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Program Notes

Program Notes

Pre-concert lectures

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Program Notes:
Elizabeth Rowe & Ann Hobson Pilot play Mozart

Featuring Elizabeth Rowe, flute
and Ann Hobson Pilot, harp
April 21 & 23, 2006

J.C. Bach: Symphony in D major (op. 3 no. 1)

Another of the Opus 3 works by Johann Christian Bach opens this concert. Our November program began with the second of these six little symphonies by the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. As mentioned on that occasion, J.C. Bach met the eight-year-old Mozart in London in the very same year in which these pieces were composed, 1764. It is easy to see from this D major work the influence that Christian had on the child Mozart's own symphonies. The two became great friends and renewed their friendship eighteen years later in Paris, just a few months after Mozart wrote the concerto that will conclude this concert.

- Doug Briscoe
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Haydn: Symphony No. 45 in F# minor ("Farewell")

The story of this work's genesis is so familiar to music lovers as not to need repeating (for them!), but of course there are always those for whom the story will be quite new and, new or old, it remains delightful. Haydn's employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterháy, had absconded for the season to his summer estate and took his private orchestra with him. The players' wives and families, however, were left behind in Eisenstadt, and this, as the sojourn was prolonged, understandably made the musicians unhappy. They protested to Haydn, who had the idea of bringing the matter to his employer's attention by means of a subtle musical adumbration. In the fourth and final movement of this symphony, Haydn switches gears from what appears to be a standard fast movement to a quiet Adagio. Gradually, the musicians begin to leave the stage in pairs, gathering up their music sheets, blowing out their candles, and walking off until only two violins are left playing. The Prince took the hint and granted leave to his musicians the very next day.

Even without this striking device, the F-sharp minor symphony is a remarkable one. To begin with, the key signature is very rare for the eighteenth century. Haydn used it in no other of his hundred symphonies and only once each among his eighty-plus string quartets and 45 piano trios. (Mozart used it not at all, at least for the home key of an entire work-the beautiful slow movement of his Piano Concerto No. 23 being the sole exception.) The key was so unusual that two early music editors transcribed the score to E minor as being easier to play in that key. The other particularly striking thing about this symphony is the structure of its first movement. Normally, the first subject, here a stormy descending figure, would be met by a contrasting second subject before both parts are repeated and later elaborated in the development section, which would be followed by a recapitulation of the opening thematic material. But Haydn defers the second subject, in this work a hushed D major theme in the strings, until the development, then, as that quiet theme ends on an ascending question mark, leads us to a false recapitulation that in reality extends the development for a while until the true recapitulation appears. "This," as Haydn specialist H.C. Robbins Landon put it, "is complete freedom of form, and freedom of musical language, too, on an unprecendented scale. Nothing like it occurs in the Viennese Classical school before Beethoven."

Next comes a sedate and beautiful A-major slow movement on muted violins, then an extraordinary minuet in F-sharp major which has overtones of the minor. The trio begins with rising horns and quotes the Lamentations of Jeremiah from Gregorian Chant, a theme Haydn apparently found very grateful, for he also used it in his Symphonies nos. 26 & 80 (both in D minor!) and in the second minuet of his Wind Divertimento in F, Hob.II:23.

This work, too, by the way, harks back to our November concert, during which another Haydn minor-key symphony of this period was performed. In his Symphony No. 49, "La Passione," Haydn used another somewhat rare key, F minor, and the music is again a product of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) artistic movement. Four years later, in 1772, Haydn is nearing the end of his immersion into Sturm und Drang, and the "Farewell" Symphony evinces a little more light, a little less drama, and decidedly more humor.

- Doug Briscoe
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Mozart: Concerto for Flute & Harp

In 1777 Mozart embarked on a European tour that must have filled him with the highest hopes. His first stop was Munich, where he laid the groundwork for the future by making friends who would eventually persuade the Munich court to commission a major opera (Idomeneo) from him. Then it was on to Mannheim, where Mozart delighted in the expertise and camaraderie of the musicians and wrote for four of them his Sinfonia Concertante for wind soloists with orchestra. The final leg of the journey took him to Paris. Surely in one of these three great centers of music Mozart must have expected to find long-lasting employment, but it was not to be. He made many contacts and earned a little cash, usually by way of expensive gifts such as gold watches, but he was to be disappointed in his search for a permanent post. To add injury to insult, Mozart's mother, who had accompanied him on this journey, fell ill and died while in Paris.

The Concerto in C for Flute & Harp, K.299, from April of 1778, was written for two of the people Mozart met in France, the Count de Guines and his daughter, both of whom Mozart described as excellent musicians on their respective instruments. At first, he was asked only to provide composition lessons to Mlle de Guines, who proved too unsure of herself to succeed as a composer. At one point, Mozart began a simple minuet and pretended to be unable to complete it, inviting her to do so. She was not up to the task, and in the end Mozart dismissed her as "lazy and stupid." Later, the count asked Mozart to write some music for them. It was perhaps out of his own laziness that Mozart, rather than writing two separate works for father and daughter, opted to get out of the obligation by killing two birds with one musical stone; if so, it is ironic that he always held this concerto in high regard.

In the nineteenth century, flute and harp would become a common pairing (without orchestra, that is), but the combination in Mozart's day was by no means routine. In fact, this was the only music Mozart ever wrote involving the harp. The score was written with its audience in mind: it aims to please the French taste in its gestures, especially in the finale, and the form itself, although not so styled, is essentially that of the Sinfonia Concertante, which was all the rage in Paris at that time. The orchestra, besides the strings, calls for pairs of oboes and horns, which remain silent during the slow movement.

It is comforting to know that at this time of tribulation for Mozart, he became reacquainted with his dear old friend Johann Christian Bach. In a letter to his father dated August 27, 1778, Mozart wrote: "You can imagine our joy ... I love him, as you know, from my heart and esteem him..." Mozart left Paris the following month, and the two never met again, for J.C. Bach would die four years later, back in London. Mozart never returned to either city.

- Doug Briscoe
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