Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
NBSO Music Director Dr. David MacKenzie presents informal talks about our concert programs before each concert at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center (excluding the Holiday Pops concerts).
The talks begin at 6:45pm and last for about 30 minutes.
September 2012 “The Magic of Mozart” Program Notes
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527
In early 1787, Mozart was invited to Prague to attend performances of his most recent opera, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), based on a libretto by Italian poet Lorenzo da Ponte. Although well-received at its Viennese opening in May, Nozze had seen only ten performances in Vienna. This may have been due in part to Mozart’s and da Ponte’s rivals in the Viennese art world, who paid hecklers to interrupt it. Yet audiences at its first two performances demanded so many encores that Emperor Joseph II posted notices that opera performances should not include encores of any song for more than a single voice, to “prevent the excessive duration of operas.” So when impresario Pasquale Bondini mounted a production of Nozze in Prague in December, he was not surprised that audiences ate it up. He offered Mozart a commission for another opera buffa (comic opera) to be produced in October.
Mozart teamed with da Ponte again, and they chose the story of Don Juan for this next work. The fictional womanizer had already appeared in plays by the Spanish writer Tirso de Molina (El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra, The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, 1630) and by Molière (Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre, Don Juan or the Feast with the Statue, 1665). Both Mozart and da Ponte wanted to achieve a work where words and music were married to the greatest dramatic effect, and though their setting was ostensibly another buffa, they successfully combined elements of both comedy and tragedy. Don Giovanni (Don Juan) premiered to public and critical acclaim in Prague on October 29, 1787, and later in Vienna in May of 1788.
Artists for centuries afterward have found the opera an inspiration, seeing in it the tale of man rebelling against the constraints of both God and society. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argued that it is a work “of uninterrupted perfection,” while author Gustave Flaubert called it one of the “finest things God ever made.” Composers from Beethoven to Liszt to Chopin wrote arrangements and variations on some of the opera’s themes, Offenbach and Rossini used quotations from it in their works, and Tchaikovsky, upon seeing the manuscript of the opera in Paris, said that he was “in the presence of divinity.”
The opera’s overture provides a musical foreshadowing of Don Giovanni’s fate, opening with the powerful D-minor theme that will later be heard when the statue of the Commendatore warns Giovanni to repent his misspent ways. The rest is a cheerful D-major Allegro, setting the tone for the opera’s comical opening scene. But we have been warned of the drama to come!
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491
Between 1784 and 1786, Mozart completed twelve piano concertos for a series of concerts held in Vienna. In April, 1786, Mozart premiered the eleventh in this group of concerti, his Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor. The concerto is noteworthy in many ways. It is one of only two that Mozart composed in a minor key. It is also the most symphonic, boasting the largest orchestra, and the only one featuring both clarinets and oboes. It has inspired a number of composers, especially Beethoven, who said the first movement in particular informed his own piano concerto (No. 3) in C-minor. (Brahms later wrote that Beethoven’s concerto was “much less significant and weaker” than Mozart’s by comparison!)
The stormy opening Allegro contrasts fierce tutti forces with the more sensitive pathos of the piano solo. It is followed by a tranquil rondo, the Larghetto in E-flat. Trumpets and drums are silent here, but the woodwinds play a featured role. The finale, Allegretto, presents a theme with six variations, spanning moods from cheery to graceful, from dark to majestic. And as musicologist Michael Steinberg writes, variations two through six “have differentiated repeats, so you get two for the price of one.” Mozart never notated cadenzas for this concerto, so soloists over the years have written their own, including Mozart’s pupil Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Richard Strauss, and Camille Saint-Saens.
“No, che non sei capace”
In 1778, after leaving Salzburg for Mannheim to look for sponsors, Mozart met Fridolin Weber, a violinist, singer, and copyist. Mozart became enamored of Weber’s eldest daughter, Aloysia, a talented singer. Although their romance went nowhere (he eventually married one of her younger sisters, Constanze), he penned several arias for her, including “No, che non sei capace.” Mozart wrote this aria in 1783 for insertion into the opera Il curioso indiscreto (The indiscreet snoop) by Pasquale Anfossi, for Aloysia’s debut in Vienna. It is sung by Clorinda, who has been accused of being unfaithful to her fiancé and angrily responds. The fury of her words is matched by the music, with its brilliant trills and runs, and exposed high notes.
Symphony No. 41, K. 551, Jupiter
Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 was likely named “Jupiter” by Johann Peter Salomon, an impresario who produced a number of Haydn’s London concerts. Whatever the name’s source, it stuck because it fits so well: this work is regal and majestic, and certainly fit for the gods. Mozart completed the symphony in August of 1788, but we know very little about its genesis, because Mozart was no longer writing letters detailing his actions to his father, who had passed away in 1787. Whatever his reasons for composing (and we can guess they had to do with money!), we know that Mozart completed symphonies 39 through 41 one after another in the space of that single summer.
The opening movement is festive and grand, with fanfares by trumpets and drums, followed by questioning figures in the strings. Several themes are presented but one at the end is especially notable for its singable quality—for good reason, because Mozart reused a theme from another insertion aria for an Anfossi opera, this one “Un bacio di mano” (A hand-kiss) written for Le gelosie fortunate (The fortunate jealousies). The second movement is a sarabande full of rhythmic surprises, including a minor central section churning with syncopation. The following minuet is a demonstration of how broad a category “minuet” was to Mozart: while elegant, this movement is no staid courtly dance but inventive and playful, with unexpected chromatic figures and one brief forte outburst—which we will hear again in the finale.
During a trip to Salzburg more than thirty years after Mozart’s death, publisher Vincent Novello visited Mozart’s widow and son. Novello wrote in his diary: “Mozart’s son said he considered the Finale to his father’s Sinfonia in C … to be the highest triumph of Instrumental Composition, and I agree with him.” It is a brilliant demonstration of the contrapuntal writing that Mozart had been studying for the past six years, beginning by transcribing works by J.S. Bach. Over the course of this movement, Mozart introduces five short, swift themes, playing them out in quick fugues. Then he closes by seamlessly knitting all of the various themes together in a brilliant burst of polyphony to bring the symphony to an exhilarating, dazzling conclusion.