Vienna was home to some of the 18th century’s most notable musicians and composers, including Gluck, Salieri, Hasse, Gassmann, and Haydn. When visiting Vienna in July 1773, the late adolescent Mozart reveled in the newest works of his better-known contemporaries. The developing composer was particularly impressed by quartets and symphonies by Haydn, and rushed back to Salzburg to incorporate some of the new ideas into his works.
Symphony No. 28 in C Major, K. 200 (1773?)
The symphony was a recipient of Haydnesque features, including richer sonorities, more intense working-out of themes, and greater harmonic variety. In short, No. 28 appears to mark the onset of maturity and diversity in Mozart’s compositional development.
The First Movement is a playful, sunny movement beginning with two bold unison statements by the full ensemble. They are pitted against trilling strings playing short notes in a descending scale pattern. The passage reminds this listener of a bully challenging a victim who is able only to coquettishly respond. What also permeates it is a mood of frivolous chatter, laughter, and joyfulness befitting a musical performance in a “salon environment.”
Second Movement: This features a fine Mozartian example of muted strings enhanced with “dabs” of woodwind color. The mood is quiet, but its legato melody includes a short development by horns.
Third Movement: This is a vivacious minuet with a horn echoing the minuet’s opening theme.
Fourth Movement: In its vivacious mood, the music races through its paces, and includes a second theme that is comically flavored and described as a “collapse into the giddy hysterics of an opera finale.” An exciting crescendo ends the movement.
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
Born into the privileged, intellectual, upper-middle class, young Ralph Vaughan Williams revealed an aptitude for music, and by age 6 had written his first composition. A musical path led through studies at the Royal College of Music, a doctorate in music at Cambridge, compositional studies with composer Max Bruch, trombone-playing with selected orchestras, and a post as a London church music director and organist.
Vaughn Williams’ life was comfortably conventional until investigative research into English folk song, starting with the Tudor period, became his prime interest. Through two years of travel through the British Isles to discover the best and worst of folk songs, he felt that new compositional insights gained had provided a “better music education than received from conservatory studies of sonatas and fugues.”
In 1905, under the private tutelage of composer Maurice Ravel, Vaughan Williams learned how to enhance his compositional style with impressionistic variations of color and shading, which also meshed well with the mellow mysticism of English history, the brooding beauty of the rolling English countryside, and the soaring architecture throughout Great Britain.
Vaughan Williams wrote in almost all genres, including concertos for most instruments (even harmonica), masses, operas and songs, and short pieces for instrumental pleasure. Nine distinctly different symphonies made him greatest symphonic composer in England. The aging and nearly deaf 86-year-old died at his home in London and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra (1954)
First Movement: This starts with a brisk march showing the tuba’s technical ability with fast notes and scalar passages. Its middle part has been compared to an elephant’s prancing around in a grotesque manner. The movement ends with a cadenza that exploits the highest and lowest registers, concluding with a series of leaps.
Second Movement: This is a movement of lyrical beauty written to demonstrate the tuba’s vocal quality in its highest register. The music becomes agitated before reverting to its beginning, meditative mood.
Third Movement: The Finale is a dance-like, jaunty rondo with an energetic melody containing rocket-like arpeggios and nimble trills. The tuba frolics amid dancing strings in an elephantine romp. The ending is a virtuosic cadenza followed with a wild cascade of orchestral sound that ends the work with a fiery blaze of color.
PAUL HINDEMITH (1895 – 1963)
Born in Hanau, Germany, Paul Hindemith began formal musical studies on violin and viola at the age of 11, but the young child had already jotted down musical ideas by age 6. Because his parents disapproved of music as a career, the teenager left home and supported himself by playing violin in cafes, theaters, and dance halls. With persistence, the young teenager found his way to formal music studies at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfort. He studied from 1907-1917, and distinguished himself as a violinist before the study of composition captured his prime interest.
After conservatory studies and a WWI stint in the German army, Hindemith re-established himself in string quartets and orchestral groups, taught composition classes in Berlin, and composed in spare moments. He used baroque forms combined with contemporary harmonies and rhythms, while also experimenting with German Romanticism and avant-garde atonal music.
By the time the Nazis seized power in 1933, Hindemith was regarded as a respected, well-known composer, professor of composition, theorist, chamber music performer, and virtuoso violist. As an apolitical musician, Hindemith composed the opera Mathis der Maler based on the German Peasantry Revolt in 1525 which was sympathetic to the Protestant Reformation. Inspiration came from religious panels by Matthias Grünewald, a famous Renaissance painter, whose panels depicted vivid, violent rebellion. The opera was immediately banned in Germany because of similarities between German history and current Nazi discrimination against non-Aryan peoples. Hindemith restructured the music of opera into a three-movement instrumental work with the same title, and its premiere was held in Switzerland.
Hindemith’s work was denounced as “decadent, atonal noise.” To quote Propaganda minister Goebbels: “Hindemith’s music was a drastic confirmation of how deeply the Jewish intellectual infection has eaten into the body of our own people.” It did not help Hindemith’s standing with the regime to have a Jewish wife, Jewish friends, and to employ Jewish musicians. The composer’s income dropped, and the family exited Germany, eventually landing in l940’s America, where the celebrated composer was granted teaching positions, concert touring opportunities, and American citizenship. After the war, Hindemith emigrated to Switzerland, continued his composing, and produced autumnal Romantic music of the style he had previously disliked. Suffering from acute pancreatitis, Hindemith died at age 63 in Frankfort, Germany.
Symphony: Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter) 1934
Each movement of the Symphony is based on one of Grünewald’s vivid and sometimes grotesque panels for the Isenheim Altarpiece. There are eight panels in all, each using brush strokes that often rendered apocalyptic scenes of terror.
First Movement: Engelkonzert (Angelic Concert) was originally the opera’s overture. It is derived from a painted scene of Mary and the infant Jesus being serenaded by angels. Hindemith’s music often parallels the strong light of the painting, and he uses a trombone to introduce a medieval German song (“Es sungen drei Engel” or “Three Angels Singing”). The music describes the bright colors of the painting with brilliant splashes of sound, and also evokes the beating of the angels’ wings with a bird-like theme introduced by flute. The violins add chirping sounds.
Second Movement: Grablegung (Entombment) is based on a panel depicting the crucified Jesus being laid in the tomb. Harmonic fluctuation is heard when dissonant pitches are mixed with quieter, stable sonorities, perhaps suggestive of a confused reaction to the subject matter. Rhythmic pauses evolve into a profoundly peaceful ending.
The Third Movement is based on two panels. In one of them, St. Anthony is assailed by grotesque demons. The other shows St. Anthony meeting St. Paul the Hermit. Before the movement’s end, an explosive force and great churning of energy occurs. The woodwinds then introduce the 13th century chant, “Lauda Sion Salvatorem,” answered by brass through majestic alleluias.
Researched and written by Joan Olsson