That’s All Mozart!

November 21, 22 & 23, 2014
Program Notes by Dr. Joella Utley

Overture to Idomeneo
 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

In 1780, while still in Salzburg, Mozart received a commission to compose an opera for the carnival season in Munich. The libretto by Gianbattista Varesco includes such characters as the King of Crete and his son, along with a sea monster, raging storms, Greek Gods and legends. The plot deals with fears, tragedy and broken promises and finally the dethroning of the king. Mozart represented these elements with features of human emotion, a style that proved to be a dramatic turning point in the composer’s career. Breaking away from conventional opera seria he created musical characters with feelings and passions rather than the stagnant stereotype of his predecessors.

Pleasing the Munich court required many revisions, alterations and rewritings. Therefore Mozart was away from Salzburg for a prolonged time. This was the last straw for his employer back home, Prince Archbishop Hieronymus von Colleredo, and Mozart’s move to Vienna came soon thereafter.

The themes of the overture reflect the drama portrayed in the full opera. Opening with a heroic theme, the music gives way to a sense of tragedy as the music turns from a major to a minor key. The mood swings back and forth between elements of courage and grief. The final strains return to the opening subject, and as the overture ends, a single oboe sings above the rest of the orchestra.

Piano Concerto No. 21, C Major, K. 467
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Mozart spent the last ten years of his life living in Vienna where he was able to compose and perform his music for appreciative audiences. In his early Viennese years Mozart was hailed for his brilliant piano performances and was richly rewarded for many of these concerts. He received as much as $6,000 in current terms in a single evening. Thus he was definitely inspired to compose piano concertos for his own use.

Mozart listed the Piano Concerto No. 21 in his catalogue on March 9, 1785, the day before he performed the premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna. The instrumentation includes flute, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings. This list of instruments, particularly with its trumpets and drums, indicates that the piece will be festive. An announcement of the premiere performance also listed “a Forte piano with an especially large Forte piano pedale used by him [Mozart] in improvising.” This “pedale” was a second keyboard, which lay on the floor beneath his regular piano, which he played with his feet. Mozart would have directed the orchestra from the keyboard.

This three-movement work opens with an extended orchestral section before the brilliant passagework of the solo piano enters. The lyrical Andante movement became familiar to modern ears through the sound track of the 1967 movie, Elvira Madigan. This middle movement can be thought of as a romantic operatic aria. The exuberant finale, Allegro vivace assai, is in the form of a rondo with a dancelike theme. It contains a cadenza, which Mozart did not write into the score. Rather it would have been heard as one of his brilliant improvisations.

Symphony No. 36 in C Major
 “Linz Symphony”
 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

In the summer of 1783, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his bride Constanze were nearing their one-year wedding anniversary. They finally brought themselves to leave their home in Vienna and make the trip to visit his father, Leopold Mozart, and his sister, Nannerl. As Leopold had been opposed to their marriage, Wolfgang had avoided the trip giving a variety of reasons: the weather, pupils to teach, concerts to give, Constanze’s pregnancy, etc. They made the trip to Salzburg leaving their two-month-old baby boy with a nurse. The child died during their four-month trip.

After spending three months with his family (where Constanze was received with cold politeness) the couple made their return to Vienna by way of the city of Linz. Count Johann Joseph Thun, the father-in-law of one of Mozart’s most talented pupils in Vienna, asked them to visit his palace in Linz. The Count also asked Mozart to write a new symphony for a private concert. On the journey Mozart composed a symphony in his head – a practice he often did. They arrived in Linz on October 30, 1783 and by November 3, over the space of four days, Mozart had written the four movements of the C Major Symphony, No. 36. It was performed the following day at the Ballhaus in Linz.

Mozart wrote to his father from Linz, “I can’t tell you how they overwhelmed us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, November 4, I am going to give a concert in the theatre, and since I haven’t a single symphony with me, I am up to my ears writing a new one, at break-neck speed, which must be finished by then.”

Of Mozart’s forty-one symphonies, number thirty-six, The Linz, has been described as a “watershed” in his symphonic career. In it he shows a new maturity that sets the pattern for his final four symphonies, all of which are considered among the finest written by any composer. Perhaps this new maturity came from his striving for independence from an overprotective father, which was possibly accelerated by the disappointing family visit.