Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Overture to Così fan tutte, K. 588
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(b. Salzburg, 1756; d. Vienna, 1791)
Composed in 1789-1790.
Premiered on January 26, 1790 in Vienna.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 5 minutes.
In June 1789, soon after he returned to Vienna from a trip to Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin to drum up some business among the local nobles, including King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, Mozart learned that Emperor Joseph II wanted to hear again The Marriage of Figaro, first given in Vienna two years before with only limited success, and had instructed that a revival of the opera take place at the end of the summer. The date of the production was set for August 29th; Mozart helped with the preparations and composed a few replacement pieces. It was a success, and was seen at ten additional performances before the end of the year, and another fifteen in 1790. The Emperor allowed that more of the same might not be a bad thing, and he commissioned Mozart to write another opera buffa with Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of both Figaro and Don Giovanni. The story has it that da Ponte was called into the imperial chambers and told that the plot of the new opera should deal with a delicious wife-swapping scandal that had recently amused the Viennese. The poet mentions nothing of the incident in his memoirs, however, and it may be that he in fact adapted his libretto from that for La grotto di Trofonio by Giovanni Battista Casti, for which Antonio Salieri had supplied the music in 1785. Mozart was at work on the music of the new opera by September, and he completed the score by the end of the year. He invited his friends Joseph Haydn and Michael Puchberg (a fellow Mason from whom Mozart regularly begged money at that time) to an informal run-through of the piece at his apartment on New Year's Eve; it is thought that they accepted. Rehearsals began soon thereafter at the Burgtheater (one report had Mozart and Haydn walking arm-in-arm to the first orchestral rehearsal on January 21st), and Così fan tutte was successfully premiered on January 26th. After just five performances, however, the Emperor died and the theaters were closed for a period of mourning. The opera played four more times in June and July, and then was not heard again in Vienna during Mozart's lifetime.
In his classic study of Mozart's operas, Edward Dent gave this plot summary of Così fan tutte ("Thus Do They All"): "Ferrando and Guglielmo are two young Neapolitan officers engaged to be married to two young ladies, Dorabella and her sister, Fiordiligi. A cynical old bachelor, Don Alfonso by name, persuades the young men to put their mistresses' constancy to the test. They pretend to be called away from Naples on duty, but return that same afternoon disguised as Albanian noblemen. Don Alfonso, with the help of Despina, the ladies' maid, persuades the two sisters to receive them. The strangers make violent love to them, and after some hesitation each succeeds in winning the heart of his friend's betrothed. The affair proceeds with such rapidity that a notary is called in that very evening to draw up a marriage contract for their signatures. Suddenly Don Alfonso announces the return of the soldiers; the Albanians vanish, and the terrified ladies are obliged to confess everything to their original lovers. Needless to say, everything ends happily."
Needless to say, a more prim sensibility might have found this lubricious tale of questionable taste. Beethoven declared it to be simply immoral (he said the same thing about Don Giovanni); Franz Niemetschek, one of Mozart's earliest biographers, wondered in 1808 how "that great mind could lower itself to waste its heavenly melodies on so feeble a concoction of text;" Richard Wagner vilified the libretto. Così was virtually forgotten during the 19th century, receiving little recognition until Hermann Levi revived it in Munich in 1896; it was not heard in the United States until the Met staged it in 1922. Such neglect was absolutely unjustified — from a purely musical viewpoint, this is the greatest opera Mozart ever wrote. Edward Dent concluded that it "is the best of all da Ponte's librettos and the most exquisite work of art among Mozart's operas." Sir Donald Tovey called it "a miracle of irresponsible beauty unlike anything else in Mozart." Alfred Einstein said, "This opera is iridescent, like a glorious soap-bubble, with the colors of buffoonery, parody, and both genuine and simulated emotions. To this, moreover, is added the color of pure beauty." Sir Thomas Beecham even imputed to it significant social importance: "In Così fan tutte the dying 18th century casts a backward glance over a period outstanding in European life for grace and charm and, averting its eye from the new age suckled in a creed of iconoclasm, sings its swan song in praise of a civilization that has passed away for ever."
The wit and elegance of Così fan tutte are perfectly captured in its compact and ebullient Overture. It begins with a brief introduction in moderate tempo that incorporates a tiny oboe melody and a thematic fragment later heard in the opera. (Mozart used a similar quotation device in the overtures to Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute.) The sonatina form that follows brims with chattering, conspiratorial music of infectious good humor.
El Amor Brujo ("Love, the Magician"),
Ballet with Songs in One Act for Mezzo-Soprano, Dancer and Orchestra
Manuel de Falla
(b. Cádiz, Spain, 1876; d. Alta Gracia, Argentina, 1946)
Composed in 1913-1914.
Premiered on April 15, 1915 in Madrid conducted by Moreno Ballesteros.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, piano, chimes and strings.
Duration: approximately 25 minutes.
After his years in Paris absorbing the riches of what was then the world's most vibrant musical city (and simultaneously befriending Debussy, Ravel and Dukas), Falla retreated to Spain in 1914 in the face of the German invasion of France. Soon after his arrival, Pastora Imperio, the reigning donna of Gypsy music, asked him to provide the accompaniment for a "song and dance" for her act. For some authentic inspiration, Pastora arranged for her mother, Rosario la Mejorana, to meet with Falla and the playwright Gregorio Martínez Sierra, who was to provide the text for the song. So fervent was Rosario's singing of the traditional songs and recounting of the Gypsy legends that Falla and Martínez Sierra decided to create not just a "song and dance" but a full ballet. The playwright devised the scenario and Falla worked feverishly on the score, completing it in five months.
Despite the popularity of Imperio and her troupe, the premiere of El Amor Brujo gained little success. Perhaps the combination of such an earthy subject with Falla's new style, which distilled native folk music to its most elemental components, was not to the audience's taste; or perhaps the small instrumental ensemble of the original version (piano, flute, oboe, trumpet, horn, viola, cello and double bass) may have been too limited to fully realize the glowing orchestral colors inherent in the music. At any rate, Falla immediately began revising the score, mainly by cutting some numbers and expanding the orchestra. In so doing, he created a work that seems the very quintessence of the spirit of his native land.
El Amor Brujo is one of the great works of an era that witnessed an explosion of interest in indigenous folk music as the basis for concert compositions. Bartók, Vaughan Williams, Chávez, Enesco and Ives were only a few of those who drew inspiration and models from the music of their countries. Falla, working with the care and precision of a watchmaker, penetrated into the heart of the Spanish musical idiom to find its unalloyed essence. "Falla's work reacts against the turgid romanticism of the 19th century and reverts to the clarity of the 18th-century clavecinists," wrote A.A. Fraser. "The dry flower of the guitar gives it movement, the song of the people gives it life." In his book on Spanish music, Gilbert Chase summarized Falla's compositional style: "There is not a superfluous note, not an ounce of padding, in the finely wrought, muscular texture of his scores. The sinews of his art are tense, yet flexible; they pass from meditative repose to dynamic action with dramatic rapidity. His creative reflexes respond with sensitive alertness to every emotional impact, yet the process of musical transmutation is achieved with the most painstaking care, with a ceaseless, disciplined striving for perfection." Distilled from Gypsy cante jondo, Andalusian melodies and rhythms, flamenco and other aspects of the Spanish melos, Falla's music shows him to be, in the words of Georges Jean-Aubrey, "a poet of Spanish emotion."
El Amor Brujo is set in Andalusia. A passionate motto theme, which runs through the ballet, is heard at once in the introduction. To the accompaniment of singing, the heroine of the ballet, Candelas, appears. She has been in love with a dashing Gypsy, recently dead, who lives on in her memory and keeps returning to haunt her. Always Candelas remains under the influence of this specter. A live and handsome villager, Carmelo, loves Candelas and wants to marry her but the ghost intervenes. His sorcery prevents her from granting Carmelo the kiss of perfect love. Desperate, Candelas tries to drive off the specter through a ritual fire dance. She fails, so Carmelo tries to trick the ghost, whose habits were known to him in life. Since the deceased always had a strong taste for attractive women, Carmelo decides to use Lucia, a companion of Candelas, as a decoy. Carmelo comes to woo Candelas. Jealous, the specter appears, but when his eye is caught by the pretty Lucia, he ignores Candelas and follows her friend. Carmelo convinces Candelas that his own devotion to her is greater than that of the ghost. As morning dawns and the bells of the village sound, the pair at last exchange the perfect kiss and exorcise the ghost forever.
Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Opus 21
Ludwig van Beethoven
(b. Bonn, 1770; d. Vienna, 1827)
Composed in 1799-1800.
Premiered on April 2, 1800 in Vienna, conducted by the composer.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 26 minutes.
"He was short, about 5 feet, 4 inches, thickset and broad, with a massive head, a wildly luxuriant crop of hair, protruding teeth, a small rounded nose, and a habit of spitting whenever the notion took him. He was clumsy, and anything he touched was liable to be upset or broken. Badly coordinated, he could never learn to dance, and more often than not managed to cut himself while shaving. He was sullen and suspicious, touchy as a misanthropic cobra, believed that everybody was out to cheat him, had none of the social graces, was forgetful, and was prone to insensate rages." Thus the late New York Times critic Harold Schonberg, in his book about The Lives of the Great Composers, described Ludwig van Beethoven, the burly peasant with the unquenchable fire of genius who descended, aged 22, upon Vienna in 1792. Beethoven had been charged by his benefactor in his hometown of Bonn, Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, to go to the Austrian capital and "receive the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn." He did study for a short time with Haydn, then universally regarded as the greatest living composer, but young Ludwig proved to be a recalcitrant student, and the sessions soon ended, though the two maintained a respectful, if cool, relationship until Haydn's death in 1809.
Beethoven was not to make his first impression upon the Viennese as a composition student, however, but as a pianist — a pianist unlike any seen before. In a world still largely accustomed to the reserved, genteel musical style of pre-Revolutionary classicism, he burst upon the scene like a fiery meteor. Rather than the elegant, fluent style of a Mozart (dead less than a year at the time of Beethoven's arrival), he played with a seeming wild abandon, thrashing upon the keyboard, breaking strings, trying to draw forth orchestral sonorities from the light, wood-frame Viennese pianos that regularly suffered under his onslaught. He repeatedly entreated piano manufacturers to build bigger, louder, sturdier instruments. (By the 1820s, they had.) Like his style of performance, the music he composed reflected the impassioned, powerful emotions that drove him throughout his entire life.
The Viennese aristocracy took this young lion to its bosom. Beethoven expected as much. Unlike his predecessors, he would not assume the servant's position traditionally accorded to a musician, refusing, for example, not only to eat in the kitchen, but becoming outspokenly hostile if he was not seated next to the master of the house at table. The more enlightened nobility, to its credit, recognized the genius of this gruff Rhinelander, and encouraged his work. Shortly after his arrival, for example, Prince Lichnowsky provided Beethoven with living quarters, treating him more like a son than a guest. Lichnowsky even instructed the servants to answer the musician's call before his own, should both ring at the same time. In large part, such gestures provided for Beethoven's support during his early Viennese years. For most of the first decade after he arrived, Beethoven made some effort to follow the prevailing fashion in the sophisticated city. But though he outfitted himself with good boots, a proper coat, and the necessary accoutrements, and enjoyed the hospitality of Vienna's best houses, there never ceased to roil within him the untamed energy of creativity. It was only a matter of time before the fancy clothes were discarded, as a bear would shred a flimsy paper bag.
The year of the First Symphony — 1800 — was a crucial time in Beethoven's development. By then, he had achieved a success good enough to write to his old friend Franz Wegeler in Bonn, "My compositions bring me in a good deal, and may I say that I am offered more commissions than it is possible for me to carry out. Moreover, for every composition I can count on six or seven publishers and even more, if I want them. People no longer come to an arrangement with me. I state my price, and they pay." Behind him were many works, including the Op. 18 Quartets, the first two piano concertos, and the Pathétique Sonata, that bear his personal imprint. At the time of this gratifying recognition of his talents, however, the first signs of his fateful deafness appeared, and he began the titanic struggle that became one of the gravitational poles of his life. Within two years, driven from the social contact on which he had flourished by the fear of discovery of his malady, he penned the Heiligenstadt Testament, his cri de coeur against this wicked trick of the gods. The C major Symphony stands on the brink of this great crisis in Beethoven's life.
Beethoven's music of the 1790s showed an increasingly powerful expression that mirrored the maturing of his genius. The First Symphony, though, is a conservative, even a cautious work. In it, he was more interested in exploring the architectural than the emotional components of the form, and relied on the musical language established by Haydn and Mozart in composing it. In its reliance on a thoroughly logical, carefully conceived structure, this work also set the formal precedent for his later music: though Beethoven dealt with vivid emotional states, the technique of his music was never founded upon any other than the most solid intellectual base. Romain Rolland made this point in his insightful, if flowery essay on "Beethoven in his Thirtieth Year": "The Ego of Beethoven is not that of the Romantics.... Everything that was characteristic of them would have been repugnant to him — their sentimentality, their lack of logic, their disordered imagination." Thus Beethoven, "at thirty, already the conqueror of the future," in Rolland's phrase, first flexed his symphonic muscles in a work reliant on the style and spirit of the past, not simply to "show he could do it," but rather to explore and set into his imagination the possibilities of the form that he was to electrify as had no other.
The First Symphony begins with a most unusual slow introduction. The opening chord is a dissonance, a harmony that seems to lead away from the main tonality, which is normally established immediately at the beginning of a Classical work. Though not unprecedented (the well-known and influential C.P.E. Bach consistently took even more daring harmonic flights), it does reinforce the sense of striving, of constantly moving toward resolution that underlies all Beethoven's works. The sonata form proper begins with the quickening of the tempo and the presentation of the main theme by the strings. More instruments enter, tension accumulates, and the music arrives at the second theme following a brief silence — a technique he derived from Mozart to emphasize this important formal junction. The woodwinds hold forth here, and the remainder of the exposition is given over to two large paragraphs of rising intensity, each punctuated with a firm cadence. The compact development section deals exclusively with the main theme. The recapitulation follows the events of the exposition, but presents them in an intensified setting. The coda again recalls the main theme, and introduces one of the composer's characteristic traits — the extended repetition of the cadential chords to release the accumulated harmonic tensions of the movement.
The slow second movement, another sonata form, has a canonic main theme and a delicately airy secondary melody. The development employs the melodic leaps of the subordinate theme; the recapitulation is enriched by the addition of contrapuntal accompanying lines. The third movement is the most innovative in the Symphony. Though marked "Menuetto," its tempo indication, "very fast and lively," precludes the staid gait of the traditional courtly dance. This is rather one of those whirlwind packets of rhythmic energy that, beginning with the Second Symphony, Beethoven labeled "scherzo." Its tripartite form (minuet — trio — minuet) follows the Classical model, with strings dominant in the outer sections, and winds in the central portion.
The finale begins with a short introductory sentence comprising halting scale fragments that preview the vivacious main theme of the movement, "let out as a cat from a bag," assessed Prof. Donald Tovey. Yet another excursion in sonata form, this bustling movement is indebted to the sparkling style of Haydn, and even gives off much of the brilliant wit associated with that composer. All is brought to an end with ribbons of scales rising through the orchestra, and the emphatic concluding measures.
Olin Downes wrote, "Beethoven is trying, in this first symphony of his, to respect the forms and standards of earlier masters than himself, particularly Haydn and Mozart. He is a little constrained in their mold, however, and occasionally cannot help revealing the cloven hoof of the revolutionary beneath the gown of the respectful disciple."
©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda