans, brought initial success in the opera-house and in the public concerts Mozart gave. His marriage to an impecunious girl, whose earlier acquaintance he had made in Mannheim, when he had courted her sister, did nothing to assist his career, and by the end of the decade he was often depressed by the financial difficulties of the course he had chosen. He died in 1791, at a time when his fortunes seemed about to take a turn for the better. Although he had been ignored by the new Emperor, he had, nevertheless, fulfilled a coronation opera commission in Prague and was enjoying some popular success with his new German opera The Magic Flute. The unfinished work he left included a Requiem Mass, later completed by his pupil Süssmayer.
During the second half of the century the orchestral symphony, derived in part from the Italian operatic overture of earlier years, assumed increasing importance. Its most common instrumentation, calling for pairs of oboes and French horns, with a four-part string section and possible keyboard continuo, suited very well the resources most often available in the musical establishments of ruling families and the nobility. The four-movement symphony, including a Minuet and Trio generally as its third movement, opened with an Allegro in the tripartite sonata- or sonata-allegro form of a two-subject exposition, followed by a development and recapitulation. A contrasting slow movement in a related key was often in ternary form, a central section framed by a repeated opening section. The symphony might be expected to end in a form of rondo, following the key-pattern expected in sonata-form and offering contrasted episodes framed by a repetition of the principal theme.
Mozart's first attempts at the symphony were made during the fruitful and extended concert-tour undertaken between June 1763 and November 1766. Of these the first were written during the family's stay in London, followed by a further symphony written at The Hague, as the Mozarts made their way gradually home again.
In April, 1764, Leopold Mozart, his wife and his two children, Nannerl and Wolfgang Amadeus, left Paris, where the children had amazed the curious by their musical feats, for London. The Channel crossing was as uncomfortable as ever, expensive and emetic in its effects, and the enthusiasm of porters at Dover proved overwhelming. Soon, however, the family was established in lodgings in Soho, and Wolfgang and his sister had played at court to the delight of the King and Queen.
In August Leopold caught a dangerous infection, which weakened him very much. He explained in a letter to his Salzburg landlord Lorenz Hagenauer about the mysteries of an English illness called "a cold", for which the best cure was foreign travel, although the natives apparently chose rather to sweat it out. For his convalescence he moved with his family to Chelsea and it was there, in September, that Wolfgang, unable to practise in case he should disturb his father, set to work on his first symphony, his sister sitting by him and copying the parts as he wrote.
The Symphony in E flat major, K.16, scored for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings and cembalo, is remarkable as the work of a child of eight, although in some respects inevitably derivative. In particular the influence of Johann Christian Bach, youngest son of the Leipzig Thomaskantor, is clear, and supported by the known facts of the association of the two composers during the London visit. In three movements, the symphony opens with a sonata-form Allegro, its first motif contrasted with an elegant series of suspensions, and the second subject allowing the violas a little more to do than was often the case. There is a slow movement full of the appropriate feeling and a suitably cheerful final Presto.
The Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, K.17, is now attributed to Leopold Mozart. It offers a bright first subject in its brief exposition, followed by a short development. The E flat slow movement, without wind instruments, is dominated by the first violin melody, as is the Menuetto, followed by a cheerful Presto.
The third symphony in the old Breitkopf und Härtel numbering, now discarded, is the Symphony in E fiat major, K.18, copied out by Mozart. The symphony, which is of particular interest in its use of a pair of clarinets instead of oboes, is by Christian Friedrich Abel, son of the viola da gamba player Christian Ferdinand Abel, a colleague of Johann Sebastian Bach at Cöthen, and now settled in London as an associate of Bach's youngest son Johann Christian in the Bach-Abel Concerts at Almack's Great Room in King Street, St. James's. The symphony, in transparent sonata-form in its first movement, with an Andante largely entrusted to the strings and a final rapid Mannheim Presto, obviously impressed the young Mozart, who was in other respects much indebted to Johann Christian Bach.
Symphony No.4 in D major, K.19, was also written in London during the Mozarts' stay in the city. Scored again for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings, this D major symphony is clear in its texture, its broadly sonata-form first movement followed by a G major Andante and final Presto. Another symphony from this period has more recently come to light, in time to be included in the first volume of the Neue Mozart Ausgabe editions of the symphonies, from which K.17 and K.18 are rightly omitted.
Mozart's Symphony No.5 in B flat major, K.22, bears the date of December 1765 and was written during the period the Mozart family spent in the Netherlands. A mistaken remark on the manuscript suggests that the symphony was written for the installation of Willem V of Orange as Stattholder, but this seems unlikely, since the installation took place on 8th March of the following year, when the young Mozart wrote two sets of appropriate keyboard variations. The B flat Symphony follows the prescribed formula, and remains a pleasing example of the style of the time, while lacking the qualities that Mozart was later able to instil in his symphonies.
Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
Concerts take the orchestra throughout the North of England and it has received four major European bursaries for its achievements in the community. With a series of recordings of Haydn and Mozart symphonies for Naxos the orchestra makes its debut on disc.
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