SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2019 4:00PM
Howard Performing Arts Center, Berrien Springs
The genius of Mozart will be on display with performances of Symphony No. 29 and the poignant Clarinet Concerto, featuring SMSO’s principal clarinetist Georgiy Borisov.
Mozart, Symphony No. 29
Mozart, Clarinet Concerto
Georgiy Borisov, clarinet
Brahms, Serenade No. 2
Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201 Mozart (1756 – 1791)
In April 1774, the eighteen-year-old Mozart completed a new symphony that was the crowning achievement of an extraordinary two year burst of activity that yielded, amongst other works, no less than 16 such masterpieces.
The music is laid out in conventional form - a sonata-form opening allegro, an andante, a minuet and trio, and a concluding allegro con spirito – and conforms to the lightly elegant “galant” style of the time in many of its musical gestures. However, beneath the surface lies a richness and depth that the rapidly maturing composer had found only once before, in the Symphony No. 25, written the previous year.
Exposure to the quartets of Haydn gave had given Mozart a greater understanding of the expressive possibilities of counterpoint. Thus, for example, the softly ascending violin melody with which the symphony begins is accompanied not by static chords but by a restless, polyphonic commentary in the lower voices. Multi-line textures such as canons and counter-melodies abound throughout the work, to great effect.
Also notable is the way the composer finds, from a small orchestra of only strings, oboes and horns, colors appropriate to the artistic message he is trying to convey. At the end of the Andante, a movement that has proceeded in restrained, literally muted, fashion for its entire course, a burst of exuberance suddenly erupts, its character brilliantly captured by the simple expedient of removing the mutes. Similarly, the “hunting call” elements of the finale are highlighted by their orchestration for pairs of French horns.
Most unexpected perhaps in a symphony from the eighteenth century is the works cyclic element: descending octave leaps found in the first movement’s principal theme are echoed in the boisterous motif that opens the finale.
Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 Mozart
The Clarinet Concerto was Mozart’s final purely instrumental composition, and is often considered through that lens, as if it were a kind of wistful farewell. However, it is unlikely that the composer had the slightest idea that he would fall ill and pass away only months after its completion, and in any case much of the music is jaunty and optimistic in nature.
The work was written specifically for his friend, colleague, and fellow-Freemason, Anton Stadler, whose artistry had inspired several other magnificent pieces, including the composer’s Clarinet Quintet. Stadler was a noted basset horn virtuoso, and the concerto was originally conceived for that instrument. Ultimately, the composer made an even more unusual choice, writing the solo part for a custom variety of extended-range A clarinet. His publisher, realizing the limited financial potential that this instrumentation offered, had the music arranged for the regular clarinet prior to printing, a situation that, combined with the loss of Mozart’s original manuscript, (Stadler pawned it), led to the composer’s intentions being obscured entirely for almost two hundred years, prior to eventual reconstruction by musicologists.
Mozart’s desire for extended range was not simply a whim, but part and parcel of the music’s artistic conception. The work abounds with dialogues between the instrument’s very differently colored upper and lower voices, and frequently makes use of passage work that sweeps through the full range of available tessitura. The orchestration, which eschews the use of oboes and clarinets, leaving only bassoons and flutes in the wind choir, frames the solo instrument perfectly.
The concerto is written in three movements - Allegro, Adagio, Allegro - each a magnificent example of the composer’s mature mastery of the possibilities afforded within the genre’s traditional formal outlines. Among many especially deft touches is the way the clarinet often serves as accompanist, providing noodling commentary to the orchestra’s singing line, rather than the other way around.
Serenade No.2 in A Major, Op. 16 Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
In 1857, Brahms’s appointment as court musician principality of Lippe gave him his first experience conducting an excellent orchestra, thus enabling a significant shift in his output from predominantly works for piano toward works embracing symphonic instrumentation and scope. In short succession he completed the 1st. Piano Concerto, the 1st. Serenade, and the present Serenade No. 2.
Nods to classical antecedents, including those of Mozart, include the multi-movement layout, (an extra scherzo surrounds the central Adagio) and the wind-dominated texture. The influence of Hummel’s Septet is particularly clear, since that work also eschews violins in its instrumentation.
The five movements unfold as follows:
Allegro moderato – a gentle sonata-allegro in 2/2 time, it features an especially lovely Coda, which begins with a pianissimo solo oboe digression to F Major, only to resolve into layered reminiscences of the movement’s main themes.
Scherzo. Vivace – a fast, Czech-influenced dance movement in C Major, with many exciting cross-rhythms, surprise modulations, and a contrasting lyrical trio.
Adagio non troppo – the gravitational center of the whole Serenade, the movement opens with a gradually modulating passacaglia bass, proceeds to a series of what sound like cries of anguish, and thence to a song-like middle section, before combining all these elements in an extended recapitulation.
Quasi Menuetto – a highly original, 6/4 interpretation of the dance form, in bright D Major, with a spooky trio in F# Minor.
Rondo. Allegro – the piccolo finally joins the ensemble, providing sparkle to an exuberant finale.