2016-2017 Subscription Series May 13 and 14, 2017 Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda Symphony No. 31 in D major, K. 297 (K. 300a), â€œParisâ€? (1778) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Mozart went to Paris in 1778 looking for work. Dissatisfied with the lack of opportunity in Salzburg, especially the absence of a local opera house, he thought that the music lovers of the sophisticated French capital might recognize his genius and provide him with a prestigious position that would allow him to write for the stage. He left Salzburg in September 1777 with his mother as chaperone, and proceeded through the towns of Augsburg (birthplace of his father, Leopold) and Mannheim. Mannheim was one of the great centers of instrumental music at the time, and Mozart learned much about recent advances in the art of the symphony, both in composition and in execution, during his stay. He also fell in love there with Aloysia Weber, an attractive singer whom he courted seriously but was discouraged from marrying by his father. After Wolfgang had dawdled in Mannheim longer than business dictated, Leopold ordered him on to Paris in no uncertain terms. Reluctantly, he left, and mother and son arrived in Paris on March 23, 1778. With the help of Baron Friedrich Grimm, whom Mozart had met on his first trip to Paris as a Wunderkind of seven in 1763, he was introduced to a number of the aristocracy, though his treatment at their hands was something less than he had hoped for â€” his letters home often complain of being kept waiting in drafty anterooms and of having to perform on wretched harpsichords. His greatest wish was to be asked to compose an opera, the musical genre closest to his heart throughout his life, but the Gluck-Piccini feud contesting the merits of French versus Italian opera was then in full flare, and there was little interest in a new piece by a young composer from provincial Germany, so Mozart bided his time with other work. He was commissioned by Jean Le Gros, director of the famous Concert Spirituel, to write something in the sinfonia concertante form that was then so popular with Parisian audiences, and he provided a specimen for flute, oboe, bassoon and horn. Also written for Le Gros were several substitute movements for a choral Miserere by the Mannheim composer Ignaz Holzbauer (K. 297a, lost).
In May it appeared that Mozart’s foray into Parisian culture might bear fruit. He reported to his father that he had been offered the post of organist at Versailles, a job with light duties, six months leave per year and proximity to the royal family. However, Mozart, thinking of the opera house and his much-missed Mannheim sweetheart, turned the position down. “After all, 2,000 livres is not such a big sum,” he rationalized to his angry father. Later in May, Le Gros asked him to write a symphony for the Concert Spirituel, and Mozart determined to concoct something exactly suited to the Parisian taste. (He thought little of le gout parisien. “If only this were a place where people had ears to hear, hearts to feel and some measure of understanding for music,” he grumbled to his father.) Mozart was familiar with the local styles not just from his visit to Paris but also through his knowledge of the music at the Mannheim court, which was so attuned to French fashion that Georges de Saint-Foix, in his study of Mozart’s symphonies, called it “a French colony.” The works of the Mannheim composers — Toeschi, Cannabich, the Stamitzes — were the mainstay of the Concert Spirituel’s programs. Mozart, in his new Symphony (K. 297, corrected to K. 300a in later editions of the Koechel catalog), followed the Mannheimers’ stylistic lead but transformed their idioms into musical gold with his incomparable artistic alchemy. To enumerate some important “Parisian” features of the D major Symphony: it is scored for large orchestra, including clarinets for the first time in one of Mozart’s symphonies (a total of 57 players participated in the premiere, according to the Almanach des Spectacles de Paris); it begins with the Concert Spirituel’s characteristic premier coup d’archet (the unanimous forte entrance — “first stroke of the bow” — by the entire orchestra on the downbeat); it eliminates the first movement repeats (“our taste in Germany is for length, but really it is better to be short and sweet,” the composer decided); it immediately repeats many phrases (“Parisian audiences needed repetitions of phrases on the spot as much as the audiences of a mob orator,” wrote Sir Donald Tovey); it simplifies the harmonic scheme (Lawrence Gilman: “The Symphony is remarkable for the fidelity with which it adheres to the keys of the tonic and the dominant”); and it omits the minuet movement (which, in 1778, was still an optional component of the symphonic form, at least in Paris). Though the audience’s response to the new piece when it was premiered on June 18th was so favorable that Mozart treated himself afterwards to “a large ice at the Palais Royale,” and Le Gros called it “the best symphony” in his repertory, the director thought that the slow movement (Andante, in 3/4 meter) might be “too long and
modulatory” to continue to please his patrons, so he asked Mozart to compose a new one. Mozart admitted liking this second version (Andantino, in 6/8 meter) better than the first one when it was used at a repeat performance of the Symphony in September, and it is the music usually heard today when the work is played. Mozart’s stay in Paris grew sad. His mother fell ill in June, just as the Symphony was completed, and she died the next month. He lingered, sorrowful and alone, in Paris until September 26th, when, having failed to obtain the position he sought or the opera commission he longed to fill, he left for home. Alfred Einstein said the Symphony No. 31 “hovers continually between brilliant tumult and graceful seriousness,” a quality heard immediately at the beginning with the contrast between the vigorous opening scalar tutti and the sweet, falling phrase that follows. Among the wealth of melodies (“twenty or thirty,” counted Tovey) is the structural second theme, a pert little phrase finished by a long, descending scale in gentle parallel harmonies played by the violins. As the sonata-allegro form unfolds, Mozart takes much care to balance the forceful, rising scale pattern of the first measures with the movement’s more lithe melodic material. The Andantino, Mozart’s preference of the two slow movements he wrote and the one usually heard in the Symphony, is languorous and sylvan. For the finale, Mozart sprang a surprise on his Parisian audience. “I began with the violins alone, piano for eight measures, followed at once by a sudden forte,” he recounted to his father in a letter. “The audience (as I had anticipated) cried ‘Hush!’ at the piano, but directly the forte began, they took to clapping.” The contrast and balance provided by the juxtaposition of soft and loud passages generates much of the excitement of this finale, whose other unexpected quality is the large amount of contrapuntal texture that it contains. The “Paris” Symphony is at once one of Mozart’s most festive works and a brilliant musical statement declaring that the young composer was on the threshold of his artistic maturity.
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872) Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) Much of the history of 19th-century music could be written in the terms of Beethoven’s influence. Beside exploding the emotional and expressive boundaries of earlier music, he also bequeathed the composers who followed a whole arsenal of
technical weapons with which to do battle against those devilishly recalcitrant musical notes: rich harmonies, complex textures, expanded instrumental resources, vibrant rhythmic constructions. Not the least of his compositional legacies was the process of total musical structure. His symphonies, for example, were created as great single spans of tightly integrated music rather than as four separate movements, as were the models he inherited. He accomplished this structural unity in two ways. One was by connecting movements directly together, as in the closing two movements of the Fifth Symphony and the last three of the Sixth. The other was by recalling themes from earlier movements during the unfolding of the piece. The towering example of this device is the finale of the Ninth Symphony, which brings back fragments from each of the preceding movements. This technique of formal integration, of creating an inexorable logic that drives the music from first movement to finale, became one of the touchstones of Romantic music. Most of the important Romantic composers followed the lead of Beethoven in finding such integrated structures for at least some of their large, symphonic works. Berlioz in his Symphonie Fantastique (written only three years after Beethoven’s death) adopted the so-called “cyclical” procedure of the Ninth Symphony by inserting into each of his work’s five movements an “idée fixe,” a musical phrase representing his beloved. Not only are the four movements of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony directed to be played without pause, but they also share melodic material, as do the movements of his Piano Concerto. One movement is joined directly to the next in Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony and Violin Concerto. In Bruckner’s Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, themes from earlier movements are forged into triumphant apotheoses when they are brought back in the grand closing pages of those scores. It was Franz Liszt who found the logical conclusion to this formal process of structural integration in his tone poems, splendid works which simultaneously embody characteristics of single- and multiplemovement compositions. Camille Saint-Saëns, too, a staunch defender of both Liszt and Berlioz, was another who chose this formal path toward enriching the musical experience of his art. Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto, First Violin Concerto and this A minor Cello Concerto are among his compositions which exhibit carefully integrated formal structures. The Cello Concerto is in a single movement. It begins with an impetuous theme in rushing triplets for the soloist that recurs throughout the piece like a supporting pillar. A contrasting, lyrical second theme for the cello is accompanied by a
sedate, chordal accompaniment for the string choir. The vibrant motion of the opening theme soon returns and encourages the entire ensemble to join in a developmental discussion. The lyrical theme is heard again, this time as a transition to the Concerto’s central portion, a slow movement with the sweet spirit of a delicate minuet embroidered with a simple, flowing descant from the soloist. The mood of this quiet, little dance is broken by a resumption of the rushing triplet theme acting as a link to the Concerto’s last large division. After a brief pause, the finale-like section begins with the cellist’s introduction of a gently syncopated theme. The music builds on this theme, and adds another in the cello’s sonorous, low register as it calls forth increasingly brilliant pyrotechnics from the soloist. One final time, the rushing triplet theme returns, to mark the beginning of the coda and launch the Concerto on its invigorating dash to the end.
Les Préludes (1844-1854) Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Les Préludes, the most popular of Liszt’s thirteen symphonic poems, had its beginning in 1844, when the composer met the French poet Joseph Autran in Marseilles at a banquet in Liszt’s honor. Within days, Liszt set one of Autran’s poems, Les Aquilons (“The Winds”), for mixed chorus and piano; this work was performed by a local chorus almost before the ink had dried. Liszt set three further of Autran’s poems — Les Flots (“The Oceans”), Les Astres (“The Stars”) and La Terre (“The Earth”) while on tour in Spain the following year. In 1848, Liszt, having made a study of orchestration during the intervening years, tried his new-found skill in an overture called The Four Elements to preface the quartet of vocal compositions set to Autran’s verses. Three years later (by which time the overture had been rechristened Symphonic Meditations), Autran sent Liszt his Poèmes de la Mer. Reading these verses recalled to Liszt his earlier pieces inspired by the poet and, referring to the overture and four choruses, he replied, “We will do something with it one fine day.” Between 1852 and 1854, Liszt, indeed, did something with it — he completely recomposed the overture as a symphonic poem, and presented it in 1854 under the title Les Préludes. During the revision process, Liszt discovered that a long, meditative poem by the French writer and statesman Alphonse de Lamartine evoked emotions similar to those he envisioned in his music. It was from the title of Lamartine’s poem — Les Préludes from the collection entitled Nouvelles méditations poétiques — that Liszt derived the
name for his new work. Though the words have little more in common with the music than a general sharing of contrasting sentiments (love—war), Liszt chose to preface the published score with his prose interpretation of the original poem: “What else is life but a series of preludes to that unknown hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death? Love is the enchanted dawn of all existence; but what fate is there whose first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, whose fine illusions are not dissipated by some mortal blast, consuming its altar as though by a stroke of lightning? And what cruelly wounded soul, issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavor to solace its memories in the calm serenity of rural life? Nevertheless, man does not resign himself for long to the enjoyment of that beneficent warmth which he first enjoyed in Nature’s bosom, and when the ‘trumpet sounds the alarm’ he takes up his perilous post, no matter what struggle calls him to its ranks, that he may recover in combat the full consciousness of himself and the entire possession of his powers.” Liszt was the originator of the “symphonic poem,” a one-movement orchestral composition whose music bears a relationship to a literary work, painting, historical event, legend, topographical feature or some other extra-musical stimulation. The symphonic poem, a genre later enthusiastically adopted by many other composers, is sectional in design, with frequent borrowing from such traditional forms as the sonata and rondo. Les Préludes loosely resembles a sonata form. It opens with a slow introduction which presents the work’s principal theme. Much of the music that follows grows from transformations of this germinal melody. The theme is presented in a bold, vigorous version by trombones to begin the sonata form proper, and is soon joined by a swaying, complementary melody sung by the horns. The “development” section contains sentiments first martial, then loving, and finally pastoral. The “recapitulation” is devoted mostly to the lyrical complementary theme. The brilliant coda, a grand, heroic transformation of the main theme again led by the trombones and tuba, brings Les Préludes to a stirring close.
An American in Paris (1928) George Gershwin (1898-1937) In 1928, George Gershwin was not only the toast of Broadway, but of all America, Britain and many spots in Europe, as well: he had produced a string of successful
shows (Rosalie and Funny Face were both running on Broadway that spring), composed two of the most popular concert pieces in recent memory (Rhapsody in Blue and the Piano Concerto in F), and was leading a life that would have made the most glamorous socialite jealous. The pace-setting Rhapsody in Blue of 1924 had shown a way to bridge the worlds of jazz and serious music, a direction Gershwin followed further in the exuberant yet haunting Concerto in F the following year. He was eager to move further into the concert world, and during a side trip in March 1926 to Paris from London, where he was preparing the English premiere of Lady Be Good, he hit upon an idea, a “walking theme” he called it, that seemed to capture the impression of an American visitor to the city “as he strolls about, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.” He worried that “this melody is so complete in itself, I don’t know where to go next,” but the purchase of four Parisian taxi horns on the Avenue de la Grande Armée inspired a second theme for the piece. Late in 1927, a commission for a new orchestral composition from Walter Damrosch, music director of the New York Symphony and conductor of the sensational premiere of the Concerto in F, caused Gershwin to gather up his Parisian sketches, and by January 1928, he was at work on the score: An American in Paris. From March to June, Gershwin was in Europe, renewing acquaintances in London, hobnobbing with Milhaud, Prokofiev, Poulenc, Ibert, Ravel and Boulanger in Paris (Ravel turned down Gershwin’s request for some composition lessons, telling him that anybody making as much money as he did hardly needed instruction), meeting Berg, Lehár and Kálmán in Vienna, and working on An American in Paris as time allowed. He returned to New York in late June to discover that the New York Symphony had announced the premiere for the upcoming season. The two-piano sketch was finished by August 1st, and the orchestration completed only a month before the premiere, on December 13, 1928. An American in Paris, though met with a mixed critical reception, proved a great success with the public, and it quickly became clear that Gershwin had scored yet another hit. For the premiere, Deems Taylor collaborated with the composer to produce the following insouciant description of An American in Paris: “You are to imagine an American visiting Paris, swinging down the Champs-Elysées on a mild, sunny morning in May or June. Being what he is, he starts without preliminaries and is off at full speed at once to the tune of The First Walking Theme, a straightforward diatonic air designed to convey the impression of Gallic freedom and gaiety. Our American’s ears being open, as well as his eyes, he notes with pleasure the
sounds of the city. French taxicabs seem to amuse him particularly, a fact that the orchestra points out in brief episodes introducing four real Paris taxi horns. “Having safely eluded the taxis, our American apparently passes the open door of a café where, if one is to believe the trombone, La Maxixe is still popular. Exhilarated by this reminder of the gay 1900s, he resumes his stroll through the medium of The Second Walking Theme, which is announced by the clarinet in French with a strong American accent. Both themes are now discussed at some length by the instruments, until our tourist happens to pass a church, or perhaps the Grand Palais — where the Salon holds forth. At all events, our hero does not go in. “At this point, the American’s itinerary becomes somewhat obscured. It may that he continues down the Champs-Elysées, and that when The Third Walking Theme makes its eventual appearance our American has crossed the Seine and is somewhere on the Left Bank. Certainly it is distinctly less Gallic than its predecessors, speaking American with a French intonation as befits that region of the city where so many Americans foregather. ‘Walking’ may be a misnomer for despite its vitality, the theme is slightly sedentary in character and becomes progressively more so. Indeed, the end of this section of the work is couched in terms so unmistakably, albeit, pleasantly blurred as to suggest that the American is on a terrasse of a café exploring the mysteries of Anise de Lozo. “And now the orchestra introduces an unhallowed episode. Suffice it to say that a solo violin approaches our hero (in the soprano register) and addresses him in the most charming broken English; and his response being inaudible — or at least unintelligible — repeats the remark. This one-sided conversation continues for some little time. Of course, one hastens to add, it is possible that the whole episode is simply a musical transition. This may well be true, for otherwise it is difficult to believe what ensues: our hero becomes homesick. He has the blues; and if the behavior of the solo trumpet be any criterion, he has them very thoroughly. He realizes suddenly, overwhelmingly, that he does not belong to this place, that he is that most wretched creature in all the world, a foreigner. “However, nostalgia is not a fatal disease — nor, in this instance, of over-long duration. Just in the nick of time the compassionate orchestra rushes another theme to the rescue, two trumpets performing the ceremony of introduction. It is apparent that our hero must have met a compatriot; for this last theme is a noisy, cheerful, selfconfident Charleston, without a drop of Gallic blood in its veins. For the moment, Paris
is no more; and a voluble, gusty, wise-cracking orchestra proceeds to demonstrate at some length that it’s always fair weather when two Americans get together, no matter where. Walking Theme Number Two enters soon thereafter, enthusiastically abetted by Number Three. Paris isn’t such a bad place after all: as a matter of fact, it’s a grand place! Nice weather, nothing to do until tomorrow, nice girls. The blues return but mitigated by the Second Walking Theme — a happy reminiscence rather than a homesick yearning — and the orchestra, in a riotous finale, decides to make a night of it. It will be great to get home; but meanwhile, this is Paris!”