SCHERZO FROM A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM MENDELSSOHN
The great plays of William Shakespeare were a staple of the young Mendelssohn’s privileged and cultured Hamburg childhood, the family often amusing themselves by reading or even acting the comedies and dramas in the popular translations by August Schlegel. It was for one of these performances that the young composer (he was 17) created his first work of genius, the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, the remainder of the Incidental Music, including this Scherzo, was written many years later when, as a mature master, he was commissioned by the Kaiser himself to write music for a new professional production. The wonderfully light and magical Scherzo opens the second act, introducing us to the world of the fairies.
SYMPHONY NO. 39 MOZART
It remains unclear why exactly Mozart composed the three final symphonies - the present Eb Symphony, the great g minor and the Jupiter - but it is at least likely that they were intended for publication as a set, and it is possible that they may have been played at subscription concerts in 1788.
The Eb Symphony is in the standard classical four movements: a sonata allegro with a slow introduction, an andante in the contrasting key of Ab, a minuet with a ländler trio featuring the clarinets, and a perpetuum mobile finale. Within these familiar forms, Mozart found opportunity for great expansion of expressive range, producing music that teems with creativity, subtlety and wit.
PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2 BRAHMS
It is very touching that Brahms chose to dedicate his Second Piano Concerto, a work that demonstrates total technical mastery of every aspect of composition, to his very first music teacher, Eduard Marxsen.
The concerto’s length (about 50’) was unprecedented at the time, and through the inclusion of a scherzo movement Brahms made it clear that he was reaching for a full symphonic range of expression. Amusingly he joked with his friends about the music’s scope, claiming ironically to Elizabeth von Herzogenberg to have written “a little tiny concerto for piano, with a diminutive wisp of a scherzo.”
Each of the four movements contains original and memorable moments that serve to lighten and illuminate the conception of the whole. In the first movement, Allegro non troppo, the greatest surprise is at the very start where, instead of the traditional orchestra exposition, a solo horn introduces a melody of magical simplicity answered with equally simple arpeggios in the piano. This was undoubtedly an homage to the opening of the Emperor Concerto of Beethoven, but here utterly transformed in character and intent. In the second movement - a vigorous scherzo in d minor - the composer begins with only low strings and winds, keeping the shimmer of the violins in reserve for the, again magical, moment in which the contrasting second theme begins. What follows is an extraordinary slow movement in Bb Major, grounded in a sublime melody for ‘cello and later ‘cello and oboe. The journey to the recapitulation following the stormy trills of this movement’s middle section is one of Brahms’ most famously affecting moments: a clarinet duet, ppp dolcissimo over piano filigree and in the apparently hopelessly remote key of F# Major somehow effortlessly sets in motion an eventual return to the Bb reprise. After all the epic intensity of the first three movements, Brahms wisely concludes the concerto with a graceful finale filled with humor and good cheer.