Program Notes

by Martin Pearlman


October 25 & 27, 2019


MOZART, Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”), K. 425

In the summer of 1783, Mozart brought his new wife Constanze to meet his father and sister in Salzburg.  They stayed until October and, on their return trip home to Vienna, stopped at Linz, where Mozart’s patron Count Thun offered them his hospitality.  During his sojourn in the city, Mozart was unexpectedly asked to play a public concert. He wrote to his father that “as I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at breakneck speed. . .Well, I must close, because I really must set to work.”  Within six days, Mozart evidently composed the symphony, had it copied, and—perhaps—had at least one rehearsal, all in time for its premiere in Linz on November 4.  The following April, he presented the work in Vienna.

Perhaps it is not surprising that this hastily written symphony is an inspired and brilliant work, but it is interesting that Mozart introduces some innovations.  The opening Allegro begins with a slow, expressive introduction—a first for a Mozart symphony.  The lyrical second movement Andante calls at times for trumpets and timpani, an unusual feature for that era, even though we may be used to hearing them in later slow movements by Beethoven and in a few late Haydn symphonies.  The brilliant finale is in the spirit of Mozart’s previous symphony, the “Haffner,” in which he asked for the last movement to be played “as fast as possible.”

MOZART aria, “Barbaro, oh Dio, mi vedi,” from Il re pastore,  K. 208

Shortly after his great success in Munich with the premiere of his comic opera La finta giardiniera, nineteen-year-old Mozart received a prestigious commission.  He was asked by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg to compose an opera for the visit of the Archduke Maximilian Franz, son of the empress Maria Theresa.  The libretto was to be one by Pietro Metastasio, the most celebrated librettist of the time: Il re pastore (The Shepherd King), which had already been set to music by numerous composers.  Very little is known about the actual performance and its level of success, but in the stirring music of this aria, we can feel the growing maturity of the teenage Mozart, who already had eight operas under his belt and would soon be writing some of his greatest works.

“Barbaro, oh Dio, mi vedi” is sung in the second act by the shepherdess Elisa. Her lover Aminta has been revealed as the true heir to the throne of Sidon, and in this aria, she expresses her anger at a courtier who will not allow her, a mere shepherdess, into the court to see him.

MOZART aria, “Ruhe sanft,” from Zaide, K. 344

Eight years after Mozart’s death, his widow Constanze came across a mysterious manuscript written in Mozart’s hand.  It bore no title, but it appeared to be a sizable fragment of a work for the theater.  Eventually, she sold it along with a number of other Mozart autograph manuscripts to the publisher Johann Anton Andrè, who published the fragment in 1838, naming it Zaide after a principal character.

We now know that the incomplete work known as Zaide was written in the years 1779 to 1780.  With the emperor Joseph II establishing a German-language opera company in Vienna, Mozart and his father saw an opportunity for the young composer to make an impression at court.  They found a story about a Turkish harem, a seraglio—Turkish stories and music then being all the rage in Vienna—and asked a friend, Johann Andreas Schachtner, to adapt it as a German libretto.  Mozart had completed about 80% of the opera—approximately 70 minutes of music—when he received a genuine commission from the court for a German opera.  The emperor was, for unknown reasons, not interested in Zaide but commissioned a new libretto on more or less the same subject.  Mozart accordingly abandoned his work on Zaide and wrote his well-known opera The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) on the new libretto.

Although he had completed the greater part of the music for Zaide, the manuscript had no  overture, no finale and, most importantly, none of the spoken dialogue that is characteristic of German opera.  Without dialogue between the arias, it is difficult to reconstruct the story line.  Sadly the dialogue has been lost, but the beautiful music that survives shows Mozart as a mature artist, one who has grown beyond the level of his previous opera, Il re pastore.  Had it been completed, it would in all likelihood have been a superb work on the level of Die Entführung.  

The sublime aria “Ruhe sanft” is sung by the sultan’s European slave Zaide, who, having fallen in love with the slave Gomatz, leaves her portrait on his lap while he is sleeping.

MOZART aria, “Bella mia fiamma,” K. 528

In the fall of 1787, Mozart traveled to Prague for the premiere of his Don Giovanni, and, while there, stayed with family friends Franz Xaver and Josepha Duschek.  Both were accomplished musicians.  Franz Xaver was a composer and pianist, and Josepha was a soprano, for whom Mozart had once written a concert aria and for whom Beethoven would later write “Ah! Perfido.”  It was for her, five days after the premiere of Don Giovanni, that Mozart wrote the present aria, “Bella mia fiamma.”  It is a beautiful, complex and difficult work written by a master at the height of his powers for a gifted singer and personal friend.

For his text, Mozart took a scene from a libretto that had been set some years earlier by the Neapolitan composer Jommelli. ­In this peculiar variant of the Proserpina story, her mortal lover Titano has been separated from her and condemned to die by her mother, Ceres, who here is the queen of Sicily. In this dramatic recitative and aria, he addresses Proserpina, Ceres and the queen's advisor Alfeo in turn, as he sings of his grief and anguish. 

HAYDN aria, “Anna m’ascolta,” from Il ritorno di Tobia

This is a brilliant aria from an oratorio that is rarely heard today.  A quarter of a century before Haydn’s late oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons, he wrote another oratorio, Il ritorno di Tobia (The Return of Tobias), which, although it was one of the major works of his decades at Esterháza, has been so eclipsed that few music lovers today know of its existence and even fewer have heard it.  Written in 1775 for a concert of the Vienna Tonkunstler Societät (Society of Musicians) to benefit their charity for widows and orphans, it was an enormous success not only financially but also artistically.  It made Haydn more famous than ever, and copies of the score circulated throughout Europe.  

It is indeed a major work with some beautiful music, virtuosic arias and powerful choruses, but several factors have worked against it.  Six years after the premiere, Haydn mounted a new production, for which he shortened the work from its original three hours of music, reduced some of the difficult passage work in the arias, and wrote a few new choruses.  But popular tastes had changed by then, and the revival was not the kind of success that Haydn had had at the premiere.  When he first wrote the work, any oratorio or opera performed in Vienna was expected to be in Italian—including even Handel’s oratorios, which were translated into Italian.  By the time of this revival in 1781, that fashion had passed, and an Italian oratorio like this one was not as much of an attraction for audiences as it had been.   

The greatest problem, though, even beyond being overwhelmed by the success of his later oratorios, is in the libretto.  It was written by Giovanni Boccherini, the brother of the composer, and it is based on a story from the ancient Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha.  It was an extremely popular and well-known story in Haydn’s day and one that had inspired many musical settings and paintings.  Tobias’s journey to find a cure for his father’s blindness leads to exciting adventures, including a battle with a sea monster and an encounter with an evil demon who, on their wedding nights, has killed seven bridegrooms of the woman that Tobias is about to marry.  

But none of this plays much of a role in the oratorio.  The adventures are simply reported in a recitative, and most of the libretto is devoted to moralizing thoughts about the story and to conversation between characters.  As a result, Haydn does not have the kinds of dramatic opportunities that he has in his later oratorios.  Instead, he gives us extended arias that are wonderfully inventive and virtuosic but almost seem to stand on their own, like concerto movements.  This is beautiful music that deserves to be known and heard, even if it means that individual arias are extracted to be played as concert pieces.

The aria, “Anna, m’ascolta” occurs early in the oratorio.  It is sung by the archangel Raphael, who is disguised as Tobias’s traveling companion and prophesies to his friend’s distraught mother, Anna, that her son will return safely from his journey and cure his father’s blindness.

HAYDN, Symphony No. 102 

Haydn wrote his Symphony No. 102 in 1794, during his second triumphant visit to London.  Many writers have considered this the most powerful, brilliant, and interesting of Haydn’s late symphonies, but it is not as well known or frequently performed as some of the other symphonies that he wrote for London.  Perhaps it has suffered from being the only one of the last five not to have a nickname.  (The “Military,” “Clock,” “Drum Roll,” and “London” symphonies are its companions.)  In fact, it was defrauded of the best name of all. The story is told that, at the premiere, a large and heavy chandelier fell from the ceiling during the finale, but because the audience had pressed forward to watch Haydn more closely, the middle of the hall was empty and no one was hurt.  However, the incident was later confused with the premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, which had taken place four years earlier, and that symphony is now known as the “Miracle,” while our Symphony No. 102 remains nameless.

The work is dense with musical motives.  Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon has called it “Haydn’s loudest and most aggressive Symphony, at least in the outer movements.”  The first movement opens with a beautifully expressive slow introduction, which bursts into a brilliant and boisterous Vivace.  The Adagio that follows is a subtle and extraordinary movement, with slow, sustained melodic lines over a gently flowing sextuplet accompaniment, which is played in places by a solo cello.  When he later revised this movement, Haydn added mutes for the trumpets, as well as for the timpani.  It is a slow movement for which Haydn seems to have had a particular fondness, for he used it again in his great Trio in F# minor.  Following a foot-stomping, peasant-like Menuetto, the symphony concludes with one of Haydn’s many “joke finales,” a movement that continually teases us with unexpected returns of the main theme, false beginnings of the theme, and sudden changes of character.  The whole symphony is a kaleidoscope, which Robbins Landon has likened to the contemporary description of the composer’s “lightning-swift facial changes.”

Boston Baroque has recorded this symphony for Linn Records.  It appears on a disc along with Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass.