Sunday / January 26, 2020 / 5 PM
Riley Auditorium in Battelle Hall
Peter Stafford Wilson, conductor
Serenade in G Major, K.525 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 (arrangement for Harmoniemusik by Johan Nepomuk Wendt)
The Impresario, K. 486 (the fully staged opera)
Serenade in G Major, K. 525 "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik"
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, perhaps the best-known and best-loved of all Mozart’s works, remains one of the most mysterious. It comes from a year–1787–when little is known about Mozart’s life, and no one is sure why Mozart suddenly wrote so gentle and charming a piece of music. The external events from that year are few: in May his father died in Salzburg, and Mozart himself was occupied for most of the remainder of the year with composing Don Giovanni; during that year he may have met and given lessons to a sixteen-year-old visiting from Bonn named Ludwig van Beethoven, but the evidence is uncertain. All that we really know is that Mozart broke off work on the second act of Don Giovanni to write this serenade; the manuscript is dated August 10. Usually this sort of serenade was intended for a social occasion, but there is no record of such an event, and Mozart had written no string serenades since his days in Salzburg. Two centuries later, the origins of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik remain mysterious.
The title Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is Mozart’s own. Nachtmusik translates literally as “night-music,” but the accepted meaning of that term was serenade, which had come to mean a melodic instrumental piece, and Mozart would have understood the title as “A Little Serenade.” He originally scored it for string quintet (quartet plus doublebass), but it can be performed with equal success by string quartet or string orchestra. In its original form, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik had five movements, but the second movement–a minuet–was torn out of the manuscript by unknown hands and has disappeared.
Music that charms so completely requires little description or comment. The opening Allegro is a miniature sonata-form movement built on the graceful and jaunty opening theme and a more fluid second idea announced by the first violins. The development section is quite brief, and Mozart quickly recapitulates his ideas and brings the movement to a close on its opening theme. Throughout, this movement sparkles and dances with an ease rare even in Mozart’s music.
Mozart marked the second movement Romanze, a general term used to indicate expressive and quiet music. In fact, this movement–marked Andante–is a stately rondo with two contrasting episodes. The third movement is the expected minuet-and-trio, with a sturdy minuet and a flowing trio section colored by chromatic writing. The finale is another rondo, though this is an Allegro–its buoyant main idea leaps upward and sails along energetically. Once again, Mozart’s chromatic writing brings darker and more expressive moments in the midst of all the high spirits.
- Eric Bromberger
The Marriage of Figaro, K.492
Le nozze di Figaro/The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera that was completed in 1786. The opera was based off of the controversial play that was premiered in Paris in 1784 by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou Le mariage de Figaro. Due to the political and revolutionary content in the play, Viennese theatres were banned from presenting the work. Librettist Lorenzo da Ponte and composer W. A. Mozart were keenly aware of this controversy and decided to create an opera based on the play to be premiered in Vienna one year later. Due to the controversy, Mozart and da Ponte focused on relationship dynamics and the elements of humor from the play when creating the opera; but scholarship claims that leaders in the Viennese court had conspired to halt the opera’s production simply because of its radical origin.
The premiere of the opera did occur in Vienna on May 1,1786. The complete opera is set in four acts and the entire plot develops during one very action-packed day. The hurried and lively activity of the opera is musically depicted in the brief (four minute) “Overture.” The first theme is stated in a quiet and sneaky manner that leads to a second motivic theme that is abrupt, a bit jarring, and loud. The extreme contrasts in mood, dynamic, and energy are all purposeful to set the tone for the opera. After several themes are quickly presented in the “Overture,” the sequence is repeated; with a brief coda and an exuberant final cadence.
Arrangements and transcriptions of popular operas were very fashionable during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially for the court Harmonie ensembles (pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons, sometimes with added double bass or contrabassoon). Johann Nepomuk Wendt created the Harmoniemusik arrangement of Le nozze di Figaro shortly after the opera premiere. Wendt was an oboist in the Venna opera orchestra (the same orchestra that premiered Le nozze di Figaro) and was one of the original members of the court Kaiserlich-Konigich Harmonie, created by Emperor Joseph II. According to several sources, Wendt transcribed the entire suite for Harmoniemusik with the consent and approval of Mozart. Scholarship of David Whitwell states that this transcription was created in 1791, five years after the opera premiere.
Robert Block and Himie Voxman edited Wendt’s Harmoniemusik manuscript that is currently housed at the Biblioteca del Conservatoria “Lugi Cherubini” in Florence, Italy. The edited Harmoniemusik version reflects Mozart’s articulation and dynamic indications from the manuscript of his opera score (Wendt’s Harmoniemusik arrangement has discrepancies that some believe are simply inadvertent). Additionally, pitch variants are changed to reflect the pitches in the opera manuscript. The edited Block/Voxman Harmoniemusik score was first published in 1975 and is the edition that is most commonly performed today.
- Program Note by Temple University Wind Symphony: Chamber Winds concert program, 15 July 2015
The Impresario, K.486
In January of 1786, Duke Albrecht von Sachsen- Teschen and his wife the Archduchess Marie Christine, the joint governors-general of the Austrian Netherlands, were invited by Emperor Joseph II of Austria to make a state visit to Vienna. In honor of this occasion, the Emperor, who was the brother of the Archduchess, planned an elaborate "pleasure festival" for them in the Orangery of his palace outside Vienna in nearby Schonbrunn. On one of the evenings, following a formal dinner, the distinguished visitors were to be afforded the opportunity to sample two similar yet distinctive forms of opera in miniature: a German Singspiel and an Italian opera buffa. Capitalizing on the talents of the two most accomplished musicians in his employ, the Emperor commissioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a relative newcomer to his Court, to compose the Singspiel and Antonio Salieri, Mozart's rival and rapidly emerging nemesis, to compose the opera buffa. Mozart's libretto was to be provided by the veteran Viennese actor and theater manager Johann Gottlieb Stephanie, and Salieri's by his own frequent librettist Giovanni Battista Casti.
At that time, Mozart was already hard at work on The Marriage of Figaro and probably did not welcome the interruption; however, he could hardy refuse an Imperial request. Working quickly but with no lack of inspiration or care, he managed in shortly more than two weeks' time to create a little puffball of a mini-opera from Herr Stephanie's decidedly lackluster comedy about the backstage tribulations of an impresario as he struggles to assemble an opera company and begin a new season. Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), as the new opera was entitled, received its first performance as scheduled on February 7, 1786 in Schonbrunn, then repeated three times that same month in public performances at the Kiirntnerthor Theater in Vienna. The cast included Mozart's future sister-in-law Aloysia Lange singing the role of Madame Herz, Salieri's current mistress Catarina Cavalieri singing the role of Mademoiselle Silberklang, and Stephanie himself in the non-singing role of the eponymous impresario. When Mozart entered the work in his thematic catalogue, he listed it as "a comedy, consisting of an overture, two arias, a trio, and vaudeville."
At best, Stephanie's pedestrian libretto was a topical satire that, as the years progressed, soon lost its timeliness. As a result, Mozart's The Impresario, despite the well-intentioned efforts of several to make more of it than exists, survives today as a collection of five pieces in a vaguely dramatic context, but without a true libretto. Indeed, one perceptive commentator likened it to "a free-standing and miraculously verdant vine for which the original arbor has long since rotted away." Like most operas, The Impresario begins with the traditional overture. In this case, it is a frothy, bubbling presto movement filled with appropriately theatrical sweep that is marvelously effective as either a "curtain-raiser" or an independent concert piece. Next come two arias in which each of the rival sopranos demonstrates her operatic abilities for the impresario. In the first of these, Madame Herz, whose name is German for "heart," throbbing with emotion, sings a poignant plaint of parted lovers which changes to a pledge of eternal fidelity. Not to be outdone, Mademoiselle Silberklang (German for "silver tone") follows with a buoyant and equally florid pledge of love to a handsome youth. Though each aria is equally virtuosic, it is obvious that Mozart made a special effort to underscore the strong contrasts between them. In the trio, the tenor Vogelsang (bird-song) diplomatically joins the two sopranos and attempts, without success, to mediate their dispute. In the concluding vaudeville (here, a song with verses sung by different characters in turn), the basso Buff enters and adds further disharmony to the proceedings by fatuously claiming that he alone sings like no one else. In the final ensemble, however, everyone's differences are put aside and all join in and praise the virtues of magnanimity in art.
-Kenneth C. Viant