Opening Night program notes

Monday, July 26, 2021 , 6:30 PM

Smith/Sousa: The Star-Spangled Banner

Mozart: Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin, K. 216, “Strassburg”

Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D Major, “London”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin, K. 216, “Strassburg”

Composed: 1775
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings

During a concentrated period of composition in the last half of 1775 in Salzburg, Mozart wrote the last four of his five violin concertos, completing the third in September of that year. Although Mozart the performer was chiefly associated with the piano, he was also an accomplished violinist, and he probably had himself in mind as soloist when he wrote the concertos for his court orchestra in Salzburg in 1775 (he was the concertmaster at the time). The compositions must have warmed the cockles of his father’s heart, as he had always considered his son’s talents on the violin to be exceptional but underutilized. In 1772, his father wrote to him, “You don’t realize yourself how well you play the violin when you are on your mettle and perform with confidence, spirit, and fire.” Leopold continued to encourage his son’s violin playing through the years, writing to him in 1777, “When I was saying the other day that you played the violin passably, [violinist Antonio] Brunetti burst out, ‘What? Nonsense! He could play anything!’”

Brunetti had actually taken over Mozart’s position in the Salzburg orchestra when he left. Leopold reported to his son also in 1777 that Brunetti had performed his G major concerto but that “he played wrong notes occasionally and once came to grief in a cadenza.” Indeed, throwing Brunetti under the bus seemed to quickly become a family pastime, with the younger Mozart calling him “thoroughly ill-bred” and his playing “a disgrace to…the orchestra.”

The opening movement of the concerto is a burst of energy and joy, with an unusually rich array of melodies expressed in quick succession. In spirit, it shares much with the famous opening movement of his 1787 Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, a piece also in G major built around arching arpeggios (the notes of a chord played in succession). Try to count the number of distinct themes in the 38-measure orchestra opening—I conservatively count five. The exposition proper that follows the solo entrance of Mr. Gluzman revisits every one of them, but he subtly reorders their appearance, reserving the dramatic brilliance of the skipping arpeggio theme (originally in the middle of the orchestra opening) for the exposition’s end. In creative abundance, Mozart also manages to work in at least two completely new themes here, introduced by the soloist. The development is quite involved for the time in which it was written, offering an extended period of minor key angst in dramatic dialogue between soloist and orchestra before the clouds lift and the bright sun returns. Mozart did not leave cadenzas (virtuosic solo passages) for the piece, and tonight, Mr. Gluzman will play one written by modern Mozart scholar Robert Levin.

The peaceful middle movement feels like a nocturnal serenade sung by the violin soloist. The first movement oboes are swapped out for flutes, which surprisingly provide a veil of serenity in their darker register. The orchestral strings are played with mutes on, and the low strings are sparse and pizzicato (plucked) nearly throughout, only blossoming to full richness at the major cadence points. The movement itself is in A-B-A form, but nearly every beat is subdivided into six pulses: two triplets in the accompaniment providing a gentle cushion of sound under the soloist’s lyrical melody. After a brief cadenza (again by Levin), the codetta rounds out the movement with a restatement of the very first melody, which magically serves as just as inspired a close as a beginning.
The rondo Finale, marked by sparks of virtuosity in the solo part, is quite unusual. The orchestra is tasked with the initial statement of the rondo theme which alone sets it apart—nearly every other rondo from Mozart’s dozens of concertos features the soloist in the initial rondo statement. The theme ends with a little motto in the winds—the oboes have returned to replace the flutes—that may sound familiar as Mozart uses it prominently in his popular Clarinet Concerto (which is programmed here on August 5 with Jason Shafer). This motto—especially its sustained two-note tag—will insert itself throughout the movement, often to humorous effect. The first half of the rondo follows a fairly conventional structural pattern: A-B-A-C-A with the B section modulating to the dominant key, and the C section in a contrasting minor tonality. From here, we might expect a return to the B material in the tonic G major and a wrap-up with one more repetition of the rondo theme. Mozart has other ideas. A touching, slightly dreamy, but wholly unexpected interlude in G minor accompanied by pizzicato strings leads to a kind of lively rustic dance, a tune Mozart likely derived from an Alsatian folk melody. This is suddenly interrupted by the two-note motto that seems to remind the musicians that they are actually on a concert stage as opposed to a barn loft. They scramble to get back on track, but it’s as if they cannot remember where they are. In the middle of all this, the B section material returns and then mixes with the rondo theme, which the musicians forget is actually in major, not minor. A final mini-cadenza helps everyone reset and we get one last, definitive statement of the rondo theme, some virtuosic flourishes, and a final wink of the wind motto.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 104 in D Major, “London”

Composed: 1795
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

The death of Haydn’s court patron Nikolaus Esterhazy marked the rapid decline of the vibrant music scene at the court estate where Haydn had been employed for 30 years. Out of courtesy, the Esterhazys continued to provide Haydn with financial support but freed him from most of his duties. With no immediate plans, Haydn traveled to Vienna, where German violinist and conductor Johann Peter Salomon delivered a message: “I am Salomon from London, and have come to fetch you with me. We will agree on the job tomorrow.” His gambit paid off. Haydn was amused by Salomon’s directness and agreed to travel with him back to England. They arrived in Dover on New Year’s Day 1791, and Haydn spent over a year in the country, which welcomed him with open arms and standing ovations wherever he appeared. Salomon commissioned six symphonies (Nos. 93-98) from Haydn during this initial sojourn, and when Haydn returned for another period of 18 months in 1794-1795, Haydn composed six more (Nos. 99-104), his final six symphonies. Together, these 12 symphonies are referred to as the “London Symphonies,” with the very last one retaining the moniker “London,” honoring its crowning place among these magnificent works.

Undoubtedly, the enthusiastic response the sexagenarian Haydn received from the English public charged up his creative energies. His final three London Symphonies were premiered in separate concerts in February through May 1795 by the newly formed Opera Concert. This orchestra was half again as large as those premiering his prior London works, which were already larger than Haydn was accustomed to at Esterhazy. Haydn relishes the power and color possibilities of the more robust group in these works. The May premiere of Symphony No. 104 was given at a benefit concert for Haydn and was received as enthusiastically as any of his London works. After the concert, Charles Burney gushed that Haydn’s 1795 symphonies were “such as were never heard before, of any mortal’s production; of what Apollo & the Muses compose or perform we can only judge by such productions as these.” The Morning Chronicle reported that the symphony “for fullness, richness, and majesty, in all its parts, is thought by some of the best judges to surpass all of his other compositions.”

The first movement opens with a slow D minor introduction. Heavy-handed fortissimo unisons punctuate unsettled murmurs distributed through the orchestra. But in a sudden burst, the sun emerges with the jubilant D major first theme, a combination of brilliance and lightness that feels like it’s right out of Mozart’s playbook. Indeed, the structure of the theme exhibits Classical grace: 16 bars arranged into two 8-bar phrases beginning the same way but developed as a question and an answer. Listen carefully to bars 3 and 4 (repeated as bars 11 and 12) here; you will hear a motive of four repetitions of a single note, then a longer upper neighbor that falls back to the original: ta-ta-ta-ta-TEE-ta. This returns throughout the movement.

With this concert’s opening concerto, we saw how Mozart can barely contain his flow of new melodic ideas. Haydn often goes in the opposite direction, focusing on the exploration of fewer themes. Indeed, it can be argued that the D major melody is the only theme of the first movement of this symphony. When the music comes to a strong cadence in the middle of the Allegro, we expect a contrasting second theme. Instead, Haydn repeats the initial theme, now in A major. The development section is also distinctly non-Mozartian, fragmenting the theme (anticipating Beethoven’s innovations) and harping obsessively on the ta-ta-ta-ta-TEE-ta motive described above. Haydn has some fun at his own expense toward the end of the recapitulation, parodying the banality of the motive by further fragmenting it to two notes (ta-TEE) alternating compulsively.

Haydn continues to make more with less in the Andante second movement. In A-B-A form, the movement opens with an elegant G major melody featuring a recurring upper neighbor in a distinctive dotted rhythm. The winds are absent here, save for a bassoon line that doubles in the second half for some added color. When the B section begins, it at first seems that Haydn will be simply presenting the same material in the parallel minor key, now with just winds and no strings. But a surprising orchestral fortissimo ushers in a more stormy texture that retains some of the motivic elements of the A section theme but moves in a different direction. The ornamented return of A is quite unusual: toward the end of it, the musicians retreat into a chromatic reverie that leads them to a seemingly arbitrary resting point on a D-flat major chord, far from their G major home. A hesitant flute tries to find the right trail back, and once it does, the rest of the orchestra follows, rehashing the second half of A with renewed focus.

In the third movement, both the Minuet and the Trio are precisely 52 bars, and indeed Haydn seems to be considering balance—and imbalance—carefully in this movement. The refinement of the phrasing gives the Minuet proper the true galant feeling of an earlier era, but the weightier orchestra adds drama, as with the long timpani crescendo leading back to the main theme. Haydn has some fun here, having the accompaniment suddenly play in duple meter against the foreground triple, and then hitting an abrupt pause button for two measures right in the middle of the final cadence. The Trio begins with a harmonic fake-out, a D-F alternation to suggest a D minor tonal home in answer to the Minuet’s D major. Instead, it ends up in the rather remote key of B-flat major. A mid-phrase pause towards the end of the Trio mirrors the effect in the Minuet.

Technically, the Finale is a monothematic sonata-form movement like the first, but the structure plays a secondary role to the raucousness of the folk-dance theme, presented right from the start over a low pedal drone. The tune itself is one Haydn derived from a Croatian folk song. The foot-stomping merriment here is a fitting culmination to cap the triumphant success of Haydn’s 12 London symphonies.

Program notes by Jon Kochavi