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8.550164 - MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 40, 28 and 31
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756- 1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician, Leopold Mozart, whose important book on the study of the violin was published in the same year. Leopold Mozart was to remain for the greater part of his life in the service of the Archbishops of Salzburg, rising in 1763 to the position of deputy Kapellmeister, the summit of his career. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the second and youngest surviving child of his father's marriage, showed prodigious gifts as a child, and these abilities were carefully nurtured by his father, whose own interests were thenceforward sacrificed to his son's advancement in pursuit of what Leopold Mozart was to regard as a divinely appointed mission. In material terms his final achievement was a failure, but in musical terms a miraculous success.
Young Mozart spent his precocious childhood in a series of concert tours that took him to the cities of Austria and Germany, to Paris and to London, greeted wherever he stayed with curiosity and wonder. The boy had remarkable ability as a keyboard-player, as a violinist and as a composer, and all these gifts were displayed, in conjunction with the less remarkable talents of his elder sister, Anna Maria, known in the family as Nannerl.
It was in the 1770s, in particular, that Mozart began to feel more than usual impatience with his surroundings. In 1772 the old Archbishop, an indulgent patron, had died, to be succeeded by a more modern churchman, Hieronymus von Colloredo, son of the Imperial Chancellor and a man thoroughly in sympathy with the ecclesiastical reforms to be initiated by Joseph II. As an employer the new Archbishop was unsympathetic, while Salzburg itself had its own inevitable provincial limitations, compared with the obvious and seductive attractions of the capital, Vienna.
In 1777 Mozart left his position in Salzburg, where he had been appointed Konzertmeister, to seek his fortune elsewhere. Leopold Mozart was not given leave of absence, although he was told that he too could leave for good, if he wanted, a course he was too prudent to adopt. Mozart set out with his mother for Paris, taking in, on the way, his father's native city of Augsburg and, more fruitfully, Mannheim, where he spent some months, learning from the famous orchestra there, an army of generals, in the words of one contemporary, and enjoying the company of a young singer, Aloysia Weber, with whom he planned a wildly impracticable tour of Italy.
Paris proved a disappointment. As a child Mozart had caused a sensation: as a man he proved less of an attraction, although he endeavoured to prove as best he could that he was not just "a stupid German", to be treated with haughty disdain by the French nobility. In the summer of 1778 his mother died and in the autumn Mozart began his slow return to Salzburg, where he was given another position in the court musical establishment, a place from which he was to secure final dismissal only in 1781.
The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in initially successful but precarious independence in Vienna. Here he was able to realise more fully his greatest ambition, as a composer of opera, a skill that he had hitherto exercised only in occasional commissions outside Salzburg. He excelled as a keyboard-player and pleased his audiences, until the novelty of his playing began to wear thin, while attracting amateur and professional pupils. An imprudent marriage in 1782 increased the expenses of living, in spite of his own optimistic forecasts, and his final years were rendered uneasy through the uncertainty of his income, coupled with the expectations that he and his father had long entertained.
Mozart died after a short illness in December, 1791, at a time when his new German opera, The Magic Flute, was drawing good audiences, and when it seemed that the tide might once again be turning in his favour. In his lifetime there were always contemporaries who had a proper estimate of his worth, including the composers Haydn and Beethoven. It has been left to posterity, however, to accord him something of his due as "the miracle that God let be born in Salzburg".
In October, 1772, Mozart, accompanied by his father, had set out on the third and last of his Italian journeys, the principal object of which was the first performance of his new opera Lucio Sillain Milan. Their return in March, 1773, was followed in July by a stay of two months in Vienna, during which they were once again able to enjoy the friendship of Dr. Mesmer, the practitioner of animal magnetism, who had made himself a proficient performer on the musical glasses, and to be received by the Empress. In Italy Leopold Mozart had sought in vain a position for his son in the establishment of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and now he was to meet similar disappointment at the Imperial court. "The Empress was very gracious", he told his wife in a letter r: home to Salzburg, "but that was all".
There is some doubt about the exact dating of the symphonies that Mozart wrote at this time, several of them in a form that suggests that he expected a further invitation to Italy. The Symphony in C Major, K. 200, was completed either in November 1773 or in 1774, possibly after the better known A Major Symphony, K. 2u1. The work is scored for an orchestra that includes trumpets, as well as the usual pairs of oboes and horns, and strings.
The symphony opens with a principal theme based on a descending scale, introduced by a brief call to our attention. The second subject allows the oboes to punctuate a melody entrusted primarily to the strings, a figure from the main theme leading to a central development section and final recapitulation. Muted strings dominate the moving Andante, with its embellished first violin part, and this is followed by a Minuet, where the horn has its own short-lived moment of glory, and a Trio of simple texture, scored for strings alone. The last movement, opened by first and second violins in comic opera mood, provides a sparkling conclusion to the symphony and a hint of the kind of instrumental writing that was to come, when Mozart finally broke away from the constraints of Salzburg.
In a letter home from Paris to his father in June, 1778, Mozart expresses the belief that his new symphony, Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297, later known as the Paris Symphony, will please the few intelligent French people who will hear it and that even the asses will find something to admire. The performance a week later at the Concert Spirituel was more successful than the composer had dared to imagine from the inadequate rehearsal. After it was over, Mozart told his father in a further letter of 3rd July, he treated himself to an ice and said the rosary, as he had vowed to do. The same letter attempts to prepare Leopold Mozart for news of the death of his wife, Mozart's mother, who had in fact died that day.
The Paris Symphony was written for the larger orchestra available in Paris at the Concert Spirituel, where there were some forty string players and a wind section with clarinets, which Mozart here included for the first time in the scoring of a symphony. Some concessions were made to French taste, which favoured the grandiose and noisy, but there is above all the more significant influence of Mannheim, with its disciplined virtuoso orchestra that Mozart had heard before he set out for Paris.
The first movement of the symphony has no repetition of the exposition, the first subject serving as an introduction to the central development. Mozart was to provide an alternative slow movement for Le Gros, director of the Concert Spirituel, who had found the original Andante too long and complex. It is the first version that is generally performed today. The final allegro avoids the expected French premier coup d'archet, the unison opening on which, to Mozart's contempt, French musicians prided themselves, in favour of a subtler approach, with the violins only, soon to be joined by the rest of the orchestra. The contrapuntal possibilities of the second subject are explored and this material is used to open the central development section, to be omitted from the final recapitulation.
By 1788 Mozart was no longer a novelty in Vienna, where he had settled seven years earlier. He still had no court appointment commensurate with his needs and abilities, and money was increasingly difficult to find. In June he had moved with his wife to new quarters further out of town and he explains in a letter to his fellow freemason Michael Puchberg the obvious advantages that accrue from the move, adding, the purpose of the letter, a request for enough money to remove any further anxiety of the kind they had experienced in their city lodgings. Puchberg modified his generosity with common sense, providing Mozart with various smaller sums of money, which were never to be repaid.
It was during the space of a few weeks in the summer that Mozart wrote down his last three symphonies, of which the Symphony in G Minor, K. 550, is the penultimate. The first of the three, No. 39 in E Flat, was finished on 26th June, the G Minor Symphony on 25th July and the Jupiter Symphony, the last, two weeks later. The G Minor Symphony, originally scored without clarinets, had these instruments added in a later revision. Unlike its companions it makes no use of trumpets and drums.
Presumably the three symphonies were intended to form part of a concert series to be given in Vienna in the coming season. In fact Mozart was to give no more concerts of his own music, as he had done in his earlier years in Vienna. He played his last piano concerto, K. 595, in Vienna in March, 1791, as part of a programme arranged by the clarinettist Joseph Baehr. The G Minor Symphony probably formed part of a concert conducted by Antonio Salieri, the Court Kapellmeister, with an orchestra of 180 players in April of the same year.
The symphony opens with an intensely dramatic theme, presented by the strings, leading to a gentler second theme, shared with the wind. The central development traces the opening figure through various keys, introducing a strongly contrapuntal element. The recapitulation, reached through a descending woodwind sequence, completes the movement, with the second theme now assuming particular poignancy in the minor key. The E Flat Major Andante suggests not only by its key something of the mood of the preceding E Flat Symphony. It is followed by a Minuet with a contrasting G Major Trio. The finale remains in the minor key, contrary to the more usual practice that preferred to dispel tragedy by optimistic triumph at the end of a symphony. The second subject, in the key of B Flat Major, still retains an air of melancholy, a characteristic properly maintained when it makes its re-appearance in the final section of the movement.
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