Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Overture to Il Rè Pastore ("The Shepherd King"), K. 208
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(b. Salzburg, 1756; d. Vienna, 1791)
Composed in 1775.
Premiered on April 23, 1775 in Salzburg.
Instrumentation: two oboes, two horns and strings.
Duration: approximately 4 minutes.
Pietro Metastasio had already won great fame as a learned classicist and a skilled playwright in his native Italy before he was appointed court poet in Vienna by Emperor Charles VI in 1729. He applied his talents thereafter chiefly to the writing of opera librettos, 27 in all, which were set to music literally hundreds of times during the following decades. In 1751, at the express command of Empress Maria Theresa, Metastasio devised Il Rè Pastore ("The Shepherd King"), a tale of imperial magnanimity based on ancient sources; it was put to music by Court Composer Giuseppe Bonno. Five years later, in honor of the birth of her sixteenth (and last) child, the Empress ordered from the noted opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck a new setting of the text, whose premiere was given at the Burgtheater on the very day — December 8, 1756 — of Archduke Maximilian Franz's arrival into the world. Nineteen years later, when Maximilian Franz announced that he would be making a visit to the archiepiscopal court in Salzburg in April 1775 on his way to Italy, Archbishop Colloredo and his advisors decided that a revival of Metastasio's old text would make a fine tribute to the teenage Archduke. Wolfgang Mozart, just returned to his Salzburg court post following the premiere of his opera buffa La Finta Giardiniera during the carnival season in Munich, was instructed to write the music. Mozart quickly composed the fourteen arias comprising the score, added an Overture at the last moment, and gave the premiere of his Il Rè Pastore on April 23rd as the centerpiece of the entertainment presented in the Archduke's honor.
The story of Il Rè Pastore concerns two pairs of lovers under the patronage of Alexander the Great who become enmeshed in a conflict between love for each other and duty to the state. The shepherd Amintas, in love with the shepherdess Elisa, is the rightful heir to the throne of Sidon, to which position Alexander pledges to restore him. Alexander declares that Tamiris should becomes Amintas' queen, but she already loves Agenor, a Sidonian nobleman. After the requisite struggle between love and duty, the desired pairings are achieved with the blessing of the emperor. Though Mozart was tightly bound by the conventions of Metastasio's text and the formality of the occasion, he provided Il Rè Pastore with music of grace and polish, including a brief Overture which provides a festive and brilliant opening for the opera.
Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major, H. VIIb:1
(b. Rohrau, Lower Austria, 1732; d. Vienna, 1809)
Composed during the early 1760s.
Instrumentation: two oboes, two horns, bassoon and strings.
Duration: approximately 26 minutes.
Haydn was among the most industrious composers in the history of music. He summarized his philosophy of no-nonsense professionalism when he wrote, "I know that God has bestowed a talent upon me, and I thank Him for it. I think I have done my duty and been of use in my generation by my works. Let others do the same." His talent for simple hard work and seemingly boundless fecundity was apparent as soon as he joined the musical staff of the Esterházy family in 1761, his employer for the next half century. Not only did he compose, but he was also general administrator of the music establishment, chief keyboard player for chamber and orchestral concerts, and conductor of the orchestra. Regarding the press of Haydn's duties, the noted scholar H.C. Robbins Landon related an amusing anecdote from those years: "He was extremely busy at this time, and when he wrote out the score of the First Horn Concerto he mixed up the staves of the oboe and the first violin and wrote on the score, as he corrected his mistake, 'Written while asleep.'"
Haydn was never so rushed, however, that he lost concern for the musicians in his charge. He composed concertos for a number of them so they could show their skills in the best light to their employer. He lived in the same so-called "music building" with them, and became their close friend and trusted advisor. He was a witness at many of their weddings, and he even stood as godfather to a number of their children. One who extended to him this last honor was the cellist Joseph Franz Weigl, a close friend for many years. It was for Weigl that Haydn wrote the lovely C major Cello Concerto as one of the products of those fertile early years with the Esterházys. The Concerto was certainly played at one of the palace concerts, after which Haydn entered its opening measures into a catalog of his compositions that he compiled in 1765. The piece then disappeared for 200 years.
Though Haydn may have written as many as a half dozen concertos for cello, it was long thought that only one had survived — that in D major. Some works once attributed to him proved to be spurious; others were lost. It was this latter fate that had apparently befallen the C major Concerto, whose only trace seemed to be the listing in Haydn's 1765 catalog and another entry by his assistant, Joseph Elssler, in an 1805 index. Ironically, it was the upheaval of the Second World War that rescued the work from obscurity. After the war, the Czech National Library's confiscation of all the great private collections in the country resulted in a mountain of manuscripts that took scholars years to catalog. Near the bottom of the pile, in the former holdings of the Counts of Kolovrat-Krakovsky, Oldrich Pulkert and Robbins Landon discovered a complete set of parts for the C major Concerto in 1961. "Here," wrote Landon, "is the major discovery of our age, and surely one of the finest works of the period." The Concerto has come round full circle, from one of Haydn's most important early works, to total obscurity, to an established place in today's cello repertory. A similar happy circle pertained to the composer's relationship with the Weigl family. The child to whom Haydn was godfather was, like his father, named Joseph, and the son became one of the most popular and successful composers of comic opera in Vienna. He never forgot Haydn. When Haydn's health broke and he was living his last days in a comfortable Vienna apartment, one of his most frequent visitors was the younger Weigl. He came to share with the older composer the respect and love that had maintained the family friendship for fifty years, a friendship whose beginning was marked by this Concerto.
The C major Cello Concerto was written during the years of transition from the Baroque to the Classical era, and shows traits of both the old and new styles. Its harmonic and melodic components are largely of the modern type, while certain formal characteristics and modes of expression look back to the models of preceding generations. The first movement gives the impression of an old-fashioned stately procession, much in the grand style of Handel's orchestral works. Also backward-looking is the movement's abundance of thematic material. At least six melodic ideas are presented by the orchestra in the first twenty measures alone, far more than the one or two upon which most of Haydn's later movements are founded. This technique is closer to that of the opening orchestral section of the Baroque concerto, with its little treasury of motivic material that is mined throughout the movement, than to the two or so contrasting themes found in the exposition of the typical Classical concerto form.
This Concerto is one of the very few works in which all of the three movements are in the same form, as though Haydn were experimenting to discover what sort of musical material best fit into this particular construction. Each movement comprises alternations between the orchestra and the soloist, the basic formal principle of the Baroque concerto. There are four orchestral sections interspersed with three for the cellist. Unlike the Baroque model, however, the three cello sections take on the properties of exposition, development and recapitulation with the intervening orchestral episodes serving as introduction, interludes and coda. The soloist is provided with an opportunity for a cadenza in the closing orchestral coda. There are only two exceptions to this pattern in the Concerto: the second movement has no orchestral interlude before the soloist's recapitulation and there is no cadenza in the last movement.
Much of the charm of this Concerto lies in the manner in which the vigorous young composer poured the new wine of sentiment and melody into the old bottles of form and nobility of spirit. It is of such music, and of the man who wrote it, that Mozart said, "He alone has the secret of making me smile and touching me to the bottom of my soul."
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Opus 60
Ludwig van Beethoven
(b. Bonn, 1770; d. Vienna, 1827)
Composed in 1806.
Premiered in March 1807 in Vienna.
Instrumentation: flute, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 31 minutes.
On November 13, 1805 Napoleon's army entered Vienna. A week later, Beethoven gave the first performance of Fidelio before an audience largely comprising French officers. It failed. The French forces withdrew early the next year, and the local aristocrats, who had fled Vienna before the invasion, returned to their town palaces. Fidelio, extensively revised, was presented again on March 29, 1806, but its reception was still cool. Beethoven spent the summer of 1806 away from Vienna. His first visit was to the ancestral Hungarian estate of his friend Count Brunsvick at Martonvásár, where the Count's sisters, Thérèse, Joséphine and Caroline, were also in residence. Journalist and Harvard librarian Alexander Wheelock Thayer, in his pioneering biography of the composer, spread the rumor that Beethoven and Therese got engaged that May, and that it was under the spell of this love affair that the Fourth Symphony was conceived. In 1890, appeared a book titled Beethoven's Immortal Beloved, from Personal Reminiscences, purporting to be from Therese's hand, which recounted the relationship. It was a hoax. ("The Immortal Beloved," to whom Beethoven wrote three unheaded letters, was convincingly identified in Maynard Solomon's 1977 biography of the composer as Antonie Brentano, a married Viennese noblewoman. Solomon also showed the letters to have been written in 1812, not 1806.) The Fourth Symphony was apparently not a musical love-child, though the country calm of that summer, perhaps the most halcyon time of Beethoven's life, may have influenced the character of the piece. At any rate, he must have been so busy working at the time that he would have had little time for amorous dalliance — in addition to the painstaking revisions of Fidelio, before the year was out he had completed the "Appassionata" Sonata, the three "Razumovsky" Quartets (Op. 59), the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies and the Violin Concerto.
After visiting with the Brunsvicks, Beethoven moved to the summer castle of Prince Lichnowsky at Grätz in Silesia. Lichnowsky introduced him to his neighbor in Ober-Glogau, Count Franz von Oppersdorf, a moneyed aristocrat who placed such importance on his household musical establishment that he would not hire a servant unable to play an instrument. Oppersdorf, an admirer of Beethoven's music, arranged a performance by his private orchestra of the Second Symphony for the composer's visit, and, further, commissioned him to write a new symphony. Beethoven put aside the C minor Symphony (No. 5), already well begun, to work on the commission, and most of the B-flat Symphony was completed during September and October 1806 at Lichnowsky's castle.
The Fourth Symphony was first heard in March 1807 — but not at Count Oppersdorf's residence. The premiere was given on one of two all-Beethoven concerts sponsored by Prince Lobkowitz in Vienna at which were played the first four symphonies, the Coriolanus Overture, a piano concerto and some arias from Fidelio. Some time thereafter, Beethoven got around to sending a letter to Oppersdorf, apologizing for robbing him of the honor of the work's premiere. The Count was understandably mad, as the terms of the original commission gave him exclusive performing rights to the piece for six months, but Beethoven offered to make amends by dedicating the published score to him, which he did. It is unknown whether the Count's domestic orchestra ever played the piece.
In the Fourth Symphony, Beethoven turned temporarily from the vast expanse and stormy emotions of the "Eroica" and the Fifth Symphonies to a more reserved, classical expression. "A slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants," Robert Schumann called it; "placid and serene — the most perfect in form of all the symphonies," added Thayer. Berlioz, who idolized Beethoven and wrote extended essays on the symphonies, noted, "The general character of this score is either lively, alert and gay or of a celestial sweetness." It is sweetness subtly tinged with Romantic pathos that opens the Symphony — a slow introduction that Mahler may have recalled when he wrote his First Symphony. The main theme of the exposition is a buoyant melody, given by the violins, skipping happily among the notes of the opening harmonies. The complementary melody is a snappy tune of Haydnesque jocularity discussed by bassoon, oboe and flute. Inventive elaborations of the main theme occupy the movement's development section. A heightened recall of the earlier melodies and a vigorous coda bring this sunny movement to an end.
Of the second movement, little needs to be added to the words of Berlioz: "It seems to elude analysis. Its form is so pure and the expression of its melody so angelic and of such irresistible tenderness that the prodigious art by which this perfection is attained disappears completely. From the very first bars we are overtaken by an emotion which, towards the close, becomes so overpowering in its intensity that only amongst the giants of poetic art can we find anything to compare with this sublime page of the giant of music."
Though Beethoven called the third movement a minuet, it is really one of his most boisterous scherzos — "a jokey mixture of bluster and sly humor," according to Antony Hopkins. The scherzo, with its rugged syncopations, sudden harmonic and dynamic shifts and tossing-about of melodic fragments among the orchestral participants, stands in strong contrast to the suave, legato trio. The finale is a whirlwind sonata form with occasional moments of strong expression in its development section.
Of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, Robert Simpson wrote, "There is decidedly no trace of crudity or want of dignity in this wonderfully balanced, richly executed score. But its grace is neither maidenly nor Greek; it is that of a giant who performs relaxed athletic movements with gigantic ease and fluency. There are muscles of steel beneath the skin of Beethoven's creature; sometimes they tense and flex with sudden force, though there is rarely more than a hint of sudden irascibility."
©2015 Dr. Richard E. Rodda