After an early career as a child prodigy, the 22-year old Mozart traveled to Paris in 1778 seeking his musical fortune. While his job search was ultimately unsuccessful, he did compose a number of works that have come down to us, particularly his splendid 31st Symphony, the “Paris.”
This work was commissioned by the Concert Spirituel, the foremost performing organization in Paris, founded in 1725, during the reign of Louis XV. This was a great opportunity for the young composer. It gave him the chance to write a work for the largest orchestral forces he had encountered to date — a full complement of winds (including clarinets), brass, timpani and strings. Mozart was very much aware of the contemporary French taste in music and wrote his new symphony to meet the expectations of his audience.
It has just three movements (Allegro assai, Andante, Allegro); unlike German works, it did not include a minuet. Most striking, he incorporated the Parisian taste of starting a symphony with a “coup d’archet,” a rising passage played in unison by the entire orchestra. Not only did he start the symphony with it — he made it a recurring theme in the first movement! He also used this technique in the opening of the last movement.
Of note, Mozart composed two versions of the Andante middle movement. We are performing the version which is presumed to be the final one — a lyrical rondo-like movement in 6/8 time.
Composed in 1768, this tempestuous minor-key work is the first of Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” symphonies. “Sturm und Drang” (literally “storm and stress”) was a pre-Romantic movement that arose in German literature and music in the mid-18th century. Characterized by emotional and individualistic expression, it was perceived as a reaction to the cool rationality of the Enlightment.
While most of Haydn’s other symphonies (104 in all) were written in major keys, many of his works between 1768 and 1797 were written in minor keys. This work is scored for strings, oboes and 4 horns, an unusual combination later imitated by others, including Mozart (in his “little” G minor Symphony No. 25).
The first movement of this piece is agitated and episodic, with sudden stops, starts and explosive contrasts, reinforced by the winds. The second movement is an elegant Andante, played by strings only. The third movement features a melodic trio, with soloistic writing for oboes and (especially) horns. The final Allegro molto features impassioned violin leaps, played against a furious inner-string accompaniment, and brings this symphony to a frenetic conclusion.
This delightful overture is the precursor to Mozart’s last opera, and indeed one of his last compositions. It opens with three grand chords and a slow adagio evoking the high priest Sarastro and his attendants. A lively allegro, built on four repeated notes, is taken up in turn by strings, winds and brass.
The overture’s contrasting elements, by turns grandiose and playful, make a perfect introduction to the opera which also embodies them.
This is first of Mozart’s last three symphonies, all of which he composed in 1788 in the miraculous span of just six weeks. Each of the three (No. 39 in E-Flat, No. 40 in G minor, and No. 41 in C Major) is a masterwork in its own right.
The E-flat Symphony is unique for its wind orchestration (one flute; clarinets instead of the usual oboes; bassoons; horns; trumpets), which gives it a mellow timbre and tone quality. It has a sunny character, full of optimism, stateliness and joy.
It opens with a grand adagio introduction, full of sweep and nobility. The following allegro has an 8-note theme interwoven among all sections of the orchestra. This theme becomes the basis for an impassioned development interspersed with violin scales.
Much of the second movement is based on a rising 4-note motif, to which are added impassioned violin outpourings and reflective wind choir passages. The Menuetto opens with a sweeping upward figure in the violins,interspersed with a graceful violin motif; the Trio has a folk-song Ländler quality, featuring clarinets, flutes, bassoons and horns.
The violins open the allegro Finale with a fast 8-bar melody, taken up in turn by the entire orchestra. After an entertaining development (with sudden forays into keys wildly unrelated to E-Flat!), a final recapitulation brings the symphony to an optimistic and dramatic close.
One of the more frequently performed early symphonies of Mozart.
This remarkable work was composed by Haydn while he was on his second visit to London in 1792.
It was initially prompted by a rivalry: Haydn’s former pupil Ignaz Pleyel had composed and performed a “sinfonia concertante” in London in early 1792, featuring a number of solo instruments set off against the orchestra. This musical form was very much in vogue in both Paris and London at the time. In response, the impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, the sponsor of Haydn’s London concerts, asked Haydn to compose a similar work for an upcoming concert in two months.
Haydn set to work and composed this sparkling piece work in short order. It features a solo quartet (violin, ‘cello, oboe and bassoon), as well as a full symphony orchestra, in a combination of concerto and concerto grosso styles.
There are some unusual features: in the first movement the solo quartet enters in the midst of the orchestral theme, engaging the orchestral forces even before their own solo entrance.
The middle movement features chamber music among the soloists, and is almost conversational in style.
The last movement starts off as a conventional allegro, but is suddenly interrupted by a number of operatic recitatives played by the solo violin – in the London premiere by Salomon himself.
Mozart, arguably the greatest of all classical composers, wrote the ever-popular Haffner Symphony in a big hurry, like almost everything else he composed in his brief life. You’ll probably recognize the themes. It epitomizes the Classical period style—light, transparent, exhibiting controlled passion briskly. Like most Mozart, it is easy to play the notes, but difficult music to play because the transparency leaves nowhere to hide flaws.
Mozart hadn’t been living in Vienna all that long when a commission came from the Haffner family, in Salzburg, where his dad lived. It was the second commission from them. Dad Leopold wrote to his son in July, 1782, conveying a request for background music for a ceremony making the late mayor’s son, Sigmund Haffner, a nobleman. Despite being very busy at the time revising his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio—serving as his own impresario and staging it at the Vienna Burgtheater, moving to new, fancier, quarters, quarreling with his wife-to-be and reconciling, and generally living it up after his first flush of financial success on his own, Wolfgang wrote his father that he’d stay up all night until he got it done. He sent a score for an orchestral suite back to Salzburg in pieces as he finished each movement, but there is no record of whether or not it was performed. A month or two later, needing a symphony, Wolfgang asked his father for the score back,. Dad took his time sending it. By the time the score arrived in Vienna, Mozart had lived in the fast lane so much that he’d completely forgotten what he’d written and expressed delight at how good it was.
After that, he revised the score into the now-familiar symphony. The manuscript now resides at the Pierpont Morgan Library on 36th and Madison, along with a turquoise velvet and repoussé silver presentation case made for it when it was conveyed to King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1865.
The final form, in four movements, debuted March 23, 1783. The movements are Allegro con Spirito, Andante, Menuetto and Presto. The entire piece usually runs about twenty minutes. In the final movement, you may recognize some “Turkish” thematic material inspired by cross-pollination with the opera he was reworking at the same time.
Notes by Emily S. Plishner
This piece represents one of the highest achievements of Mozart’s art. It is at once a symphony and a concerto, and showcases both the violin and the viola (the latter being an instrument particularly loved and played by Mozart himself).
The orchestra sets the mood at the outset in a magnificent opening section – majestic in style, with elegant contrasting sections, and featuring one of the most dramatic crescendos in all of the musical literature. The soloists make their subtle entrance entwined with the end of the opening orchestral section. Mozart gives the soloists their own distinctive themes, with orchestral accompaniment interspersed with vigorous symphonic sections; a lengthy double cadenza leads to a rousing ending.
The lovely second movement is set in the contrasting key of C minor, which Mozart uses to convey themes of great poignance and emotion (albeit in his restrained classical style), with its own cadenza for the soloists. The third movement is a spritely rondo, with lively themes taken up by the orchestra and soloists in turn. After a final rising flourish by the soloists, the piece ends joyously
Between 1783 and 1791 Mozart wrote four horn concertos and a horn quintet. All of these works were dedicated to one person – Joseph Leutgeb. Leutgeb was an acclaimed performer and one of Mozart’s closest friends in Vienna. Indeed, their friendship was so close that it enabled Mozart to take the liberty of inscribing on the title page of the concerto: “Mozart takes pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and simpleton, at Vienna, March 27, 1783.”
Typically childish Mozartean cynicism aside, all the four concertos long ago formed an important part of the horn repertoire and even today continue to challenge even the most celebrated masters of the instrument. The first movement of the concerto is a sonata allegro based on two contrasting themes. The first theme has a march-like character and solid tonal plan – in contrast to the second “female” theme with its singing quality. A new episode (B minor) introduced in the development section deserves special attention.
The second movement is a peaceful Andante with beautiful cantilenas in the solo part. These arresting melodies must have been a perfect match to Leutgeb’s famous singing tone on the horn. The last movement is a rondo (ABACABA) in the rhythm of a cheerful dance. An important element of this movement is the frequent use of trills, which – when the concerto was written – created tremendous difficulty for the performer.