MOZART BY CANDLELIGHT
JANUARY 19, 2019 | 7:30 PM
Trinity United Methodist Church, Lima
JANUARY 20, 2019 | 4 PM
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Wapakoneta
Overture to Idomeneo, rè Creta, K. 367
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Idomeneo, rè di Creta has generally been considered one of Mozart’s less developed operas, but in recent decades, it has risen to the point that it is now considered the first in a series of operatic masterworks. Idomeneo tells the story of Crete’s king just after the Trojan War. As Idomeneo sails home in triumph, he is delayed by a deadly squall. In desperation, Idomeneo vows to Neptune, god of the sea, to sacrifice the first person he meets when he reaches land if he is allowed safe passage. In a tragic twist that only opera can deliver, he lands and immediately meets his own son, Idamante. To avoid having to sacrifice his son, Idomeneo begs Neptune to forgive his debt.
Neptune finally agrees on the condition that Idomeneo relinquish his throne to Idamante and his love, the Trojan princess Ilia. The plot is somewhat lightened by the love triangle between Idamante, Ilia, and Princess Elettra, who is also in love with Idamante.
Mozart originally meant to include ballet in the opera, but with so much material to fit into the plot, there wasn’t space. Once the opera was complete he wrote another work to accompany a ballet. Although we don’t have the choreography for the ballet and therefore don’t know all the details of its plot, it’s a safe assumption that this work centered on the coronation of Prince Idamante – forming a sequel to the story told by the opera.
Tonight we present the overture to the opera. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, operas were generally preceded by a slightly longer overture characterized by a fast-slow-fast arc – quite similar in form to a full symphony or “sinfonia.” Gradually, the overture began to serve a slightly different purpose. While it originally served simply as a signifier that the main event would begin shortly, composers began to use it to foreshadow the opera’s events. Mozart was excellent at weaving the thematic and dramatic elements of his operas into his overtures.
Mozart opens the overture with a regal and elegant air consistent with the royal subject. The opening theme is in D Major, with the secondary theme set in contrasting A Minor – the first hint of the tragedy to follow.
Mozart worked on Idomeneo in the winter of 1780–81 and conducted the premiere in Munich early in 1781. The opera is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Serenade No. 6 in D major, K. 239, “Serenata Notturna”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Like the divertimento and notturno, a serenade is a musical form typically reserved for lighter music and simple amusement. Wealthy patrons often commissioned such pieces for events as part of their catering. Depending on the patron’s wishes, the musical centerpiece might be performed as guests entered the room, for dancing, or as background during a meal. Serenades were especially popular for outdoor events so many of them feature wind instruments, which project better than strings in that environment. Other than this acoustic constraint, there wasn’t really a set instrumentation or number of players required, which opened up a world of possibilities for composers.
Serenades also did not have a set number of movements. These serenades, divertimenti, and notturni could be performed as a single piece with sections or could include separate movements, some as many as ten! Despite this fluidity, the included movements tended to follow traditional forms, and the body of the work was often preceded by an introductory march during which the musicians would enter.
Mozart loved writing in this genre (as well as attending parties) and produced almost thirty divertimenti and serenades, including one of his most famous works, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525. In these works he could focus almost exclusively on thematic development. Silvia Santinelli of the Classical Music Institute explains, “The serenades show Mozart’s ingenious ability for finding and incorporating a countless variety of pastoral expressions – allusions to sounds of nature, folk-song quotations, use of drones and horn calls, musical references to the hunt, and the extensive use of dance forms.”
Mozart completed his Serenata Notturna in 1776, and while he intended it for a particular occasion, the score doesn’t indicate the details. Based on the time of year he finished it, though, it was probably commissioned for a New Year’s party or a masked ball (a popular event in winter), and the term notturna in the title leads us to believe it was to be performed in the evening.
Mozart arranged the musicians in the Serenata in a slightly unconventional (though not unheard of) way, splitting them into two small orchestras that were probably placed at opposite ends of the room in order to create a stereo effect. The first group includes a solo string quartet (with bass) and the second, strings and timpani.
The Serenata is in three movements, the first of which is a stately march featuring a timpani solo. Annotator Phillip Huscher notes that this march “is more subtly detailed and symphonic in scope than the boilerplate marches that commonly begin Mozart’s serenades.” The second movement is a minuet, which is followed by an utterly charming and lively rondo.
Mozart scholar John N. Burk comments, “For the most part, Mozart used simple means to please his casual listeners, capturing their attention with wit, attaining distinction with his sensitivity to balance and color, his lively and unfailing imagination.... He neither wrote above the heads of his audience, nor did he demean his art.”
Misere! O sogno, K. 431 and Si spande al sole in faccia from Il Re Pastore, K. 208
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Misere! O sogno is an aria for tenor and orchestra. The author and source text is unknown, but it’s possible that the aria is part of a full opera that’s never been found. It’s far more likely, however, that Misere! is one of Mozart’s standalone concert arias, composed as windows into various dramas rather than as fully developed narratives.
Mozart begins the aria with an introduction in the orchestra, broken by a single word sung out in pain. It’s nightfall, and the singer is imprisoned and alone. He cries out to be released, but when no one answers, he accepts that he will die. He then thinks only of his love and sends her his last words, imploring the wind to carry his breath to her.
Mozart composed this aria for his friend and fellow Mason, the tenor Johann Valentin Adamberger (1740–1804), who performed the work in Vienna in 1783.
This aria is intensely dramatic and stirring; it combines elements of Baroque writing with something looking ahead almost to the Romantic period. This stylistic dissonance illustrates the singer’s increasing anxiety at being powerless, trapped, and alone.
About eight years before Misere! O sogno, at the age of 19, Mozart completed Il Re Pastore (1775), a fairly small-scale piece described most often as a serenade. The libretto, by Pietro Metastasio (1698–1782), had been set to music many times, most notably by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787). Incidentally, this was the last operatic work that Mozart composed before Idomeneo.
Il Re Pastore tells the story of a young man (Aminta) who chooses love over power, his strength of character revealing him to be worthy of both the throne and the hand of his beloved. The aria, So spende al sole in faccia, is sung by Alessandro in the first act. Alessandro is the king of Macedonia and has just taken the city of Sidon. He has searched for the rightful heir, found Aminta and wishes to place him on the throne. Aminta objects to this because Alessandro also wants him to marry Tamiri. But he’s in love with Elisa, a shepherd girl.
Despite its relatively small stature, Il Re Pastore is remarkable well crafted, especially for such a young composer.
Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter,” K. 551
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Mozart spent much of his life in the spotlight, recognized as a genius and living well. However, by the late 1780s he found it increasingly difficult to secure and complete commissions and performances. At 31, Mozart was battling failing health and ever-increasing debt. At this point he tried to borrow money from friends and get advances from his publisher, but these efforts didn’t solve his predicament. Researchers have also cited the composer’s penchant for overspending as a contributing factor.
In the summer of 1788, Mozart wrote his final three symphonies – Nos. 39, 40, and 41 – all in a period of about nine weeks. This is a ridiculously short amount of time in which to complete works of this size, but he probably wrote them in such a hurry in order to perform them at a series of concerts he had scheduled in Vienna later that year. His pressing need for speed doubtless also had to do with his need for funds. All three of these works are towering contributions to the symphonic genre.
Completed in 1788, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major is the last of his symphonies. It’s also the largest and possibly the greatest, as its nickname suggests. Incidentally, it wasn’t Mozart who called the work “Jupiter;” according to his son, a musician named Johann Peter Salomon was the first to bestow the moniker, which has become inextricably linked with the music, especially its outer movements. Music writer Ethan Morrden remarks, “It is surely an Olympian work, expansive both emotionally and structurally.”
The first movement opens with a piece of a theme that is a recurrent structural element throughout. According to commentator Peter Laki, Mozart “borrowed” this theme from a bass aria he’d written earlier that year called “Un bacio di mano,” or “A Hand-kiss,” the text from which is “Voi siete un po’ tondo, mio caro Pompeo, le usanze del mondo andate a studier,” or “You are a bit naïve, my dear Pompeo, go study the ways of the world.” Laki points out that “in the development section, this theme becomes the starting point for a whole series of transformations, as if the simple melody were indeed ‘studying the ways of the world.’”
The Andante marks a departure from the sunny optimism of C Major, and Mozart illustrates this change in mood with touches of chromaticism and rich ornamentation in the strings. The third movement, a minuet, is characterized by lovely falling melodic fragment that runs throughout. Listen also for the duet in the middle of this movement between the oboe and the violin.
Finally, in the Finale, Mozart brings us back to the splendor of the opening movement. This, with its four-note theme fragment based (most likely) on the hymn “Lucis creator,” or “Creator of Light,” is the true “Jupiter” movement. As commentator Elizabeth Schwartz notes, Mozart sets the “glorious finale” in a sort of “fugue-style Baroque counterpoint, which he learned from studying the music of J. S. Bach, with balanced classical phrases.” This symphony, and this movement in particular, is a prime example of Mozart at his most controlled and mature as a composer. The way he ties the movements together, particularly by clever thematic and melodic relationships, lends the whole work a sense of cohesiveness.
The great conductor Claudio Abbado said of the “Jupiter” Symphony, “[It] is one of Mozart’s greatest creations. The finale has all these ideas superimposed, bursting out, one after the other, like fireworks. There’s a pile-up of musical lines, a proliferation of colors. The ingenuity is almost unimaginable, limitless.”
Having the final movement be the most important was somewhat unusual at the time, a position usually held by the opening movement. Laki remarks that “music has never been closer to what eighteenth century philosophers called the ‘sublime,’ a term defining an experience at once powerful, uplifting, and transcendent.”
It isn’t certain when “Jupiter” was premiered, as researchers have been unable to find documentation of premieres of any of Mozart’s last three symphonies. It’s scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.