Concert Notes: Mozart & The Classical Age

MCO’s Mozart & The Classical Age can be heard in Melbourne on Thursday 21 June at The Deakin Edge, Federation Square and Sunday 24 June at Melbourne Recital Centre

The works in the program cover the period from 1773 to 1791.

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792) was a German composer who from the age of 21 lived in Sweden, where he became known as the “Swedish Mozart”. He was born in the same year as Mozart and died one year after him in Stockholm at the age of 36.

According to Fredrik Silverstolpe, Kraus’s biographer, Haydn regarded him to be on the same level as Mozart, Gluck and Salieri and stated “That man has a great style, the like of which I have found in no one else”. He composed across many genres. While his music is marked by remarkable lyricism and harmonic innovation it is the dramatic quality of Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) that pervades his compositions.

Kraus wrote the incidental music for Olympie in 1791 for a production of Johan Henrik Kellgren’s version of the Voltaire play of the same name that focuses on the princess Olympie who is torn between a marriage of state and true love. The incidental music consists of seven movements including the dramatic D minor overture. This overture remains one of Kraus’s most enduring works.

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) was one of the most celebrated and prolific composers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He innovatively tested and developed forms and genres—particularly the symphony and the string quartet. This statement could equally be applied to his operatic and choral compositions, or his works for piano as well as other chamber forms. He commenced his career as a court composer under patronage and concluded as a highly successful individual and independent composer.

Haydn’s contribution to the concerto form is multifaceted. He composed a large number of concertos for various instruments. Possibly his most celebrated are the Violin Concerto in C (1765), Cello Concerto in C (1765), the Trumpet Concerto in E flat (1796), and the Piano Concerto in D major (1783). Each of these works marks a significant development in the repertoire of the instrument. Of his 12 concertos for keyboard, four were published in his lifetime. The D major concerto, written between 1780 and 1783 and published in 1784, bears the title Concerto per il clavicembalo o fortepiano and is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings.

The opening Vivace in sonata form is stately and refined in character. The Un poco adagio is in ternary form and provides a sense of quite repose with its long arpeggiated main theme. The finale is a lively and spirited Hungarian rondo that features an interplay of ideas between the soloist and the orchestra.

The program’s three works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) cover the period from 1773 to 1776—a time of transition and immense productivity in Mozart’s life. Many dictionary and encyclopedia entries on Mozart begin almost blandly with the simple statement that he was an “Austrian composer, keyboard‐player, violinist, violist, and conductor.” He was indeed all of these but this hardly describes anything of the remarkable composer and his exceptional music that continues to be so much a part of our musical life today. The great maestro extended and refined the form and concept of the sonata, concerto, symphony and opera.

The six String Quartets K 155–160 were composed in late 1772 and early 1773 while Mozart was working in Milan on his opera Lucio Silla. These works are often known as the Milanese Quartets. The collection was arguably conceived and composed as a set as they are all in three movements and follow the key pattern of the cycle of fifths (D, G, C, F, B flat and E flat).

The opening Allegro is mildly unassuming in character and commences with a descending melody that returns throughout the movement. The slow movement, Un poco adagio, commences with some tonal ambiguities before settling in the key of A flat major. The long melody is supported by a syncopated accompaniment and provides a sense of quiet respite before we are presented with the thematic and dynamic contrasts of the Presto finale.

Piano Concerto No 6 in B flat was composed in Salzburg in January 1776. He had recently completed the five violin concertos (K 207, 211, 216, 218, 219), followed by Concerto No 7 for three pianos in February 1776, and Piano Concerto No 8 in April 1776.

The piano concerto, scored for two oboes, two horns, strings and piano, was not published until 1793 after Mozart’s death. The opening Allegro aperto (fast and open) provides a good sense of the spirit of this movement. It is in sonata form and the exciting sense of contrast of themes and character is evident. The gentle simplicity of the Andante un poco adagio with the shifts between major and minor keys provide a beautiful sense of expression. The Rondeau: Allegro has a dance-like quality and features the horns.

In the eighteen months between April 1773 and November 1774 Mozart composed his symphonies numbers 22 to 30. The D major Symphony was composed in Salzburg in 1774. The work is organised in what became a standard form of a fast opening and concluding movements, between which are a slow movement and a minute and trio. The overriding character of this work is festive and good-spirited.

The D major Symphony’s opening Molto Allegro is in sonata form and commences with a fanfare-like dotted figure. (A similar figure returns in the final movement.) The first movement is marked by stylistic contrasts. The Andantino con moto movement is a small-scale sonata and scored only for strings, its beautiful melody being passed around the different voices. The Menuetto is characterised by a real sense of the dance and not merely a stylised interpretation. The Presto finale is in sonata-allegro form and displays contrasts of melody, rhythm and mood.

Catalogues numbers
In attending any concert an audience is confronted with a seemingly secret language of catalogues. Many composers identify their works via an opus number. The word Opus (Latin: work) is usually used to designate the published works of a composer and their order of publication – although they do not always relate to the actual date and order of composition or, in fact, all of a composer’s works.

In order to make some chronological sense of a composer’s outputs musicologists have gone about researching and ordering the works of composers chronologically and by genre. The lists assist us to place a composer’s work within a timeframe and in relation to other works written at the time. With some composers their outputs are identified by both an opus number and a newer catalogue designation.

The works of Joseph Martin Kraus were catalogued by Bertil van Boer in 1998. The catalogue is published as Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792): a Systematic-Thematic Catalogue of his Musical Works and Source Study (Stuyvesant, NY, 1998) resulting in a series of VB numbers.

Joseph Haydn’s works were catalogued by Antony van Hoboken: Joseph Haydn: Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis (Mainz, 1957–78). The works are designated as Hob.

Mozart’s works were catalogued by Ludwig van Ritter Köchel and first published in 1862 as Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis sämmtlicher Tonwerke W. A. Mozarts (Chronological-thematic Catalogue of the Complete Musical Works of W. A. Mozart). The entries in the catalogue are designated by K or KV numbers.

The Köchel catalogue tries to establish the order in which Mozart composed his works, with later works receiving higher K numbers. Where musicologists have later determined that works were written in a different order, the new K number is appended to the old, as is the case with the String Quartet and Symphony in today’s program.

David Forrest