Many people think of Mozart as delicate courtly background music for viewing quaint Viennese porcelain Hummels. This may be true of the early music that Mozart composed for the Archbishop’s dinner but not the late, great gonzo creations of his final years. With this concert, we present his music from the celestial to the infernal, from the divine to the diabolical, from the cherubic to the demonic.
We start with the satanic music of the rake, the lovable libertine Don Giovanni as he is dragged down into the hellish flames of eternal perdition by the Commendatore whom he has stabbed to death a couple of hours earlier in the evening. This is mature Mozart with massive, monolithic, monumental, earth shattering, block chords. Of course, the mood changes quickly in this overture as we dispense with the Don and celebrate the delightful partying of the villagers with light bubbly melodies in an agile D Major.
Our piano concerto this evening is the A Major, K. 488, featuring our excellent 2022 Young Artist Competition Winner Alec Rodriguez. The bright key of A allows the first movement to flow in a charming and idyllic fashion. Mozart would have described it as sehr gemutlich. The slow movement is a profound and moving statement in the unusual (for Mozart) key of F# minor. Fifty years earlier, Bach would have called the lilting rhythm of this movement a Sicilienne. Fifty years later, Chopin would have called the same rhythm a Barcarolle. It can be described as the uneven pulse of a Gondolier, slowly paddling his boat along the canals of Venice in the quiet of the late evening. The final movement is an Allegro romp which takes us through the keys of E minor, C Major, F# minor, and D Major before returning home to the tonic of A Major.
Symphony #39 begins with several minutes of those massive, monumental, bombastic block chords. This is the music that inspired Beethoven to create ever greater and louder orchestral blockbusters. (These eventually lead to the WHO and Pete Townsend’s power chords but that is a discussion for my advanced musicology class. https://youtu.be/v0fAQ0jZKQY)
The second movement is clearly in Ab Major but for development, Mozart manages to take us smoothly to the distant and unrelated key of B minor, making this about as far as any classical composer had ever ventured out into the far reaches of the harmonic galaxy. This represents a new harmonic freedom that was excessively exploited by Hummel and all subsequent composers. (As an interesting sidelight, Mozart died young and so his two sons were sent off to study piano and with the younger virtuoso Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Hummel had been a child prodigy. According to his biographer Mark Kroll, pre-teen Hummel was taught and housed by Mozart for two years free of charge and made his first concert appearance at the age of nine at one of Mozart's concerts.)
For the finale, Mozart wrote an absolutely wonderful
celebration of violin virtuosity for those with nimble fingers. It is quite a workout and much practicing will be done this month. Don’t miss it! See you at the Symphony!