Showcase May-June 2014 - page 22

Program Notes
june 5, 6, 7
sensual, the opening music rich and strange. Mozart
continues to explore the first movement’s world of aching
chromatic harmony. For the little descending two-note
figures that are such prominent features here, the 18th
century had a technical term, “Seufzer,” or sighs.
menuetto: allegretto.
Polyphony, powerfully used in the
first movement, comes to the fore again in the ruggedly
stern minuet. Mozart’s sense of harmonic strategy also
creates the pathos of the minuet’s pastoral trio, where,
for the only time in this symphony, the composer settles
in G major.
allegro assai.
The finale brings the most explosive music
Mozart ever wrote: those eight measures of rude octaves
and frozen silences that launch the development. The
first movement raises questions, posits instabilities,
opens abysses. But for all the anguish Mozart still feels
and expresses, and even though it is in this movement
that he brings his language closest to the breaking point,
the finale must at last be a force that stabilizes, sets
solid ground under our feet, seeks to close wounds, and
brings the voyager safely—if bruised—into port.
flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551,
Mozart completed the
Symphony, about whose
early performance history nothing certain is known, on
August 10, 1788. The name was perhaps the brainchild
of Johann Peter Salomon, the German-born violinist
and impresario most famous for having twice enticed
Haydn to London.
is noble, at once subtle and grand. The
fences so recklessly torn down in the G-minor
symphony are restored.
allegro vivace.
The opening gestures, with their orderly
contrasts and symmetries, are more formal than
anything in the last three symphonies. But whatever
Mozart touches becomes personal utterance. After an
impressive drawing up to a halt, the opening music
reappears; but what was assertive before is now quiet
and enriched by softly radiant commentary from
the flute and the oboe. Another cadence of extreme
formality, and a new theme appears. It, too, is full of
gentle, unobtrusive complexities, and is not as innocent
as at first it seems.
andante cantabile.
Now Mozart becomes more overtly
personal, writing music saturated in pathos and offering
one rhythmic surprise after another. The destiny of
the 32nd-note serpents that the violins append to the
first theme when the basses take it over is especially
wondrous. The coda, which adds miracles at a point
when we can hardly believe more miracles are possible,
was an afterthought appended by Mozart on an extra
It is fascinating what a wide-ranging category
“minuet” is for Mozart. In these last three symphonies
alone we have the bandstand high spirits of the one in
No. 39, the fiercely serious sense of purpose and drive
in the G-minor, and here the perfect embodiment of
elegance. The
minuet is wonderful in a quiet
way: here is music that constantly blossoms into
Mozart carefully leads us not to expect. The
trio is, for the most part, an enchanting dialogue of
ever so slightly coquettish strings and winds so soberly
reticent that they seem able to do no more than make
little cadences. There is one
outburst lasting just a
few seconds: here the orchestra sounds a new and brief
phrase of striking profile. It demands attention, and we
shall soon see why.
molto allegro.
The moment the finale begins, Mozart
picks up the four-note idea that had made such a
startlingly forceful appearance in the trio. When first
we heard it, it was on an odd harmonic slant; now
it is set firmly in C major. This idea is in fact part of
the common stock of the 18th-century vocabulary,
and as Mozart is quick to remind us, it lends itself to
contrapuntal elaboration. The music moves at a swifter
tempo than any we have yet heard in this symphony:
Mozart whirls themes by us with a fierce energy. In his
exuberantly energetic coda, Mozart unfurls a dazzling
glory of polyphony to cap, in one of music’s truly
sublime pages, a movement that is one of the most
splendid manifestations of that rich gathering-in we
call the classical style.
flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns,
2 trumpets, timpani and strings
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