On the symphonies
Dated Salzburg, 21 February 1772
KV 124 is the music of YOUTHFUL REBELLION. The sun bursts out even in the fifth bar. The refined simplicity infusing the third movement is addictive. The last movement sends the blood coursing through your veins. Listeners prone to high blood pressure should consult their doctors or pharmacists first.
Written in Salzburg, May 1772
KV 128 is THE MOST PECULIAR: sudden omens of fateful happenings, presages of death in the first act, and then the sun bursting through again. You return to earthy joie-de-vivre, you dance, sing, and stamp your feet.
Written in Salzburg, May 1772
The first movement of KV 129 is MUSIC FOR TAUNTING BY. It is as if Mozart wants to tease us, and really relishes doing so. The second movement is a jewel. Nobody can banish the theme from his mind. Any other 18th century composer would have envied Mozart this theme, and rightly so.
Written in Salzburg, May 1772
KV 130 is perhaps THE MOST SERENE. Again the sudden omens of death in the last movement, but it makes peace with them. Soothing, confiding fear of death, so to speak. The flutes in the second movement sound like somebody caressing a face. Here, too, the young hothead displays calm and patience.
note on events in 1772
The young man who composed the music on this CD was better educated than most. He had learned everything there was to be learned from his father and a series of the leading European composers and musicologists whom he and his family visited on a number of grand tours. What could not be acquired by learning seems to have been his from birth. He was an exceptional human being and had he concentrated on his schooling he would hardly have turned into the Mozart we know today.
There were other, more ordinary, less privileged children in the Austrian Empire, however, and Emperor Joseph II had them in mind when he decided to set up public schools in Austria. The Emperor was fascinated by the fashionable notions of the blessings of enlightenment and so compulsory schooling was introduced for girls and boys alike.
Kapellmeister Mozart's son from Salzburg never made it to school but he was well-educated nonetheless. At sixteen he had already met numerous artists and men of learning from Austria, Germany, England, France, the Netherlands and Italy. He had conversed with kings and ministers; spoken to the Pope in Rome. He had received awards and accolades from academies of science and music. He was well-informed, good at maths, fond of dancing, often went to the theatre, and was an avid reader. He was good at art and of course he was one of the most musical human beings ever. When he composed he mastered the latest forms, but he seldom explored universes other than his own. On the other hand his explorations are so human and universally accessible that they will probably never lose our interest.
While the young composer was at his father's house in Salzburg expanding his notions as to what the modern symphony could do, an intrepid Englishman by the name of James Bruce was exploring the Blue Nile to the point at which it met the White Nile, and bold coachmen were forcing the Brenner Pass across the Alps for the very first time. In 1772 great deeds were being achieved in many fields. In London an entrepreneur launched a product he called "nigger skin"; we use it to this day under its more politically correct name of "eraser". But in 1772 expanding, overstepping the mark, and erasing where not all; you had to innovate.
In Strasburg Johann Gottfried von Herder told young poets that they need not cling to much-vaunted classicism in order to write. Why not seek inspiration from Homer, Shakespeare or the Old Testament? What was wrong with folk songs and ballads and fairy tales? One of his disciples was a genius of a young lawyer named Goethe, who forgot all about law for long periods to write about the liberating hero Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Iron Hand). He was hailed by the progressive intellectuals of the day. It was the start of an inner revolution whereby layers of old world common sense were cast aside one by one and the revolutionaries abandoned themselves to heady emotion. In his verse young Goethe attacked the very Gods themselves, and in Mahomets Gesang he described how a great man is able to enthrall and carry everybody away. It was also in 1772 that he fell for a girl whose heart belonged elsewhere; and when his love remained unrequited he poured his despair into his emotional novel about the sorrows of young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) in which Werther's passion merges with elemental nature. When Werther's love also turns out to be hopeless, nature grows menacing and full of malice. Animate nature was born. The result was suicide in the novel and swooning readers. Joseph Haydn was one of the many composers inspired by the new emotionally charged style. He wrote a series of experimental symphonies with sharp accents, cutting edges, slightly rough effects, beguiling, almost sentimental tunes, and astonishing harmonies. They, too, were part of a movement attempting in many different ways to overstep limits in order to give rein to immediate emotion. But everything was still kept in place within the classical framework.
While emotions were seething in Europe, the intrepid James Cook set sail into the cold in search of Terra Australis, the vast paradise that just had to exist somewhere south of Australia, at least in theory. But theory was not much use when the ice floes impeded his progress. The expedition, which took three years, did not lead to the anticipated continent; but people began talking of a new place they dubbed Antarctica. 1772 was a year of emotion, writing, painting, and describing. Working independently of each other, within a year Scientists Priestley and Scheele discovered oxygen. And now Scheele was about to publish his description of chlorine. Henry Cavendish published his Attempts to Explain some of the Phenomena of Electricity, and Pruesley discovered that plants gave off oxygen. One of the most talked-about books of the year was by Euler; it was called Lettres à une princesse d'Allemagne and explained some of the laws of mechanics, acoustics, astronomy and optics.
New fields of study appeared everywhere. Most derived directly from the world in which we live. We were familiar with the phenomena, but now they were to be described scientifically and preferably in a way that permitted their discussion by any cultivated person; for this was the age of enlightenment. What mattered was presenting the facts and questioning fixed ideas, quite simply because knowledge would make the world a better place to live. There were enough problems to tackle. Poverty and deprivation were rife. Ideas of enlightenment and the triumph of grand passion did not reach the majority of suffering, starving Europeans toiling away as navies, artisans or peasants in slave-like conditions. The new world was dawning but meanwhile freedom was for the privileged few.
There were benefits, though; in 1772 France abolished the Inquisition, at least on paper. Philosophers of the enlightenment had been fighting for humanity, freedom of thought and tolerance for years, and their ideas were beginning to make headway, but on the balance sheet 1772 was a year of shame. In high summer three enlightened monarchs: the Empress of Russia, the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria decided to occupy different parts of Poland. As they were stronger than Poland they saw no reason to negotiate. White Russia went to Russia, Silesia to Austria, and West Prussia to Prussia. Poland lost a third of her possessions and half of her population.
Few dared question fundamental issues. Those in power were invulnerable, practically divine. The usual form of government was still absolutism, i.e. dictatorship. Censorship was imposed in most countries and criticism did not remain unpunished.
Anybody who tried to change the very system put his life on the line. The Danish government minister J.F. Struensee discovered as much; he had acquired considerable power and for a brief period he tried to create a state inspired by the ideas of tolerance and humanity promoted by the philosophers of the enlightenment. That was bad enough; but he circumnavigated the weak Danish monarch and sailed straight into bed with the queen; this was an excellent opportunity to topple him. The sensitive, enlightened Count Struensee was hung, drawn and quartered in Copenhagen in April 1772 while Mozart was working on his 15th symphony at his father's house in Salzburg.
Mozart and the Orchestra
On the oboe
During the classical period (roughly from 1750 to 1820) some 10,000 symphonies were composed in the western world. Obviously this music is highly varied in nature, but what does unite the works is a number of rules and conventions. The body of the orchestra always comprises a string ensemble with the violins on top, violas in the middle, and cellos and basses at the bottom. The music for strings is almost always four-part. If there are wind instruments, in the vast majority of cases two oboes and two horns are employed; trumpets and timpani may be added on festive occasions. Occasionally the oboes are replaced or augmented by flutes, and if there are enough players a bassoon or two may support the cellos. Clarinets were a rarity in Mozart's younger days, but when he had the chance to use them he did so greedily. There were none in Salzburg, where he mainly made do with strings, oboes and horns. This combination was the standard one at most courts, churches and opera houses in Europe, and used to be referred to as the Neapolitan arrangement; this is the orchestra Mozart used for almost all the symphonies of his youth and it comprises the core of many of his later compositions for larger orchestras. Convention dictates that the strings, particularly the first violins, predominate. The four wind instruments serve more or less as accompaniment. The oboes come in for the loud bits, where they play the same music as the strings, just as they did in the baroque, in order to give the music more body and colour. If the tempo is too rapid or the line too virtuoso, the composer gives them a simplified version of the violin parts; often they merely play long chords or fanfares. On occasion one or both oboes may be allowed an intelligent little comment on what is going on; just a couple of bars, a small transition from one theme to another. If the orchestra sports a virtuoso amongst its members, he might even get a delicate little solo in the slow movement. In Mozart's day the oboe was relatively new, with about a century to its name. The classical oboe was closely related to the old French baroque oboe. It was usually made of boxwood; its bore was narrower and it was shorter than its predecessor. Its timbre was thus lighter and its top more reliable, but like the baroque oboe it still only had two keys (for bottom C and E sharp, which the player could not otherwise reach without dislocating his right hand). Its compass was just over two octaves, which a proper oboe player could achieve from just six holes and good training that enabled him to cover the holes fully, half, or just a quarter. The sound was produced by a bamboo reed, which the player had tomakeforhimselfor acquire for an astronomical sum. Besides dexterous fingering the instrument required well-developed breathing techniques and fabulous lip control, as the high notes demanded more air and another embouchure. What's more, the instrument didn't play on pitch of its own accord, so the player needed a well-tuned ear and very rapid responses. In other words the oboe was an instrument for true pros. Anyone who wanted to write a symphony had to know all this. Mozart did; and more. In his youth the best oboe players came from Italy and Bohemia. Mozart worked closely with Gioseffe Secchi, who played in Turin and at the court of the Elector of Bavaria. In Salzburg he met the Venetian virtuoso Giuseppe Ferlendis, and the Bohemian, Joseph Fiala. But he wrote his best oboe solos for the German, Friedrich Ramm, who played in the elite orchestra at Mannheim. His full-bodied timbre and astonishing technique (which enabled him to reach F''') inspired Mozart to compose some of his finest soloists. In Vienna, where there were more than 400 professional wind players in Mozart's day, he met the virtuosos Wendt and Trienbsee, whose singing style resulted in some of the most beautiful oboe solos in the operas, piano concertos and late symphonies. Mozart knew how oboes should sound, and perhaps especially how they should not. In 1787 he wrote in a letter about the acclaimed Mr. Fischer from London: "Possibly he plays in some old-fashioned style? Not at all! The long and short of it is that he plays like a bad beginner. Young André, who took some lessons from Fiala, plays a thousand times better. And then his concertos! His own compositions! Why, each ritornello lasts a quarter of an hour; and then our hero comes in, lifts up one leaden foot after the other and stamps on the floor with each in turn. His tone is entirely nasal, and his held notes like the tremulant on the organ."