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8.550185 - MOZART: Overtures

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

The life of Mozart and more particularly his early death have given rise to romantic speculation of various kinds. The film based on the play Amadeus, intended by its author as a fictional study of jealousy and human paradox, has given further currency to gossip about the composer's death, with writers suggesting various candidates for the position of murderer, ranging from his wife's lover to the jealous husband of a favourite pupil, free-masons seeking revenge for the betrayal of their secrets, or, as in the work of the Russian poet Pushkin, turned into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, the Court Composer Salieri.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician, Leopold Mozart, who in the year of his son's birth had published an important book on violin-playing and was winning a reputation for this and for his work as a composer. Leopold Mozart realised very soon the exceptional talent of his son, and resolved to do his best to foster it, sacrificing at the same time his own career. He was to become Vice Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, retaining that position until his death in 1787.

In childhood Mozart and his elder sister Nannerl, the only two surviving children of the family, travelled widely throughout Europe, performing before kings and queens, the nobility and the curious. This period of early success was followed by disappointment as the boy grew older. Salzburg seemed to offer very little opportunity, and the death of the old Archbishop in 1772 had led to the appointment of a reformist successor who proved very much less indulgent to members of his household. It seemed that Mozart deserved better than provincial Salzburg could offer, and in 1777 he left home to seek a position elsewhere, visiting Munich, Mannheim and Paris without the kind of success that he wanted, compelled finally to return reluctantly home again.

It was not until 1781 that Mozart eventually broke with his patron, the Archbishop, during the course of a visit to Vienna. The last ten years of his life were spent in the imperial capital, without significant patronage and, more important, without the immediate guidance of his father, who remained in Salzburg. Independent at last, Mozart married imprudently, won some early success in the opera-house and in concerts of his works, but was never one to cut his coat according to the cloth. His income from composition, performance and teaching was variable and as the decade came to an end proved quite inadequate for the maintenance of what he regarded as a suitable style of living.

At the time of his death Mozart was enjoying some popular success with his German opera, The Magic Flute and it seemed that his fortunes had begun to take a turn for the better, in spite of the neglect he suffered from the new Emperor. He died on 5th December, 1791, after a short illness, leaving unfinished the commissioned Requiem Mass which he had superstitiously suggested might celebrate his own death.

Salzburg had no permanent opera-house. Nevertheless Mozart, even as a child, wrote music for theatrical performances of one sort or another, before he finally availed himself of the opportunities that Vienna offered during the last ten years of his life.

The first stage work to which Mozart contributed was a Latin school play for Salzburg University, Apollo et Hyacinthus, an Intermezzo to be performed in May, 1767, between the acts of the main play, Clementia Croesi. The original legend was adapted to the morality of the day, with the introduction of suitable female characters. The short Overture is scored for oboes, horns and strings, the standard orchestra of the time.

Mozart's next stage work was an opera buffa, La finta semplice, with a libretto adapted from Goldoni, and planned for performance in Vienna in 1768, but prevented by professional intrigue. The work was later performed in Salzburg, but the Overture is not included here, since it is in fact a symphony composed earlier in the year.

The visit to Vienna in 1768 provided the opportunity for another work for the theatre, the German Singspiel Bastien und Bastienne, derived from a parody of Rousseau's pastoral Le devin du village. This was commissioned by Anton Mesmer, proponent of popular pseudo-medical theories of animal magnetism and a friend of the Mozarts. The piece deals with misunderstandings between the pastoral lovers of the title, settled by the village magician. The brief G major Overture makes use of the usual orchestral forces.

Mitridate, rè di Ponto, was written for Milan and first performed there on Boxing Day, 1770. The libretto was adapted at second-hand from Racine's Mithridate and offered the composer his first opera seria text, a genre that was increasingly to be displaced by newer fashions of realism. The story, an improbable adaptation of history, deals with conflicting claims of love and filial piety in the family of Mithridates, whose two sons are rivals with him for the love of his betrothed Aspasia. The Overture is in the form of an Italian three-movement sinfonia, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes and horns, and strings.

Lucio Silla followed further commissions for Italy and was first performed in Milan on Boxing Day, 1772, before the Archduke and Archduchess, the former keeping audience and performers waiting for three hours while he wrote New Year greetings home to the Emperor and the Empress. The libretto treats the life of the Roman dictator Sulla with considerable freedom, providing a drama in the conventions of opera seria. The Overture is in the form of an Italian sinfonia and uses trumpets and drums in addition to the usual oboes, horns, and strings.

With a new Archbishop enthroned in Salzburg in 1773, the Mozarts found their activities circumscribed. In 1774, however, there came a commission for a new opera for Munich. La finta giardiniera, an opera buffa with a libretto by Gluck's reform librettist Calzabigi, was well enough received at its first performance on 13th January, 1773. The Overture, a sinfonia with a central slow movement, is scored for oboes, horns and strings. Mozart added a third movement for concert use.

Back in Salzburg in March Mozart provided a festa teatrale to celebrate the visit of the youngest son of the Empress, Archduke Max. Il rè pastore was adapted from Metastasio, the court poet, and had originally been performed by the children of the Imperial family. It is a decorous tale of love and pastoral identities assumed wittingly or not by princes. The C major Overture is scored for oboes, horns, trumpets and strings.

Idomeneo was commissioned for Munich and given its first performance there on 29th January 1781. The libretto deals with the story of Idomeneo, King of Crete, who promises to sacrifice the first living thing he meets on shore, on his safe return from Troy. His son is the destined victim, saved from his fate by the intervention of Neptune. The larger orchestra at Munich provided flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, drums and strings, employed in the dramatic Overture.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, a German Singspiel on a fashionable Turkish subject of rescue from the harem, marked the first dramatic success of Mozart in Vienna, where it was first performed at the Burgtheater on 16th July 1782. It blends elements of comedy with high seriousness. The Overture, in "Turkish" style, uses cymbals, triangle and bass drum, piccolo, oboes, clarinets, horns, trumpets, drums and strings, and includes a slower central section.

Der Schauspieldirektor, an occasional work, was demanded by the Emperor for performance at the palace of Schönbrunn on 7th February 1786. With seven speaking parts and three singers it parodies the difficulties faced by an impresario and formed part of a double bill with the Court Composer Salieri's Prima la musics poi le parole. The lively C major Overture is scored for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, drum sand strings.

Le nozze di Figaro was first performed on 1st May 1786. The text was by Lorenzo da Ponte, adapted from the second play of the socially subversive trilogy by Beaumarchais, in which master is outwitted by man. The Overture, written two days before the opening, is closely related in mood but not in themes to the drama and is scored for the usual orchestra. which now includes clarinets.

The dramma giocoso Don Giovanni, based by da Ponte on a Spanish drama concerning the amatory exploits and ghostly punishment of the dissolute Don Juan, was commissioned for Prague, where Figaro had won considerable success and where Mozart was always popular, to celebrate the marriage of the Emperor's niece. In the event there were delays, and Don Giovanni was given a fortnight later, on 29th October 1787. The Overture was written down overnight for the dress rehearsal on 28th October. It is scored for the same instruments as in the preceding work and opens with hints of ghostly vengeance, to be taken by the stone statue of the wronged father that Don Giovanni has murdered, followed by the rapider music of a sonata-form Allegro, the mixture of tragedy and comedy that marks the opera.

Lorenzo da Ponte's next libretto for Mozart was ordered by the Emperor and first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 26th January 1790, its success affected by the death of the Emperor in February. Cost fan tutte deals with the story of two lovers who are induced by an elderly cynic to test the faithfulness of their mistresses by returning in disguise, after pretending to be called away to the wars. The Overture, with the usual full orchestra, has a slow introduction, followed by a lively Allegro, quoting only the notes that are to accompany the words of the title towards the end of the piece.

The German opera Die Zauberflöte with a libretto by the actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder, was enjoying considerable popular success as Mozart lay dying in early December 1791. It had had its first performance at the suburban Theater aufder Wieden on 30th September. The piece combines magic with masonic ritual. The Overture, in the masonic key of E flat, makes use of three trombones in addition to the usual orchestra and opens with solemn chords and a slow introduction, followed by a cheerful contrapuntal Allegro, interrupted for a moment by the solemn three-fold chords that represent the knocking at the door of the initiate.

Le clemenza di Tito was written for Prague to a libretto adapted from Metastasio. It was commissioned for the coronation as King of Bohemia of the Emperor Leopold II, who had shown no inclination to favour Mozart in Vienna. It was performed in the imperial presence on 6th September, to be described by the Empress as "porcheria tedesca". but Prague audiences reacted more favourably, although the story of imperial clemency by the Roman Emperor Titus lacks anything of the originality of the operas immediately preceding it. The Overture, including clarinets as well as trumpets and drums, is well suited to an occasion of official celebration and without any slow introduction makes an immediate call on our attention.

Capella Istropolitana
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its I1Bme drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the historic university established in the Slovak and one-time Hungarian capital by Matthias Corvinus, the orchestra works principally in the recording studio. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Barry Wordsworth
Berry Wordsworth's career has been dominated by his work for the Royal Ballet which started when he played the solo part in Frank Martin's Harpsichord Concerto, which was the score used by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for his ballet, Las Hermanas. In 1973 he became Assistant Conductor of the Royal Ballet's Touring Orchestra and in 1974 Principal Conductor of sadlers Wells Royal Ballet. He made h is debut at Covent Garden conducting MacMillan's Manon in 1975 and since then has conducted there frequently. He has toured extensively with the Royal Ballet, conducting orchestras in New Zeeland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Canada and Australia, where he has been guest conductor for Australian Ballet.

In 1987 while retaining his connection with both Royal Ballet companies as guest conductor, Barry Wordsworth also worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Ulster Orchestra, the BBC Concert and the London Philharmonic Orchestras. He also continued to work with New sadlers Wells Opera, with whom he has recorded excerpts from Kalman's Countess Maritzaand, Lehar's The Count of Luxembourg and The Merry Widow. For the Naxos label Wordsworth recorded a number of Mozart and Haydn symphonies, works by Smetana and Dvorak and for the Marco Polo label works by Bax.

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