Take a trip through Mozart’s startling musical life, from the precocious teenager who penned the opera Mitridate with its scintillating overture and heroic march, to the seasoned talent who wrote the popular Eine kleine Nachtmusik and the triumphant Symphony No. 38 (Prague). Mozart had a particular affection for Bohemia and its capital Prague, and the city accepted him and his homage symphony with open arms. Perhaps you will feel the same when experiencing this celebratory work.
Harry Christophers, conductor
Rachel Podger, violin
- Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik
- Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219, Turkish
- Mozart: Overture and March from Mitridate
- Mozart: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K.504, Prague
One hour before the start of each performance in Symphony Hall's Cabot-Cahners Room.
Friday, October 1
A party to kick off the season and celebrate the CD release.
After Sunday's concert, Harry Christophers and Rachel Podger will be on hand to sign CDs, including the Society's newly released Mozart Mass in C Minor.
Christina Day Martinson
Krista Buckland Reisner
(Johann Chrysostom) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756. At the age of six, Wolfgang, and often his sister Maria Anna, began performing to enthusiastic audiences in Vienna and Munich. Over the next eight years, he traveled to European capitals, astonishing professional musicians and amateurs alike with his musical abilities and knowledge.
While in Italy for 15 months, Mozart received a commission to compose the first opera for the 1770-71 season in Milan. A story of love, suspicion and honor set in ancient Rome, Mitridate, Rè di Ponto was a popular subject for operas throughout the 18th century. Mozart’s librettist, Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi, wrote an intricate love story. Mitridate, King of Pontus loves and intends to marry the Greek princess Aspasia; Mitridate’s grown sons, Sifare and Farnace, secretly love her as well. Aspasia is in love with Sifare. At first, Mitridate tries to use his power to manipulate the situation to his advantage; however, in the face of the approaching Roman army, a dying Mitridate reconciles with his sons, blesses the marriage of Aspasia and Sifare and names Sifare as king. The overture encapsulates the emotional extremes of the opera in a three-part structure. The first part, Allegro, alludes to the shifting nature of the drama with loud chords followed by a delicate violin line. The sweet melody played by flute and violin in the next section, Andante grazioso, provides contrast with the opening section. The final part, Presto, builds in tension and excitement from a single pitch in the strings. The March announces Mitridate’s arrival in the drama, defining that character’s noble and military stature despite being recently defeated in a battle.
Mozart composed this opera in about 5 months. The singers and instrumentalists openly expressed their doubts about the ability of a 14-year-old to compose such a complex work and Mozart did revise the score, perhaps in response to skepticism surrounding the commission. All doubts were erased after the first orchestral rehearsal. The first performance on December 26, 1770 was a resounding success with both the public and press and the opera ran for 22 performances.
Having been given the honorary title of Konzertmeister to the Salzburg court on October 27, 1769, Mozart was officially appointed to the post on July 9, 1772 with a salary of 150 florins (approximately $8,000 today). For his last trip to Italy, Mozart composed another opera as well as vocal and instrumental music. Because Mozart and his music were so well received on each of his three trips to Italy and all of his travels, there was mounting hope that he would be offered a court position in Italy or Vienna. This did not happen, so a discontented Mozart returned to his duties in Salzburg in 1775.
Composed in 1775, the Violin Concerto in A, K.219 was the last of five violin concertos written by Mozart. Although why Mozart wrote these works is not known, scholars have speculated that he may have been required or simply wanted to write them for the Salzburg court because he was concert master of the archbishop’s orchestra; he may have played the solo part himself. Other possible reasons include the popularity of the concerto in Salzburg at this time and Mozart’s desire to explore this genre after his recent trips to Italy where this style of concerto originated.
In the first movement, the opening tutti section contains several complementary musical phrases. The first solo section is distinguished by an Adagio (slow) opening before continuing at the Allegro (fast) tempo introduced by the tutti. The soloist dominates throughout the first movement; there is only one brief tutti passage between the first and last orchestral statements.
A longer orchestral opening and shorter subsequent tutti sections also characterize the second movement, Adagio. The effortlessness of the opening lines flowers into expressive solo passages without sacrificing the elegance of this movement.
The final movement begins with the soloist introducing a triple-meter minuet theme, which returns throughout the movement. The central section shifts to duple meter and features figurations in the solo violin over long-held tones in the orchestra. These figurations were associated with music of exotic cultures and contributed to the naming of this concerto “The Turkish.” After this musical departure, the return of the minuet theme is all the more delightful. In 1777, Mozart, with help from his father, asked to be released from his responsibilities at the Salzburg court. The archbishop responded by firing both father and son. His father’s position was soon restored, but Wolfgang, who had not been reinstated, was free to offer his talents to other courts and traveled with his mother in search of a better post. No position was offered and the trip ended tragically when his mother died while they were in Paris in 1778. Soon after Leopold instructed his son to return to Salzburg; there was a new position as court organist available in addition to his former post as concert master. Mozart accepted the new position reluctantly. After traveling to Munich in 1780 to fulfill another opera commission, Mozart left the archbishop’s court in June 1781. He remained in Vienna and on July 31, 1782, married Constanze Weber.
His first years in Vienna were filled with success. He composed one of his most popular operas, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and was in demand as a piano concerto performer and composer. His association with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte produced three of his greatest operas, one of which, The Marriage of Figaro, made him popular in the city of Prague. This led to an invitation for the composer and his family to visit that city. The trip was a success from the start; Mozart wrote that “Nothing is played, sung or whistled but Figaro! Nothing, nothing but Figaro! Certainly a great honor for me.”
Mozart composed Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504 in December 1786; it was completed in about one month. Its nickname comes from a triumphant first performance in Prague in January 1787 as well as numerous subsequent performances in that city. Interestingly, the symphony has three rather than four movements. While not uncommon, Mozart had not composed a 3-movement symphony since 1778. The dramatic opening of the slow introduction to the first movement builds anticipation for the Allegro section that follows. The second movement, Andante, takes on a pastoral feeling with its lilting rhythmic pattern and long-held notes in the bass. This natural simplicity is belied by the numerous flourishes that propel the music forward. The Finale (Presto) begins with a quickly rising idea that then unravels, eventually returning to its starting point to begin again. These two elements permeate the entire movement. Mozart uses the jaunty opening motive alone or in succession and at other times combines it with a portion of the unwinding descending motive.
During his stay in Prague, Mozart was asked to compose an opera for the beginning of the new season in the fall. After returning to Vienna, Mozart turned to Da Ponte for another libretto, Don Giovanni. He worked on this opera throughout the summer of 1787, but interrupted it to compose the serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”).
Why Mozart wrote the serenade is not known. Although the genre is often described as a kind of musical diversion, this serenade demonstrates Mozart’s clarity of writing. The first movement, Allegro, is filled with infectious rhythmic energy and memorable themes. Next, the Romanza suggests the original meaning of the serenade; that is, a love song performed beneath the beloved’s window at night. The Minuet and Trio are refined and stately dances with a touch of whimsy. By recalling the exuberance of the first movement, the final Allegro rounds out the composition. The opening theme of this movement returns in various guises, acting as an anchor for the musical excursions in between.
Mozart returned to traveling in 1789 when he accompanied Prince Karl Lichnowsky on a trip to Berlin. Although not a financially successful tour, Mozart stopped twice in Leipzig where he played the organ at the Thomaskirche, where Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) had been music director. In Vienna, Mozart met with his friend Joseph Haydn on the eve of that composer’s own journey to London. The last two years of Mozart’s life were busy with composing new works, including symphonies, two operas and a requiem. He died on December 5, 1791.
Mozart’s professional life was filled with accolades and disappointments. His musical life was one of continuing innovation. The works on today’s concert take us on a journey of these innovations and demonstrate Mozart’s skill at combining attributes of different genre within one work. Beginning with the selections from Mitridate, which introduces the young composer influenced by Italian opera, to the mastery of “The Prague” Symphony, which incorporates the dramatic shifts of opera within the context of symphonic writing, Mozart’s compositions speak to audiences of any day through their lucidity and depth of expression. These are the enduring qualities of Mozart’s music.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, Ph.D.
2010–2011 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
Eine kleine nachtmusik