Schubert's 'Great', November 12, 2016
WOLFGANG A. MOZART, 1756 - 1791
Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, KV 361, “Gran Partita” 1781 - 1784
Moviegoers may remember a scene from Miles Forman’s quasi-historical film Amadeus, where court composer Salieri recognizes Mozart’s genius while following a printed copy and listening to this Serenade. Its Adagio movement begins with a simple bass accompaniment. Then, several measures later, a solo oboe sounds a sustained ¸tone on a high B-flat, while the rest of the ensemble continues its simple accompaniment.
To quote the fictionalized Salieri, “It was music I have never heard, so filled with such unfulfillable longing. It seemed that I was hearing the voice of God. The music came right down from God through a strange, clownish juvenile and not by way of myself.”
The Serenade No. 10 was written during the popularity of Harmoniemusik (music for wind band), background music composed for court dining, highbrow audiences at salon performances and quiet socializing of strolling guests. Mozart wrote this Serenade for 13 instruments, including four clarinets and four horns. This work was uncommonly long – 50 minutes if all seven movements are performed, and each was diverse in mood, style, and tempo. The genesis of this work still causes disagreements regarding date and purpose, and even the nickname “Gran partita” is in dispute because it was added by an unknown hand to the original manuscript. It was apparently begun during Mozart’s miserable employment under Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg but appears to have been finished by the time of Mozart’s wedding in 1782.
And what a composition for wedding or other “background” entertainment! It has its melancholy, subdued moments, and joyful, tender ones as well. The work is an exploration of the differences in sound created by alternating individual solos and sections for the full ensemble. It mixes the dark colors of the low clarinets, bassoons, and horns with the brightness of the oboes.
Largo - Molto allegro is a full symphonic-styled movement. In the slow introduction, pillar-like tutti chords alternate with leisurely solos. The bustling Molto allegro that follows is a sonata-allegro form featuring one main theme rather than the customary two. Mozart creates contrast by first giving the theme in the upper clarinets in the home key and later in the lower clarinets in the dominant key.
The Adagio offers lovely exchanges between oboe and clarinet, each appearing like characters in an operatic ensemble under the perfumed glow of night air.
The graceful Menuetto has not one but two contrasting Trio sections, which, when combined with the recurring minuet, results in five dance-inspired sections.
The Tema con variazioni begins with a simple two-part form with the melody stated by the clarinet. The six variations that follow explore the possibilities of the theme and the characteristics of the instruments. The Finale is in rondo form, with links to an earlier Mozart four-hand piano sonata written at age 9. It features many passages in which oboes and clarinets play in sparkling unison, revealing a large measure of the great composer’s wit, cheerfulness, and virtuosity.
FRANZ SCHUBERT, 1797 - 1828
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944, “Great” 1825 - 1828
The early musical education of Schubert began at home with his father, an amateur cellist and parish schoolteacher. Between raising and burying children (9 of 14 died), Schubert’s father encouraged and cultivated music at home. Young Franz was taught violin by his father, and an older brother provided piano lessons. Realizing their inadequacies as teachers for an incredibly musical and “quick-start” student, the two teachers put the 11-year-old through an audition at the School of the Imperial and Royal Court Chapel. He was accepted and received free tuition, board, lodging, and vocal training. One of the examiners was Antonio Salieri, friend of Haydn, one of Beethoven’s teachers, noted member of court staff, and court peer of Mozart.
Salieri gladly took on the phenomenally gifted youngster, and provided sporadic lessons in theory and technique. Franz’ playing in family quartets, being a member of the string section of the school orchestra, and singing in the choir were positive experiences; partaking in music made up for the unpleasant consequences of poverty.
Franz’ life was his music, although he was forced by family to train for a dependable job - schoolteacher. For three miserable years, young Schubert labored as an incompetent, highly uninterested teacher. While his pupils were scribbling in their notebooks, he scribbled music at his desk, and continued it in the evenings. Upon leaving teaching and with no way to earn a living, the unemployed composer became penniless - a state of affairs which lasted for the entirety of his short life.
By age 17, the teenager had already completed an opera, a mass, two string quartets, and many small pieces for piano and voice, including an undisputed masterpiece “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” By 1820, the 23-year-old had composed more than 500 works, written with non-stop rapidity. Of theory and composition, the genius absorbed required knowledge from self-study and from participating in the Chapel orchestra.
The shy, reticent, diminutive Schubert enjoyed a lifetime of membership in a group of artistic bohemians who shared their works during evenings in local taverns and other “hang-outs” in Vienna. Loyal friends and family rescued the non-stop composer from indebtedness, often providing housing, use of a piano, pens, and music-writing paper.
Critics and publishers did not approve of his “too complicated” works, so the composer remained unknown, unpublished, and dependent on the kindness of others for survival. At age 31, he was a chronic victim of poor health, which carried along the burden of emotional despair for being an unsuccessful composer of hundreds of works. In September of 1828, a weak and ill Schubert died of typhoid – still stumbling around to work on compositions (including Symphony No. 9). Never could he have thought that his life-long work would place him high on the list of the titanic masters in music history. In Vienna, Franz Schubert was buried as he wished - as close as possible to the grave of his hero, Ludwig von Beethoven, deceased only 3 years earlier.
The “Great” C Major Symphony reveals the deep influence of Beethoven. Not only is the Schubert symphony almost as long as Beethoven’s 9th, but draws from Beethoven its compositional structure. The symphony’s nickname was originally intended to distinguish the symphony from Schubert’s earlier, shorter (“Lesser”) symphony in same key, and scholars still haven’t reached consensus on its numbering (it is numbered “No. 8” in Germany, for instance).
It was composer and music journalist Robert Schumann who discovered a ragged bunch of Schubert manuscripts that had been lying in a disordered state since the composer’s death a decade before. Schubert’s brother Ferdinand had approached publishers who claimed that the “Great” was technically “too difficult, too bombastic” and turned away from it. And so it rested for years on a dust-laden shelf. Realizing its colossal merits on a read-through, Schumann paid to have the work published and provided a copy for Felix Mendelssohn, who shared his enthusiasm and agreed to conduct its premiere in 1839. In his role as music critic for his published music journal, Schumann mentioned that the instruments would sound like beautifully expressive voices. “I wish that I could write such a symphony,” Schumann informed fiancée Clara Wieck.
The Symphony opens with the quintessential Romantic instrument, a horn, which brings forth the spacious, dignified melody of the Andante introduction. Momentum increases, finally bursting into lively tempo of the Allegro non troppo. Themes accrue into a towering structure that integrates melodies, rhythms, and tonal areas that rival Beethoven forcefulness. Early critics said, “too much, too much music,” while Schumann stated, “a heavenly length.” The material unfolds at a deliberate, leisurely pace, which probably wouldn’t be successful were it not for the sheer beauty of the melody and harmony. In an imaginative passage, soft-sounding trombones play a fragment of the introductory theme, quite an unusual role for that instrument during Schubert’s time. The trombone theme grows and grows, takes hold of the orchestra, and it all comes to a blazing climax.
The principal theme of the Second Movement (Andante con moto) takes form with a subdued, melancholy but proud march rhythm, as piped by a solo oboe, and followed by strings. The march yields to an almost chorale-like expanse of lyricism by the string section. The oboe returns throughout this movement, assertive strings and brass are set against more wistful woodwinds. A hush falls over all, leading to a passage by a horn call from a distance. “Was this some heavenly messenger hovering over the orchestra?” thought some critics.
The Third Movement (titled Scherzo in the manner that Beethoven often did) begins in a burly, robust mood by unison strings answered by winds and timpani. The middle section is devoted to a flowing Austrian Ländler-like melody followed by a graceful contrasting theme.
The Fourth Movement (Allegro vivace) finds Schubert needing 15 minutes to “wrap things up” by recalling melodic bits, rhythmic figures, and different key relationships from earlier movements. The movement begins with an outburst of demoniac energy, as full orchestra lets out a vigorous outcry. The second theme is announced by four repeated notes on horn and clarinet leading to a tune in the woodwinds and brass; strings accompany endlessly with a triplet figure (which was tiring and infuriating for the musicians at early performances). In the final stretch, the four repeated notes originally heard quietly in the second theme are hammered out full force by the entire string section and the music hurtles to a triumphant conclusion.
Researched and Written by Joan Olsson
Sinfonia in G minor - pub. 1700
Tomaso Albinoni, 1671 - 1751
Tomaso Albinoni was a Venetian Baroque composer, born in l671 to a successful paper merchant in Venice. At an early age, he became proficient in music through studies in both violin and voice, but he had the good fortune to be able to cultivate music for pleasure rather than as a livelihood. He became a prolific composer and operated a successful academy of vocal music. Unlike many composers of the era, Albinoni appears never to have sought a post at either a church or a court of nobility, which freed the composer to choose to work at what and when he wrote and performed.
He achieved early fame as an opera composer in many cities in Italy and although his output reached 89 operas, most were never published and thus lost. He did complete and publish nine collections of instrumental works, and it is as composer of instrumental music that he is known today. Musicologists have favorably compared Albinoni’s works with those of Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi. In 1751 the composer died of what was thought to be diabetes.
Much of the composer’s work was lost during the latter years of World War II with the bombing of Dresden and the State Library, but some of his instrumental works survived. The Sinfonia in G minor is cast in three contrasting movements (fast-slow-fast) and is similar to the tripartite overtures (for which the term “sinfonia” was also used) to Baroque Italian operas. The outer movements feature an interplay between the two violin sections, and the middle movement is a lilting song.
Serenade in C for String Orchestra, op. 48 - 1880
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840 – 1893
Careers in the arts are greedy consumers of time, and often the specter of financial insecurity leads a musician to other professional options. For that reason teenager Peter Tchaikovsky became a lawyer. As a compromise, he also attended St. Petersburg Conservatory as a part-time student and ended up graduating. He then dropped law completely to become a theory professor at the newly opened Moscow Conservatory. While teaching, the young, handsome composer/teacher succumbed to the pursuits of a music student but their marriage only lasted 7 months. To ease the pain of failure, the overly sensitive Tchaikovsky traveled abroad, during which time his future was to change dramatically and make him the first independent composer in the western world.
An admiring, rich patron, Nadezhda von Meck, had contacted him with an offer to provide financial support if he would devote himself entirely to composition. He then churned out his best masterpieces in all styles of music.
The Serenade in C turned out to be the composer’s favorite work, but he was also writing 1812 Overture under an independent commission. He wrote to von Meck that he disliked the second work. “It is noisy, showy music without artistic merit, warmth, or caring.” In contrast, his beloved Serenade was written “from the heart” with its composer most eager to have it performed in whole.
The lively Piece in Form of a Sonatina begins with a chorale-like introduction before veering off with a simple four-note theme that develops into vigorous scale passages; these passages demonstrate the various tones and colors available within the string section. Brilliant passages complement the lilting movement of the short theme that is followed by a more playful second theme. A reprise of the introductory, chorale-like introduction follows, but provides more energy and animation. The Waltz is the composer’s 19th century answer to the minuets of Mozart’s serenades, as heard in his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The string sections take turns carrying the dancing melody to rhythmic lines from the other string sections. The movement ends in a gentle softness that leads to a subdued Elegy. Like previous movements, it is built on a scale passage whose notes rise with energy and force. The lower strings carry a good portion of the reflective, somber, songlike melody. Luscious swings of emotions are provided by a passionate, heart-breaking melody. The passion ends in a whimper, as the work softly heads into the Finale. Its first theme is a slow folk song depicting Russian boatmen hauling goods on the Volga River. This is followed by a second Russian folk tune - an animated Russian dance scored with pulsing, balalaika-like pizzicatos. The movement returns to the stately chorale-like introduction prefacing the first movement.
Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas
(Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) - 1965
Astor Piazzolla, 1921 – 1992
The Argentine composer and bandoneon (a small accordion) prodigy Astor Piazzolla ranks among his country’s most celebrated composers, standing high in the realm of 20th century tango and Argentine music. His early classical training in composition was under Argentinean composer and teacher Alberto Ginastera. After six years he was encouraged to participate in a grant to study in Paris with eminent pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. It was 1954 and he had grown weary of his fame as a tango composer, and he longed to have a career of composing “serious” classical music. Boulanger coaxed Piazzolla to pull out his bandoneon and play his compositions. She discovered that his most recent works resembled bits and pieces of Stravinsky, Ravel, Bartok, and Hindemith “but no Piazzolla. Do not give him up!” These words from the renowned pedagogue convinced the composer to recreate his tango style. He then experimented with 20th century styles of jazz, fugal technique, and percussive rhythms and sounds and ended up with a new Argentinian tango form that revealed exciting, hypnotic rhythms. Tango had been regarded as “disreputable folk music” in the field of serious music, but now in its place was the “Nuevo Tango” style.
Between 1965-1972 Piazzolla composed four Nuevo Tango-inspired compositions and had them published as Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas. Since “porteño” means “of or related to a port city,” and in Argentina the main port city is Buenos Aires, the English rendition of the title is usually The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. He scored the four works for a quintet of violin (or viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneon. The composer also made a bow to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by structuring each movement into the Baroque tripartite form of fast-slow-fast. The composer also directly inserted sly references to Vivaldi’s 1725 work.
In the late 1990’s Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov was commissioned to rearrange the pieces into a suite for full string orchestra with solo violin, including the obvious portions of the Vivaldi work. The Piazzolla Seasons still displayed sassy, rhythmic elements of the tango mixed with Baroque era elements.
An extended melancholy cello solo dominates the first section of Autumn, using tango elements to illustrate falling leaves and dying vegetation. Winter provides the soloist the opportunity for cadenza displays using an intensely emotional tango form. Suggested are cold winds, breaking and bending of tree branches and falling sleet. With Spring, we hear an exciting re-creation of gardens and warm breezes, and with Summer come impressions of hot, tiring, sultry heat waves.
The composer’s percussive additions are especially magical and intoxicating. Between the usual tonal aspects of the strings and solo are moments of percussive sounds from the instruments - hitting strings with the wood of the bow and playing on the wrong side of the bridge (in imitation of the gourd-like instrument the “guiro”).
Four Seasons of Buenos Aires became a sensational success with this arrangement and others that use different choices of instruments. The work is an inspiring, challenging addition to 20th century violin repertoire, and Piazzolla’s deserved place in music history. He fulfilled his dream of becoming a composer of “classical chamber works” and audiences and critics heartily applaud the results.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.