On the symphonies
By Adam Fischer
DATED SALZBURG, JULY 1771
No. 12: A boy runs across the field. It is morning, early in the summer, everything is green, he is in high spirits. Then it gets warmer, he walks more slowly and reflectively. 2nd movement: Later he grows sad, not really knowing why. Trio: He almost cries - and then it is over; he runs merrily on. He jumps, whistles, and even sings. He does not know I can see him. If he knew, he would suddenly stop jumping and singing and would be ashamed. And I am happy he cannot see me.
DATED MILAN, OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 1771?
KV 96: Grandfather makes faces, puffs out his cheeks, the child laughs and imitates him. 2nd movement: Mother is sitting by herself on a bench. She is sad, perhaps she is worried about Father, who is away on a journey. She has tears in her eyes, but smiles at her child. A scene like the one between Homer's Hector and his wife. Last movement: The grandfather has bought a rattle for the child, who is enthusiastic, jumps, moves to one side, dances with the rattle. The grandfather dances too, he is also enthusiastic. Only the mother is less high-spirited, she is slightly annoyed at him for giving such gifts. It's easy for him, he's hard of hearing, she can't help thinking.
DATED MILAN, 2ND NOVEMBER 1771
No. 13: A boy and girl drive off in a horse-drawn carriage. He is in an enthusiastic, adventurous mood, she is quietly contented. The same house, the same tree, the same cloud affects them differently. She laughs at him, they are in love. 2nd movement: An awkward, slow old man tries to visit his sleeping grandchild without waking the child. He moves very cautiously. The child would probably not wake up anyway: fast asleep or awake and not letting on, so the old man will walk faster? In the end everyone is celebrating and dancing: girls, boys, grandfather and child.
DATED SALZBURG, 30TH DECEMBER 1771
No. 14: I am standing on the beach. The water in the bay is blue, so is the sky. Two ducks swim by, the smaller one, with some delay, imitating each movement of the larger one. In the distance gulls are flying. 2nd movement: The water is calm in an unreal way. Beneath it, too, one sees fish darting off. 3rd movement: Finally the wind rises a little, the waves get small foaming crests. The water quivers, everything is in fresh motion. Ducks, gulls suddenly seem to have woken up.
by Claus Johansen
The roads of Europe have been a disaster ever since the fall of the Roman Empire. It is downright dangerous to travel overland. In the peripheral areas you are threatened by robbers. The inns are dirty, the food unpalatable and expensive. People who travel fall ill. It takes a long time to get over an extended journey in the eighteenth century. And yet they travel.
Poor Bohemian wind players criss-cross Europe. They play at the inns, get small jobs with the noble families, help the local amateur orchestra, assist at the theatres. They reach as far as Scandinavia, where we come across them at the manor houses as something between servants and musicians. Many of them are virtuosi, but people look down on them. They come from Bohemia, so they are called ‘bohemians', and the title is nothing to boast about. Nevertheless they travel.
There are also the real virtuosi. They live ‘on the road' too, and they sleep at the inns, but they have more money. They don't travel like Gypsies; they plan their tours, sail from St. Petersburg to London, ride in their own carriages, perhaps with servants and assistants. They advertise in the newspapers, they are soloists with local orchestras. They have contacts, connections and letters of introduction from the right people to the right people. They speak several languages. It isn't easy, but they travel anyway.
Then there are the stars: often opera singers, especially female sopranos or male castrati. But also composers and violin virtuosi. They travel like royalty, they bring a large staff, their own beds, costumes, jewellery, money. They sell tickets everywhere, the newspapers write about them, the audiences crowd in. They conquer Paris, Vienna and London and are private friends of kings and princes. The legends still live about Farinelli, Faustina Bordoni and in the next generation Paganini and Rossini. For most of them the journey often goes from south to north.
Then there are those who travel the other way - out into the world to learn. The Swedish clarinettist Crusell goes to Berlin, studies intensively with one of the great masters, gives a concert and hands over all the takings to his teacher before continuing to Paris. The Danish oboist Barth
does something similar in Dresden. They set out as students and come home as masters. Often their home country seems to have shrunk, and the longing to travel remains with them. Out there people understood them.
Mozart's Italian journeys involve elements of all this. His father's plan is to get him engaged at an opera house. It does not succeed, but he gets commissions for and successes with three great operas.
Italy influenced the rest of his life. But the journeys left other traces. Illnesses plagued the little man from Salzburg, and most of them began during his youthful travels. Mozart spent almost a third of his life travelling. Most of his later ailments were a direct result of his travelling life.
Italy was no ‘culture shock'. The music was known in Salzburg, which was often visited by Italian virtuosi. And northern Italy was not all that Italian - Lombardy with Milan was an Austrian province, and one of the Mozart family's friends and supporters was the governor. The Duke of Tuscany was the future Leopold II of Austria. You got around - even without being perfectly fluent in Italian. So the two Austrian travellers were received as eminent guests. They conversed with princes, had an audience with the Pope, and discussed musical matters with the legendary Padre Martini in Bologna. The idea was that Wolfgang would also learn something, but most teachers had to give up. He understood it all intuitively. He was more at ease with the Italian style than many Italians. He learned the language quickly. Soon he understood the culture. En route he performed in the local academies on violin, organ and harpsichord. He was a master of improvisation, but also brought with him a stack of symphonies written in the modern Italian style. Music written by a unique individual who spent a total of ten years of his life on the road.
Mozart and the bass group
by Claus Johansen
What is a Mozart orchestra? Nothing but a phrase. Mozart worked with many kinds of orchestras, and they varied greatly. The four symphonies were written for or shortly after the three great tours to Italy in the 1770s. They were composed for specific occasions, but there is no indication that he composed them with the potential of the Italian orchestras in mind. He wrote more or less as he always did. The G major symphony K 110 was composed in Salzburg in the period between the first two tours. In Salzburg it was probably performed by an ensemble that normally consisted of two ‘leaders' as well as 19 ‘violins' (which meant both first and second violins and violas), a cello, three double-basses, two oboes (whose players probably also played flute), two bassoons, three French horns, two trumpets and a timpanist (the last of these had a day off in many Mozart symphonies).
We know that the symphony went with him on the second Italian tour and was performed several times in the winter of 1771 in Milan and Brixen. It is possible, but not likely, that it sounded as it had back in Salzburg; the playing style in Italy was different. Italian musicians were well known (and later notorious) for improvising and adding freely to the composer's score. In most parts of Italy the concert pitch was higher, and the orchestral sound therefore brighter and perhaps also sharper. The sounds from the eighteenth century have unfortunately vanished, so much of this must remain conjecture. It should be added too that Italy was not one country, but a number of principalities, city-states and republics. Each region had its tradition. But a certain shared practice was maintained by the many travelling virtuosi and opera singers who went from town to town and from theatre to theatre. Many sources suggest that there was a common Italian musical aesthetic, and that it was different from those of other countries.
The most famous Italian orchestras were attached to the opera houses in Turin, Milan and Naples. Mozart heard all of them and worked with the first two. The orchestra in Milan had 28 violins, six violas, two cellos, six double-basses, two flutes, four oboes, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and timpani. We have the figures from the old payroll lists, and two things in particular are interesting: the larger Italian opera orchestras were almost twice the size of the court orchestra in Salzburg, and they were unusually bass-heavy. The proportions within the bass group too were different. In the 1780s the orchestra in Naples had two cellos and eight
double-basses, that is a ratio of 1:4, which produces a quite different sound from what Mozart knew (and we know), with a ratio of cello to bass closer to 2:1. In addition two or four bassoons often played with the bass part (even when the composer did not so stipulate). This gave the bass further sound and contour. Another characteristic of the Italian orchestras was the many violins, while there were relatively few violas. In short, in Italy the orchestras had a tendency to favour the top and bottom ranges. The sonorous bass group, according to experts, made even a rather ‘dry' theatre space sound like a church. The sound was well grounded in the bass and was ‘old-fashioned' like that of a Baroque orchestra. It is no coincidence that Italian music from the second half of the eighteenth century consisted mainly of melody and bass. A German traveller comments: "The Italians staff their orchestras with more basses than we do, and everywhere I consider the result very good - moreover the other parts in fact gain more prominence and are far from being drowned out."
The giant Italian orchestras functioned, like all other orchestras at the time, without a conductor. The musicians sat in long rows parallel with the stage. One half faced the audience, the other the stage. For symphonies the writer Galeazzi recommended them to sit up against a wall: "The violins sit in two rows, one facing the other, so they can look one another in the eye" (which means half of them sat with their backs to the audience). "If there are only two bass instruments, place them near the harpsichord, such that the cellist is close to the harpsichordist and the leader of the first violins. But if there are more bass instruments played by good professional musicians, place some of them at the other end of the orchestra". The description continues, but we stop here, for the tendency is clear: the bass instruments must be spread out over the orchestra to keep the pulse and intonation together, and the heart of the ensemble is a harpsichordist in collaboration with a cellist, a bassist and the leader of the violins. When they keep together the rest follow. A splendid arrangement in a world that could afford very few rehearsals.
The principle was the same in the smaller orchestras. Mozart and his father worked together with several of them in the mansions of the aristocracy. We can see how this kind of thing worked in paintings and drawings from the period. Again a harpsichord at the centre, bass instruments close to the harpsichordist, a single viola, a couple of first and second violins in two rows facing each other (even when they are only four in all) and the prescribed winds: first oboe with the first violins, second oboe with the second violins, while the two hornists always sit together. Why? Because that is how the music of the eighteenth century was composed.
We do not know whether father and son were enthusiastic about or frustrated by the Italian conditions. In their letters they are naturally busy talking about other things. But in January 1770 a few remarks come from the young man: "The opera in Mantua was charming. The orchestra was not bad. In Cremona the orchestra is good and the first violinist is called Spagnoletto," the otherwise critical 14-year-old writes. In the archives we can see that the Cremona orchestra had ten violins, two violas, one cello, three double-basses, two oboes, two horns and a harpsichord.
Did the Italian orchestras leave their mark on Mozart? Possibly. It is striking that for the rest of his life Mozart viewed the cello as a bass instrument. While Haydn, Boccherini and many others wrote virtuoso cello concertos and sonatas, Mozart used his cellists to lay down a foundation, or as the Italians say, a fondamento. In much orchestral and chamber music he does not even distinguish between cello and bass. His manuscripts often specify succinctly "Basso", and that covers quite a bit. A concerto with violin, viola and solo cello is abandoned, a cello sonata remains unfinished. In the Concertone for two solo violins there is a small solo segment for cello, that is all. While Haydn fills his symphonies with magnificent cello solos, Mozart avoids them. Only in 1789, when he writes three string quartets for the cello-crazy King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, does he show what he could have done for solo cello. Perhaps it is coincidental that nothing ever came of it, perhaps it was simply due to a lack of commissions - or else it was because in his youth he had learned in Italy that bass instruments work best in the depths as a foundation for the rest.