On the symphonies
Dated Salzburg, July 1772
KV 132 is a symphony in E-flat, and that is always something special - it is the key of The Magic Flute. The first movement has a certain rigour - the sighs of the second subject are not of sadness, rather of serene clarity. One feels reconciled with life. The strangely pulsating second movement also evokes serenity. There is no revolt here. Calm enters and pervades the restlessness. The minuet is wonderfully witty and human, the violins compete with one another, then suddenly they lose the plot and stop. Music which to the noble audience of Mozart's time probably seemed ill-bred and rather cheeky. And then the trio with its sober premonitions - a soupçon of Schubert, sort of en passant. The fourth movement, a rondo with its gay, whiplash-like main theme. I am sure that after the concert the nobility would have gone home softly whistling this theme. It would not have let them alone.
Dated Salzburg, July 1772
KV 133, with its ‘trilling' first movement of dazzling sunlight. Mediterranean music, the trumpets vie with the horns, everyone has to join the fray. In the trills I hear cicadas. The second movement with the flutes is enchanting. Music that constantly aspires upward like a fine little rocket. The flute like a lark high up in the sky, and as soon as the minuet begins everyone joins in this upward striving, happy and jubilant. The last movement is the wittiest; the main theme has some gentle fun with a stammerer - one who can't get past the first note.
Dated Salzburg, August 1772
KV 134, a sunny, blue symphony in A major. The beginning is like a fountain, the water bubbles, wells up, shoots forth. In the second movement the fountain falls calm. The water just purls, a soft breeze ripples the surface. It is spring. The air is scented with lilacs. In the third movement the couple dance decorously in the park beside the fountain, in the fourth movement no longer so decorously. They vanish into the labyrinth, play like two cats and are happy. So are we.
Dated Salzburg, 30. March 1773
KV 161a, E-flat, the next ‘Magic Flute symphony'. The first movement is simple, clear, the music winged and bouncy. In the second movement you can feel the butterflies flutter by. Then the wonderfully slow middle movement with the delicate sighs, a touching vulnerability with the sensitively swelling yearning of the violins; and the final movement with its unspoiled joy, with its bliss. The music floats and flies with an inevitability that we can fly with in our dreams. It is a dream.
We call it Classical
By Claus Johansen
‘Classical music' has today become a popular name for all serious composition music. But it is also a heading with a more specific meaning that we place above the music that was composed in the period between 1750 and 1830. We call this the period of Classicism to distinguish it from the Romanticism that followed. Although many of the Romantic composers saw themselves as part of a movement, there is nothing to indicate that the composers in Mozart's time regarded themselves as ‘classic'. If we disregard Haydn's oratorios, Beethoven's symphonies and Gluck's last operas, they wrote their music for the concert scene here and now, and they took it for granted that every work passed its sell-by date within a few years. Nevertheless, many of their works became ‘classics' and our modern musical life is built up on the basis of a number of these ‘one-off' works. They have been misinterpreted, reworked and incorrectly performed, but have remained, not as canon or monument, but as living, relevant art that speaks directly to anyone who cares to listen.
If we look at the social context, the age of Classicism is roughly speaking the period when the aristocracy slowly lost its monopoly of music and the bourgeoisie took over. But this is only partly true. In the 1770s most European countries were still agrarian societies, and many of their traditions can be traced back directly to the Middle Ages. Among them, art was still aristocratic. It is easy to draw erroneous conclusions, and one of the most erroneous says that the symphony came to Europe on the heels of the popular bourgeois novel. Many of the best music historians come from England, and the idea is perhaps not wrong from an English point of view, but we cannot deny that the best Classical symphonies were in fact written outside England, and there are more of them than one might think. Haydn wrote at least 104, Mozart more than 40 - that sounds like a lot, but if we count them all up we can find around 16,500 symphonies composed between 1720 and 1804. The great majority were written for princely courts, monasteries, aristocratic palaces and public concerts in Central Europe, where self-assured officers, clerics and academics would probably object to being classed as members of the bourgeoisie. The novels and plays of ‘sensibility' from Mozart's time are mirrors of the life of the bourgeoisie, but the ideas behind the symphonies of the age are not bourgeois but aristocratic.
A symphony can be regarded as an opera without words. In the first movement we are presented with a problem. In the opera it is the conflict between what the characters should do and what they want to do. In the symphony it is the conflict between the first and second subject. In the slow movement of the symphony we meet the aristocratic dream-world: floating, pastoral, beautiful, misty, utopian. The third movement is the old-fashioned, slightly formal minuet with its somewhat rustic trio - never truly rural but always rustic idyll viewed through aristocratic spectacles. And to conclude, the happy, dancing final movement: fine and gay, but still cultivated and civilized; cultivated amusement, harmonious - and no more and no less ‘Classical' than witty, intelligent conversation in a free-thinking Parisian salon. The balance has been restored, the conflict is over, all is well again - and all is as it was before. For art is meant to move, touch and enlighten - but preferably not to disturb. Beethoven is still a long way off.
A symphony is perhaps an opera without words, but it is also good entertainment, and that is why intelligent people could at one and the same time take pleasure in modern, provocative bourgeois literature and the more stable aristocratic symphonies. That kind of music was appreciated everywhere in Europe, because it was written harmoniously and in the Italian musical language that everyone understood.
The period is called Classical now because it has become classic for us. It has become the Golden Age of our music. But the age itself was also interested in the classics in the other sense. Many of the people who lived in Mozart's time turned for inspiration to Classical Antiquity. Several of Mozart's operas are in fact set in antiquity. It was in the spirit of this kind of ‘Classicism' that people began to dig for and find the hidden cities of the past. The cultivated elite began to collect beautiful ancient works of art - like the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who filled his town house in Weimar with Classical statues and plaster-casts, which were displayed against the radiant colours of the ‘Pompeiian' walls. Goethe went to Italy a few years after Mozart, more to experience than to learn, and he came home with experiences of the genuine southern European landscape, eroticism and art. He never recovered from this, and his experiences left their mark on the whole of intellectual Europe.
Museums and libraries mushroomed. They spoke of ‘eternal art' - or of ‘art for art's sake'. Like Goethe they collected fragments from antiquity, because for them these small individual elements had an eternal, universal inner beauty: a Greek vase, a Roman coin, a Classical column from Sicily - these things were moved out of their original context, and from now on stood on shelves and pedestals. There they looked beautiful and simple, and from there they were meant to give the viewers a fashionable kind of aesthetic pleasure.
The Italian operas might have had their origins in the classics, but the music was always modern. The Italian musical style was for that age what American pop music is for us: a well-loved and indispensable common denominator. That is why all composers who could afford it went to Italy, including Mozart. They had to listen and learn and travel back home and show what they had learned. Nevertheless, the composers of the eighteenth century had much to say about the mixed style. It is perhaps hard for us to hear it, but what we call Viennese Classicism is pieced together with music from many countries: harmonic patterns and snatches of melody from the Italian cantabile style, mixed with French dance rhythms, German orchestral sounds, Bohemian folk music and the remains of the dogmatic Catholic sacred music. The style is mixed, but it became known as Vienna Classicism and is still regarded as a harmonious totality. Parts of it survived in western Europe all the way up the World War I.
It was in Classicism that the concert activity of the western world was founded, and the strengths and weaknesses of the modern concert world were already in place before 1800. Many of the things that we regard as matters of course in musical life first appeared in the age of Classicism. Our musical world was created in Central Europe two centuries ago. We call it Classicism because in many ways it was influenced by the dream of Classical harmony. The music is built up in clear, transparent forms, there is a system to it. Many movements are governed by the master-plan we today call the sonata form, where two subjects are set up against each other, compete, come together and in the end form a higher unity; and there are other controlling systems and conventions, not least in the operas. The great majority of Classical composers stick to the rules; Beethoven is the first to widen the boundaries of what one can do, and that leads to the death of Classicism.
Classicism forms the transition between the old and the new age. Mozart first and foremost wrote his music for an aristocratic audience, but he experienced the beginning of the French Revolution, and twenty years after his death the modern world had its breakthrough. The first steam engines were on their way, while the folklorists collected all that they could find of folk tales and legends from rural life in the old days. This was something modern man could use: a knowledge and a wisdom that was perhaps about to be lost. They published their finds, both in original and in adapted versions, and in fact there was money in that kind of thing. Just as it had been fashionable to collect Greek vases and Roman coins. The old finds became symbols of something genuine, almost ‘organic', that could remind us of the harmony we all lack.
Something similar happened in music. Popular functional music was collected from everyday life, adapted and used in the concert hall. The pieces that had once been written for particular functions - church services, military parades, weddings and balls - were now played in reworked forms for a sympathetic audience in public concerts. In the age of the Baroque a minuet was something you danced; in the age of Classicism it was something you listened to.
Contemporary music was once composed for everyday life; now it is composed for the concert hall. And, like Goethe's Classical busts, the old music, which once had its own meaning, is set up on a pedestal as an aesthetic experience. It has been standing there ever since.
Mozart and the flute
By Claus Johansen
There are flutes in all Mozart's great Vienna and Prague operas, and there are one or two flutes in most of his late symphonies, in many of the piano concertos and in several of the big orchestral serenades. But in the early operas and symphonies from Italy and Salzburg things look different. In these the basic core of the wind group is two oboes and two (or four) French horns, often bolstered up by one or two bassoons, and in festive contexts supplemented by timpani and trumpets. Flutes do appear, but as a rule only in single movements instead of the oboes, which suggests that it was at first the same people who played both instruments.
The flute, which is actually an ancient instrument, did not become a regular member of the orchestra until some time in the 1770s. However, the instrument had a long history behind it. The flutes Mozart knew we call ‘Classical', but they are closely related to the old Baroque transverse flutes that were developed in Paris and Versailles around 1670. The flute is normally made of several parts that are joined together before you play it, and the assembled flute gets narrower towards the bottom, where it is furnished with a single key that you open when you play the note E flat. The flutes of the eighteenth century were usually made of boxwood, but other woods occur, and a few luxury instruments were turned in ivory. The musician blows across a hole in the mouthpiece, the sound is formed when the air flow strikes the sharp edge (as when one blows in a bottle). The flute is normally held towards the right. There are six finger holes and a key, but there are more than seven notes in the music of the eighteenth century. By means of so-called overblowing (blowing harder and/or changing the blowing angle) the musician can make the voice of the flute ‘break' so that it leaps up into a higher octave. The semitones (the notes with sharps or flats) that lie between the basic notes are produced by cross-fingering, where for example you lift finger 2 while 1 and 3 are still covering their holes. The result is not quite in tune, but the skilled flautist can correct the pitch with the lips and air flow.
In Mozart's time flutes were made in four parts - that is, with two middle sections. The first of these often came in several versions with different lengths, so that the musician could choose different pitches as the starting-point, which was necessary for travelling virtuosi, since two different cities rarely had the same concert pitch. Musicians and instrument-makers experimented throughout the 1700s with the holes and the bore of the flute,
and in the mid-century the classic one-keyed flute arose, which has a
slightly narrower bore than the Baroque flutes. This produced a better pitch
and a more focused sonority and made the instrument more suitable for orchestral
use, and this was the flute Mozart knew and wrote for throughout most of his life, with a
few exceptions. His Parisian concerto for flute and harp was composed for a French amateur who had an instrument with an extra low C-key, and of course Mozart dexterously exploited the potential this offered.
The flutes of the eighteenth century function best in the ‘sharp' keys (for example G major, D major and A major) and it is often in these keys that Mozart lets them replace the oboes of the orchestra. In the later Vienna compositions, perhaps inspired by Haydn, he uses the flutes in many keys, and often in the highest register of the instrument, so that they float high above the oboes and clarinets, which several contemporary writers incidentally considered vulgar and "shrill".
It was a long time before the flute became a standard member of the orchestra. In Mozart's time it was first and foremost an instrument for amateurs and virtuosi. A flute is not as hard to play as an oboe or a bassoon. A good flute was affordable, and it didn't require as much practice as a violin. It was easy to transport, and it was extremely well suited to the intimate, sensitive chamber music of the eighteenth century. Mozart knew several professional flute soloists. The famous virtuoso Wendling from Mannheim was one of his close friends, but almost all Mozart's solo works for flute were written for amateurs, and there were many of those in the eighteenth century. Students, aristocrats and officers played the flute. So the music publishers published reams of flute music. In the Copenhagen of the 1770s Count Raben and the young Royal Chamberlain Gjedde collected huge (still-preserved) quantities of flute music. The Prussian State Treasury paid the virtuoso Quantz the same salary as a minister of state for composing flute music and rehearsing it with his pupil Frederik the Great. Prince Carl August in Mannheim, who commissioned and paid for Mozart's opera Idomeneo, spent no small part of his leisure time relaxing with a flute. We can thank the flute amateur De Jean for Mozart's flute concertos and quartets.
But why would a nobleman play the flute of all things? In the first place because it was fashionable, in the second place because it looked good, and in the third place because it sounded nice. In addition, flute playing sent out certain important signals. The flute was a ‘natural' instrument and the philosopher Rousseau published Vivaldi's Spring for solo flute in his own adaptation which, with added bird-twittering, sent the listeners directly back to nature. Everywhere nobles and burghers played amateur duets, often with one another. The flute was, if not democratic, at least liberating. The free-thinking Danish Count Brandt played wistful solos in prison before he was executed. He was perhaps a slightly naïve man of the Enlightenment; if he had lived in 1968 he would presumably have played the guitar. But then, two centuries before, his flute-playing showed that he was in tune with the fashion of his time, and that he went in for parts of the enlightened Prussian absolutism, and cultivated modern French naturalness. You can presumably always begin your cultural revolution by blowing away the cobwebs!
A single disparaging remark in a single letter from Mannheim has given rise to the misunderstanding that Mozart did not care for flutes. He was young when he wrote that letter; he was also under pressure, confused and in love; in that situation a commission for flute concertos and quartets for a probably incompetent amateur can quite frankly be rather irritating. The misunderstanding is in fact cleared up by Mozart himself time and time again, not in the letters but in the scores. You only have to listen to his double concerto for flute and harp or the flute solos from The Magic Flute to understand that he knew the instrument, was fond of it and understood how to get the best out of it. Nor can we ignore the fact that it was he who composed the two most frequently played flute concertos in history.