Harry Christophers opens the season with a program featuring the sensational fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout. Mozart’s tenure in Vienna was marked by many brilliant compositions, and this program delves into some of his later works, including his dramatic and compelling Symphony No. 40 in G Minor.
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- Haydn: Overture to "Autumn" from The Seasons
- Haydn: Concertino in F for keyboard & strings
- Haydn: Overture to "Winter" from The Seasons
- Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat, K. 482
- Dittersdorf: Overture to Esther
- Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550
One hour before the start of each performance in Symphony Hall's Higginson Hall.
Celebrate the Society’s CD release of Mozart Requiem and the opening of the 197th Season.
Join Harry Christophers and Kristian Bezuidenhout after the 9/25 performance for a Q&A from the stage in Symphony Hall.
Christina Day Martinson
Amelia Peabody Chair
With a population approaching 250,000, including the suburbs that lay outside the medieval city walls, Vienna was the seat of the Habsburg Empire and the “place to be.” The presence of the imperial court drew other European aristocracy to the city, along with their retinues of servants and musicians. The government bureaucracy, which reached its apex under the reign of Joseph II (co-regent with his mother, Maria Theresa, 1765–1780, and sole ruler from 1780–1790), aided in the establishment of a rising and affluent middle class. Although there were attempts to establish public concerts, most performances were held in the homes of the nobility and playing music was a favorite activity among all class levels.
Vienna held the promise of fame and fortune for Leopold Mozart and his two children, both of whom were musically gifted. Leopold took his entire family to Vienna in September 1767, expecting his son to be the talk of the city. Reality, however, did not meet his expectations. The imperial family was limiting their audiences because one of Empress Maria Theresa’s daughters had died of smallpox. Wolfgang and his sister both became ill with the disease that same autumn. At last, in January 1768, the Mozarts were asked to appear at the imperial palace. Leopold Mozart recounted the meeting as polite and warm, but lamented the fact that it produced no income. He wrote that Joseph II “believes, no doubt, he paid us by his gracious conversations.”
Leopold and Wolfgang returned to Vienna in the summer of 1773. Hoping for an imperial appointment for his son, Leopold was again disappointed by their reception. He wrote to his wife:
“Her Majesty the Empress was, it is true, very gracious towards us, but that is all, and I shall have to tell you about it when I return.”
That same year in Vienna, composer and celebrated violin virtuoso, Carl Ditters (1739–1799), conducted two performances of his oratorio, Esther. In 1773, Ditters was also granted a title of nobility, changing his name to Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. In 1761, he worked for the imperial theater and two years later traveled to Italy with Gluck. Dittersdorf held several court positions in Austria but declined one opportunity, that of Kapellmeister at the court of Joseph II. He had a reputation throughout Europe as a composer, writing about 120 symphonies, 14 operas (five of which Haydn performed at the theater in Eszterháza) and 14 singspiel, most of which were written for Viennese theaters.
The Overture to Esther begins with a slow introduction in dotted rhythms. The next section, Vivace, features steady, driving rhythms with some imitation between the first and second violins. A dramatic mixture of chords and rests halts the overriding triple meter three times; the last of these interruptions includes extended pauses (fermata).
In his autobiography, Dittersdorf declares that Mozart’s playing
“combines art and taste” and that as a composer Mozart “is unquestionably one of the greatest original geniuses, and I have never yet met with any composer who had such an amazing wealth of ideas.” Dittersdorf also recalls spending many hours “with the amiable Joseph Haydn” discussing new music they had heard. The three composers also played music together, a common form of home entertainment. One such evening was devoted to string quartets: Haydn played first violin, Dittersdorf second violin; the composer Johann Baptist Vanhall, was the cellist and Mozart the violist.
This probably took place in the 1780s, after Mozart had moved to Vienna. His hope for a bright future reflects the same hope his father expressed some 12 years earlier. Mozart wrote to his father on April 4, 1781: “I assure you this is a magnificent place, the best place in the world for my profession. Everyone will tell you the same.” A few months later, Mozart wrote with a little more caution: “It is true that the Viennese often change their affections, but only in the theater; and my special skill is too popular not to give me the means to support myself. Vienna is the land of the keyboard! And, even if they do tire of me, it will not be for a few years.”
Unfortunately, the promise was not fulfilled this time either. Mozart did not receive the post of Imperial Kapellmeister; however, in 1787, he was appointed court Kammermusicus (court chamber composer), for which he composed dance music for court balls. In May 1791, he was named assistant to the Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with the understanding that he would be named the next Kapellmeister. Mozart died before the post became vacant.
Mozart entered the Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 482 in his personal catalog of works on December 16, 1785, and most likely premiered it as an entr’acte (intermission) at a performance of Dittersdorf’s Esther in Vienna on December 23, 1785.
The concerto in E-flat is a study in contrasts. We hear this in the opening measures of the first movement; a short, fanfare-like exclamation by the full orchestra alternates with smaller combinations of instruments (first horns and bassoons, then clarinet and violin). As the movement continues, these timbres meld and blend with the solo piano, but the returning fanfare motive never loses its exclamatory power.
In the second movement, in minor and with muted violins, Mozart segments the orchestra even more than in the previous movement. With portions featuring strings or winds, the piano becomes something of a mediator between sections of the orchestra. The central part of the movement is set off from the rest by its major key and the lack of solo passages for the keyboard. In the final movement, a rondo, contrast seems to evaporate as soloist and orchestra share the quick, dance-like tune, tossing musical ideas back and forth. Like the previous movement, there is a central section, Andante cantabile (songlike). This respite from the frolicking opening section does not last long; the dance soon continues with a sense of renewed energy.
Today one of Mozart’s most popular works, the Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, was completed and entered in his personal catalog on July 25, 1788, one of three symphonies composed that summer. Mozart had not composed a symphony since 1786, and the reason he now wrote three in quick succession is uncertain. They may have been composed for an upcoming concert series as well as an anticipated, but unfulfilled, trip to London. Mozart later revised Symphony No. 40, adding clarinets and adjusting the other parts, for concerts in April 1791.
A calm exterior paired with an underlying agitation pervades this work. Mozart explores these emotions in several ways. In the beginning of the first movement, they are placed in succession; a turbulent first theme in minor is balanced by a reassuring second theme first heard in major. In the Andante, a graceful idea rises through the strings to begin the movement. A new sense of urgency soon emerges, but Mozart does not allow this emotion to govern the entire movement.
With its heavily accented lines, the Minuet is a parody of that elegant dance for which the third movement is named. In the Trio section, Mozart reminds us what the dance is supposed to be, making the return of the Minuet all the more pronounced.
Similar to the interior movements, Mozart uses a rising idea to begin the final movement, which features a dialogue between a boisterous opening motive and the skittish, almost frenetic reply. While the interplay of major and minor within and between movements clearly adds to the sense of drama, more striking perhaps is the clarity and sparseness of melodic material, which is carefully controlled to create a four-movement symphony of incredible beauty and expressive power.
Unlike Mozart and Dittersdorf, Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) was not an instrumental virtuoso. Still, he wrote solo concertos for a variety of instruments, including the keyboard. The Concertino in F Major was composed before 1767, and in its three relatively brief movements Haydn demonstrates the appealing, unencumbered and song-like melodies that mark the new galant style of composition of the mid-18th century.
Haydn consciously evokes a similar simplicity in the Introduction to
“Autumn” from The Seasons. Completed in 1801, this oratorio depicts scenes of rural life from spring through winter. Part 3, “Autumn,” resonates with rich sonorities and warm orchestral colors as the harvest is gathered and preparations are made for feasting and celebrating. For the Overture, Haydn composed a folk-inspired melody in lilting rhythms. This theme is always heard in the violins, doubled first by the bassoon and then the flute, the lowest and highest of the winds. Woodwinds are also prominent in the Overture to “Winter” which embodies the latent energy of this season.
From private homes to the National Theater, much of daily life in Vienna centered on music. The works of Dittersdorf, Haydn, and Mozart were known in Vienna and each composer spent some part of his career there. Their paths crossed often, although they did not reside in the city at the same time. Many musicians were drawn to the promise of Vienna; the composers featured on today’s concert created works that touched the hearts of audiences in their day and for generations to come.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, PhD
2011–2012 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.