Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
Overture to Il rè pastore

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (he never used “Amadeus” except when making a joke) was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756 and died in Vienna in 1791. He composed his opera Il rè Pastore (The Shepherd King) in 1775 to a libretto by Metastasio, and led the first performance in Salzburg the same year. The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, and strings.

A visit to Salzburg by the Archduke Maximilian Franz, youngest son of Empress Maria Theresa, prompted a commission for the nineteen year-old Mozart to celebrate his arrival. Mozart selected a libretto by the official imperial poet Metastasio, Il rè pastore (The Shepherd King) despite its having been set to music at least a dozen times before. Impressing the imperials may have had more to do with his selection than artistic matters, for he was desperate to leave Salzburg and set up shop in Vienna.

The story of the opera may be historical—the defeat of a tyrannical king by Alessandro (Alexander the Great) and his search for his rightful replacement—but the plot really revolves around the sacrifices that lovers must make to suit the needs of the state. Alessandro believes that Aminta, a shepherd, is the rightful king, but while Aminta loves Elisa, Alessandro wants him to make a political marriage to Tamiri, who is in love with another. When he discovers the turmoil his decision has caused, Alessandro relents and allows Aminta both to become King and marry Elisa.

Although scholars classify Il rè pastore as an opera, contemporary accounts described it as a serenade or cantata, so it seems likely that it was first performed without staging, sets, or costumes. In any case, the bubbly Overture gives us a comical juxtaposition of a three-note theme in piano constantly interrupted by stern three-note interjections in forte, as well as a gorgeous second theme. Mozart liked it well enough to base a symphony on it a few years later.

Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 21 in C major K. 467

Mozart composed his Piano Concerto in C-major K. 467 in February 1785 but did not enter it into his thematic catalog until the 9th of March. He performed it the next day at the Burgtheater in Vienna. The work calls for solo piano, flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.

When Leopold Mozart visited his son in Vienna in 1785 he was astonished at the near-chaos of his household: “We never get to bed at night before one o’clock,” he wrote. “Every day there are concerts, and the whole time is given up to studying, teaching, composing, etc. It is impossible to describe all the bustle and confusion.” The day of his arrival he heard Wolfgang perform his Piano Concerto in D-minor K. 466; the next day it was quartets with Haydn, and the day after that it was a concert before the emperor. The younger Mozart was at the height of his popularity and prosperity in Vienna.

Mozart composed the present work for one of the subscription concerts he gave during his father’s visit. The first movement begins—quietly at first—with a march tune that will be the pedestal upon which the artwork rests. With Mozart there’s always a bit of mystery about when and how the piano will enter; here it sounds as if the soloist has been listening all along and has just now decided to join in. The beguiling second subject is reserved for the piano alone, and as ever there is a wonderous profusion of themes to develop.

The sublime Andante is a true aria for the soloist, a moonlit piece that masks its sophistication with apparent simplicity. The Finale is a brilliant rondo that, like the rest of the work, is filled with subtleties. Its energy and exuberance must have sounded as clear and bright to Leopold as the future he might have imagined for his son.

Concerto for Horn & Orchestra No. 1 in D major, K. 386b

Mozart probably composed most of the first movement no later than 1786, and it appears that he completed this movement and sketched the second in 1791. It also appears that the second movement was completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr in 1792. The circumstances of the Concerto’s first performance are unknown. The score calls for solo horn, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, and strings.

The numbering of Mozart’s horn concertos is a jumble. Some of the concertos have missing pages, sometimes whole movements have gone astray, and in some cases we may be hearing passages or even completions written by another composer or editor entirely. The detective work and scholarship are still ongoing, so our understanding of their provenance continues to evolve.

Of the four surviving concertos—he may have begun as many as seven—the one known as No. 1 is likely the last one Mozart composed, and he left it incomplete at that. He appears to have begun the work no later than 1786, leaving the first movement unfinished. He then seems to have taken it up again in 1791, completing the first movement and sketching the second. Both are Allegros—the absence of a slow middle movement is another mystery.  Most scholars now believe that the second movement was completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803), the student who completed the Requiem, in the year after Mozart’s death.

When Mozart wrote concertos he always had a specific performer in mind. All of his horn concertos were intended for Joseph Leutgeb, a lifelong friend who played alongside Mozart’s father Leopold in the Salzburg court orchestra. Just as Mozart tailored his opera arias to suit individual singers, the horn concertos likewise exploit the talent and abilities of Leutgeb, which must have been formidable.

In Mozart’s day horns did not yet have valves—like a bugle they were limited to the widely-spaced notes of the harmonic series and incapable of playing a scale until the extreme high register was reached. Certain keys had to be avoided, and chromatic notes were only available by “stopping”—inserting the hand into the bell far enough to sharpen the pitch. This necessarily entails a drastic change in timbre, so performances on the natural horn sounded quite different than they do on modern valved instruments. The concertos are still challenging even with the added facility given by the valves—another testament to Leutgeb’s abilities. This concerto is rather less demanding than the others, perhaps in deference to Leutgeb’s advancing age. It is no less delightful because of it.

What most audiences don’t know is how Mozart peppered the score of the Rondo with taunting jabs at Leutgeb—the kind of things one can only say, in jest, to a dear friend.  First off, he labels the horn part “adagio” while indicating “allegro” for the rest of the orchestra, which may have been a spoof on Leutgeb’s tendency to drag.  Later Mozart writes “Ah, infamous pig,” “Take a breather,” “A sheep could trill like that,” and, at the final repetition of the rondo theme, “You’re going to bore me a fourth time, and thank God it’s the last!”

Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 “Haffner”

Mozart composed this music as part of a serenade in 1782. The next year he turned the work into a symphony that was first performed in Vienna soon thereafter. The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.

In July of 1782 Mozart was approaching his highest popularity in Vienna and he was a very busy man. Most evenings he was conducting performances of The Abduction from the Seraglio, his greatest success to date; by day he was busy arranging excerpts from the opera for winds, lest “someone else will get ahead of me and reap the profits;” orders for new music came in daily; meanwhile, he was preparing to wed Constanze Weber in August.

So it was that when Mozart’s father Leopold wrote him with yet another assignment it was not gladly received. But the commission was for Wolfgang’s childhood friend, Sigmund Haffner, now mayor of Salzburg, on the occasion of his elevation to the nobility. Wolfgang promised to “work as fast as possible, short of sacrificing good composition to haste.” He sent his father each movement as it was completed: an allegro, an andante, two menuets, a presto, and finally a march. Together they formed a Serenade appropriate for the occasion. (This should not be confused with the “Haffner” Serenade K. 250, which had been composed for Sigmund’s daughter’s wedding some years previously.)

A few months later, when Mozart needed a new work for a concert of his own, he asked his father for the return of the Serenade’s score. When it arrived, he was pleasantly surprised: “It has positively amazed me, for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect.” Mozart dropped the March and one of the Menuets, then added parts for flutes and clarinets. The result became the Symphony No. 35.

In the Symphony’s opening Allegro Mozart borrows a technique common to Haydn but rare for him: instead of a contrasting second theme, the first theme is reiterated with only slight changes. Meanwhile, the development ranges farther afield than expected, and Mozart instructs that it should be played “with great fire.” The second movement Andante is ever graceful and charming. A moment of fun comes when the first violins stubbornly repeat the same note while the second violins take over the melody. The Menuet is again reminiscent of Haydn, for it is rather more rustic than courtly.

The concluding Presto borrows a theme from a song sung by the comic villain Osmin in The Abduction from the Seraglio. This might be taken as a secret message to his hometown of Salzburg, or to his father specifically, for the words to this theme are: “Ha! What triumph will be mine now!” Mozart stressed that this movement “should go just as fast as possible.”

The practice of recycling previously composed material was very common in the Baroque, rather less so by Mozart’s era. When pressed for time, though, Mozart showed how he could take a piece of light music dashed off at odd hours and turn it into a symphony. That the symphony is one of his greatest, and capable of producing such “a good effect,” demonstrates that for him the distinction between “popular” and “serious” music had nothing to do with quality.

                                                                                    —Mark Rohr
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