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Mozart + Mahler


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Program Notes


FRI JAN 12, 8 pm • SAT JAN 13, 8 pm 

JAMES CONLON  conductor, JENNIFER FRAUTSCHI violinist

SCHUBERT (1797–1828)

Overture to Rosamunde, D. 644

MOZART (1756–1791)

Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 216

• Allegro
• Adagio
• Rondo: Allegro

INTERMISSION

MAHLER (1860–1911)

Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Titan

• Langsam schleppend. Im Anfang sehr gemächlich
• Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
• Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
• Stürmisch bewegt


Overture to Rosamunde, D. 644

Born: January 31, 1797, Himmelpfortgrund (now part of Vienna), Austria, | Died: November 19, 1828, Vienna

Work composed: 1820, for the opera Die Zauberharfe

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

CSO notable performances: Nine previous subscription weekends

Premiere: January 1911, Leopold Stokowski conducting

Most recent: February 1994, Ivan Fischer conducting.

Duration: approx. 10 minutes

Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, was born of the fertile imagination of Helmina von Chézy, who enjoyed a certain fame in her own day as a playwright and poet. (She also wrote the libretto to the opera Euryanthe by Carl Maria von Weber, putting considerable obstacles in the way of Weber’s musical genius.) Her four-act play Rosamunde was produced (and shown twice) at the Theater an der Wien in December 1823, with incidental music by Schubert that consisted of ten musical numbers. However, what we now know as the “Rosamunde” Overture was not heard on those nights. Actually, Schubert never wrote an overture for this show, whose plot was a hopeless muddle filled with concealed identities, villains enamored of fair maidens, and letters imbued with poison. He used, instead, the overture of his earlier opera, Alfonso und Estrella, which had never been performed. What we know today as the Rosamunde overture was originally written for Schubert’s opera Die Zauberharfe (“The Magic Harp”), which had received as many as eight performances in 1820. It seems that it was only attached to Rosamunde by editorial hands long after Schubert’s death.

KEYNOTE. The overture is in the standard form of slow introduction (in C minor), followed by a spirited fast movement in C major, with an abundant flow of ingratiating melodies, brilliantly orchestrated. Once freed of the ballast of the lifeless stage works it was supposed to introduce, this music has thrived on its own as one of Schubert’s most popular shorter works for orchestra.

—Peter Laki

Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 216

Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria | Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna

Work composed: 1775

Premiere: April 27, 1749, London—Handel conducting

Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings

CSO notable performances: Four previous subscription weekends

Premiere: November 1958, Max Rudolf conducting; Joseph Fuchs, violinist

Most Recent: December 1985, Ivan Fischer conducting; Nadja Salerno- Sonnenberg, violinist

Duration: approx. 24 min.

Mozart’s father Leopold, a composer and violinist, was the author of the most important 18th-century book on the art of violin playing. His treatise, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (“Essay on a Thorough Violin Method”), was published in 1756, the same year Wolfgang was born. Leopold was, therefore, in an excellent position to recognize and develop the talent of his son, who performed on both the violin and the harpsichord by the age of seven. Leopold continually exhorted Wolfgang to take the violin more seriously. On one occasion in 1777—Wolfgang was now 21—his father wrote to him: “You yourself do not know how well you play the violin, if you will only do yourself credit and play with energy, with your whole heart and mind, yes, just as if you were the first violinist in Europe.” (This was in response to an earlier letter by Wolfgang, in which the young man, writing from Munich, was boasting of his performing prowess: “I played as though I were the finest fiddler in Europe.”)

In the end, Wolfgang leaned more and more toward the keyboard instruments. Once he had moved to Vienna and out of his father’s sphere of influence, he stopped performing on the violin altogether (when playing string quartets in private, he would choose the viola). Had it been his desire to become the “first violinist in Europe,” he might have continued to write violin concertos in his Vienna years, and had he done so, the entire history of the genre would have been different. But since, in the last ten years of his life, his performing ambitions were concentrated on the keyboard, we have a magnificent series of piano concertos from the Vienna years but no comparable works for the violin.

Mozart’s five violin concertos, then, all date from his late teens, when he was living in his native Salzburg as concertmaster in Archbishop Colloredo’s orchestra. They were written either for himself or for his co-concertmaster Antonio Brunetti. In them, Mozart gradually moved beyond the Baroque models he had learned during his early visits to Italy, toward what would eventually become known as the “classical style.”

KEYNOTE. The opening theme of Concerto No. 3 is an interesting case of self-borrowing, as it comes from an aria Mozart had written shortly before. In his opera Il Re pastore (“The Shepherd King”), the title character Aminta was singing of aer tranquillo e dì sereni (“calm air and serene days”)—and that happy mood pervades the entire first movement of the concerto as well. In the second movement, whose emotional depth was unprecedented in the music of the young Mozart, the composer made a significant change in the orchestration, requiring a pair of flutes whereas in the outer movements he used oboes. Apparently, he counted on the same musicians playing both instruments.

In the concluding movement, Mozart played a musical game whose full meaning took scholars almost 200 years to understand. There are some abrupt changes of key and meter here that are most unusual, and one of the melodies has an unmistakable folk quality to it, so that one must suspect that Mozart had something special in mind. (He used similar interruptions and shifts in musical style in the finales of his fourth and fifth violin concertos as well, establishing a definite pattern.)

In their correspondence, Mozart and his father twice mentioned a “Strassburger” concerto by Wolfgang, but for a long time, no one knew for sure which work they were referring to. On October 6, 1777, Leopold wrote to Wolfgang from Salzburg to Munich: “Brunetti…played your Strassburger concerto most excellently. But in the two Allegros he played wrong notes occasionally and once nearly came to grief in a cadenza.” A few days later, on October 23, Mozart told his father about a concert he had given in Augsburg: “In the evening at supper I played my Strassburger concerto, which went like oil.”

It was not until the 1950s that the nickname was fully explained, when Hungarian musicologist Dénes Bartha discovered the last movement’s folk-like melody in an early 19th-century Hungarian song manuscript with the explicit identification “Strassburger.” The tune, therefore, must have been widely known under that name, and was, in all probability, immediately recognized by most listeners, to their great surprise and delight.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Titan

Born: July 7, 1860, Kalischt, Bohemia | Died: May 18, 1911, Vienna

Work composed: 1884–1888

Premiere: November 20, 1889, Budapest, Gustav Mahler conducting

Instrumentation: 4 flutes (incl. 3 piccolos), 4 oboes (incl. English horn), 4 clarinets (incl. bass clarinet, 2 E-flat clarinets), 3 bassoons (incl. contrabassoon), 7 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, bass drum, bass drum with attached cymbal, cymbals a2, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, harp, strings

CSO subscription performances: 16 previous subscription weekends

Premiere: January 1943, Eugene Goossens conducting 

Most recent: November 2014, Louis Langrée conducting

Duration: approx. 56 minutes

Despite his youth Mahler was not content with his position in Leipzig as opera assistant, even to such a distinguished older colleague as Artur Nikisch. The composer kept looking for a better position and kept trying to find interesting works he could direct in Leipzig. One opportunity arrived in 1886 when he met Baron Karl von Weber, grandson of composer Karl Maria von Weber, whose music Mahler greatly admired. Weber had in his possession the sketches of his grandfather’s unfinished comic opera Die drei Pintos. Mahler was asked if he would be interested in completing the work.

At first Mahler was hesitant. Weber had sketched music for only seven of the 17 numbers of the libretto, and much of the music he had written appeared in an indecipherable shorthand. Mahler nonetheless studied the sketches and found that he could learn to read Weber’s writing, so he agreed to the project. Mahler was reluctant to compose his own music for the opera, except where absolutely unavoidable. Thus he incorporated music from other Weber pieces. He became obsessed with the work, even to the point of neglecting his conducting duties, but the project was good for Mahler. It got him to concentrate his energies on composing, even though he was writing someone else’s music. Furthermore, the musical world’s interest in the upcoming productions of Die drei Pintos proved a great boost to his career.

Practically every day he went to the home of Baron and Mrs. Weber in order to play at the piano what he had accomplished. A friendship grew between Mahler and the baron, and something more than friendship began between the composer and Mrs. Weber. They started a torrid affair. Although she was seven years older than Mahler and had a husband and three children, she seriously considered eloping with him. The lovers feared a scandal, but they found each other irresistible.

Despite the tensions he was causing in the Webers’ household, Mahler continued the practice of bringing his current work-in-progress to them for approval. Once the opera was finished, however, it became a symphony that he played for the Webers. One night he arrived at their house at midnight, carrying the newly completed first movement. He went to the piano, and the Webers stood at his sides to help him play the eight octaves of A that open the work. The composer later recalled, “All three of us were happy and enthusiastic. I don’t think that I ever experienced such a pleasant hour with my First Symphony. Later we all went out together, filled with happiness.”

Baron von Weber ignored as long as he could what was going on between his wife and the composer, but eventually his mind snapped. One day, while on a train to Dresden, he went on a mad shooting spree. He fortunately harmed no one as he repeatedly shot his revolver into the headrests between seats.

Mahler had quarreled with the opera manager in Leipzig and was out of a job. Despite the fame Die drei Pintos had brought, he found it difficult to obtain a new position, in large part because of his scandalous affair with Marion von Weber. He also had problems trying to arrange a performance for the newly completed First Symphony, which most conductors considered too modern. The answer to both dilemmas came in 1888, when Mahler, at the age of 28, was appointed principal conductor of the Royal Budapest Opera.

After a year in the Hungarian capital, he was able to conduct the symphony. The reception was cool. The melodious first half was reasonably well received, but the mock funeral march and the turbulent finale presented the conservative audience with problems. There was some booing at the end.

The work was originally listed not as a symphony but as a symphonic poem in two parts. In this version the first part contained three movements and the second had two. Despite his calling it a tone poem, Mahler apparently had no particular program in mind. After the performance, though, he began to think that anything called a symphonic poem ought to have a story, so he added one. He later abandoned this idea, however, deciding that the work really was a symphony. The original titles of the movements were:

First Part: From the Days of Youth
I. Spring without End
II. Flora
III. Under Full Sail

Second Part: Human Comedy
IV. Funeral March in the Manner of Callot
V. From Inferno to Paradise

The “Flora,” or Blumine, movement was eventually dropped. Mahler felt it was not sufficiently symphonic. It had, in fact, been taken from some incidental music he had previously writt en for a play. For a long time that movement was thought to be lost, but it turned up in 1959 and has occasionally been performed as part of the symphony.

This symphony is not really Mahler’s fi rst. There is evidence that he composed at least four others earlier and that their manuscripts survived until the Second World War. It is unfortunate that these early works were destroyed in the war, but at least our knowledge of their existence helps to explain the experienced mastery evident in the First Symphony.

KEYNOTE. The symphony begins with one of the most extraordinary slow introductions in all of music. Quietly the strings, mostly in harmonics, intone the note A in many different octaves. This A is held, with slightly changing instrumentation, for the entire introduction—some four minutes of music. Against this veiled backdrop, various birdcalls and fanfares are heard. Finally the fast part of the movement begins, with a lovely lyrical theme (taken from one of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer). The four minutes of A have their eff ect, however. Although the movement is in D major, the fast section only touches that key briefly before going off into A major. The entire exposition is devoted to the one beautiful, peaceful theme, mostly centered on A. The development begins with a varied return of the mysterious opening. Then, once we are halfway through the movement, a fanfare-like theme is heard, finally in the long-awaited key of D major.

As the music develops and wanders through distant keys, the pervasive peacefulness is disturbed. At the end of the development, the music turns decidedly ominous, a mood that the two themes initially seem incapable of evoking. This turbulence is only temporary, however, as it is preparation for the triumphant return of the second theme. The movement ends witt ily, as the birdcalls from the introduction (which, incidentally, are included in both main themes) return with some urgency in pizzicato strings, trumpets, horns and fi nally timpani. The timpani try to hammer home this simple motive, but silence keeps gett ing in the way. Finally the full orchestra joins in to bring the movement to a merry close.

The slow movement’s original title (“Funeral March in the Manner of Callot”) refers to an etching by Jacques Callot (1592–1635) [though scholars now believe the drawing was instead by Moritz von Schwind]. As Mahler explained:

The external stimulus for this piece of music came to the composer from the parodistic picture known to all children in Austria, “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession,” from an old book of children’s fairy tales: the beasts of the forest accompany the dead woodsman’s coffin to the grave, with hares carrying a small banner, with a band of Bohemian musicians in front, and the procession escorted by music-making cats, toads, crows, etc., with stags, roe deer, foxes, and other four-legged and feathered creatures of the forest in comic postures. At this point the piece is conceived as the expression of a mood now ironically merry, now weirdly brooding.

This funeral march is parodistic. At the beginning, for example, one string bass plays (to the accompaniment of timpani) a minor-key version of the folk song “Frère Jacques.” This solo is well within the range of the cello but rather high for the bass. Thus it sounds with a certain grotesqueness that is appropriate to Callot’s etching. This tune is treated as a round, with more and more instruments joining in.

The loud opening of the last movement is notorious for its ability to startle an inattentive listener. During the premiere an elegantly dressed lady, who had been dozing during the quiet ending of the slow movement, was surprised by the outburst that begins the finale. She leaped out of her seat, scattering to the floor everything that had been on her lap.

The finale looks forward to Mahler’s later symphonies in its dramatic contrasts, spectacular orchestration and great length. Its mood is not too far from that of the Fifth Symphony, for example. The innocence of the first two movements and the parody of the funeral march are left behind for this powerful, sinister, dramatic ending.

Jonathan D. Kramer