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W.A. Mozart

Symphonies Vol. 3

Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Adam Fischer

This CD is released by the Danish National Chamber Orchestra on its own record label DRS, distributed by Dacapo. This is the sixth release in the acclaimed series of the complete symphonies by W.A. Mozart, recorded by the Danish National Chamber Orchestra and their renowned Austro-Hungarian chief conductor Adam Fischer. The CD booklets in this series offer the conductor's commentaries to each symphony as well as reflective essays on W.A. Mozart and the Classic period. This volume contains six of Mozart's earlier and shorter symphonies composed c. 1769-1770.

"Recommended for followers of Mozart symphony cycles; Fischer and these Danes offer a fresh perspective."
James Manheim,
"Spelet är så smittande och positivt att Mozart måste le i sin himmel"
Thomas Roth, OPUS

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Total runtime: 
54 min.
They call it Vienna Classicism

by Claus Johansen

The good melodies of Vienna Classicism appeal to ordinary people. They are full of life and we are still using many of them. Just think of the British national anthem, which Beethoven arranged for the piano; the French Marseillaise, which Gossec arranged for orchestra; or the Austrian imperial anthem, which Haydn first composed, and later refused in a string quartet. The music may well be skilled and scholarly, but it must first and foremost be melodious and entertaining. Is there a social explanation of this? Roughly speaking, Classicism (c. 1750-1820) is the period when the nobility gradually stopped sponsoring music, but the bourgeoisie started going to public concerts. But Europe is a patchwork, with more than one colour.

The reforms during the great revolution changed everything in France, including musical life. Old schools and seats of learning were closed, new ones emerged, including the Paris Conservatoire. If Mozart had accepted the position of organist in Versailles, he might have ended up as a progressive professor there, and his symphonies would probably have sounded different. In Mozart’s time Britain had something like parliamentary government and a modern economy. The Britons were well ahead when it came to industrial inventions, A new middle class had grown up, and they were just as interested in culture as the aristocracy, but they expected comprehensible, entertaining art. If Mozart had gone with his friend Haydn to London, he might have written more popular symphonies and earned good money doing so. But Europe is a patchwork. At the same time many eastern Europeans lived in a world that had not changed much. They were dependent on agriculture, were tyrannized by princes, and many of their traditions went back to the Middle Ages. Ready for a modern Mozart symphony? Hardly.

If you look at a patchwork quilt from far off, it has only one colour. And if you look at ‘Classical’ music from a distance, it is easy to generalize. But we cannot get around the fact that the bourgeoisie was on its way, while in many places the aristocratic culture lived on. It flourished at the princely courts, in the mansions of the nobility, on the great estates and in concerts in the small towns. The sponsors were the nobility, and many of the listeners (and the performers) would have been students and officers who would probably have balked at being counted among the bourgeoisie. In the Danish provincial city of Odense, bourgeoisie and nobility met in the local club to play Haydn’s and Mozart’s latest symphonies. The works were ordered from German publishers and performed a few years after they had been composed. The modern works were not easy, but at a pinch the amateurs could get help from the staff of the ‘city musician’ and local military musicians.

Sheet music and books had both become less expensive – even a concert ticket was often affordable. For Mozart’s subscription concerts in Vienna at the beginning of the 1780s, the price of the cheapest ticket corresponded to a year’s wages for a journeyman carpenter. Not many carpenters went to the concerts – not that they did ten years later, but at least the prices had dropped.

The so-called Vienna Classicism style came from Italy. It quickly conquered Europe. Its favourite weapons were operas and symphonies with striking rhythms, singable phrases, virtuosity and transparence. This was all already bubbling beneath the Baroque. In the middle of the 1700s it broke through to the surface. The style was easier to grasp than the declamatory French court opera or the polyphonic ingenuity of German Baroque music. Its most important elements were the good melodies and a simple but sophisticated accompaniment. The melody is in one place: in opera with the singing soloist, in the orchestra with the first violins.

We have forgotten many of the originators, but once they were stars: Leo, Vinci, Feo, Pergolesi. Then list is much longer. Their catchy music flowed out from Naples, for example, and it could be heard in opera houses from Ljubljana to Lisbon, from London to St. Petersburg. Everywhere fortunes were spent hiring musicians and singers who mastered the new style. They worked together with local musicians. There was a workshop mood to the Italian operas. The composer wrote the overtures, most of the arias and the ensembles, but often the French dancingmaster wrote his own ballet music. And from the opera the new mixed style migrated to the concert hall and the symphonies, which to begin with were simply Italian opera overtures. It can be difficult for us to hear, but the symphony of Vienna Classicism consists of several fused elements: melodies, harmonies and phrases from the Italian opera style were mixed with the French dance rhythms, the German orchestral tradition and elements from the old sacred music with added stamping peasant dances and perhaps a little Hungarian local colour.

In the 1700s French musical life was synonymous with Parisian musical life, and in England there was not much music outside London. At the Italian and Germany princely courts, however, we find a ‘scattered’ type of musical life. Each little aristocratic residential seat had its theatre and its orchestras: often the money was scarce and the quality poor, but they were there, and they were workplaces for many artists. Austria combined the two models: many provincial towns with sacred music and monasteries with fine musical traditions. At the small courts, hunting music, serenades and lots of modern symphonies. In the winter the gentry moved into Vienna, and often they took their musicians with them. This was how Mozart came to Vienna in 1781. There, music-lovers could judge what they heard. They appreciated quality and accepted that a composer should be allowed to experiment.

It is no coincidence that Vienna came to give its name to the new style: a city at the centre of Europe in an empire with points of contact. To the west Bohemia, where the best wind players in Europe were trained. To the south Italy, where they trained the best singers and string players and experimented with the new without losing the old. Austria had control of the Netherlands, and had close contacts with England. There were cultural exchanges with France, for the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette was married to the French Crown Prince. Vienna absorbed culture, processed it and sent it out into the world by way of its music publishers.

In the course of Mozart’s life the symphony developed. The symphonies of his childhood and youth, from the major journeys to the Netherlands, London, Paris and Italy, are brilliant reflections of the local works that he and his father encountered on their travels – appealing pieces in three or four short movements. Really just festive startingshots. All the same, music that had unique expressive power. It was of such works that the author Daniel Webb wrote: “On hearing an overture ... we are transported, exalted, delighted; the impetuous, the sublime, the tender, take possession of the sense at the will of the composer”. Already here the symphonies were beginning to live their own life as independent works. Twenty years later, Mozart’s symphonies were fully rounded and elaborated artistic statements with the same weight as an opera or a piece of chamber music. Drama had entered the concert hall. Mozart’s late symphonies sound as if the music is telling us something important that cannot be said in words. Exactly ten years after the death of Mozart the philosopher Schlegel wrote that he regarded instrumental music as “an image of our restless, changeable, always mutable life”.

Mozart complete?

by Claus Johansen

It’s risky to attempt to make an accurate list of all Mozart’s symphonies. The challenges are many, and even levelheaded musicologists can break into a cold sweat over the task. Here we only have room for a few daunting examples.

Many music-lovers still think that Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, because the ‘last’ has been named no. 41. The truth is that he wrote around 70. And when we write “around 70 symphonies” it is because each of the ‘Paris’ Symphony (no. 31), the ‘Haffner’ Symphony no. 35) and the large G minor Symphony (no. 40) by Mozart exists in two different versions. So should they count as three or six symphonies?

The traditional numbering, now more than a century old, went from 1 to 41, where no. 1, according to tradition, was the first, childhood symphony and no. 41 was the adult composer’s mature symphonic full stop. The rest was chronology – or so it was thought. The list goes back to the music publisher Breitkopf & Härtel’s edition, which spread all over the world from 1879 on. But as early as 1881 newly-discovered symphonies were being added, and although they were all relatively early works, the choice was made to number them 42-55. This destroyed the chronology, and things became even worse when scholars found out that seven of the symphonies were not by Mozart after all, and that no. 37 only had an introduction by Mozart, but was otherwise by Michael Haydn. So the list of Mozart symphonies shrank from 55 to 48.

But it gets worse still. For what is a symphony, anyway? In Mozart’s final years it was a grand affair with four movements and a message to the world from a serious composer. But in the years of his childhood and youth a symphony was often an introduction to a theatre play, a cantata, an opera or a work of sacred music, as a rule composed of three short movements (fast-slow-fast), and often inconsequential but in a festive way. Seven of these kinds of works are included in the series of symphonies, while others have been registered as sinfonie, overtures etc. Given this knowledge, one wonders whether we should include the around 20 small “stray” sinfonie that Mozart wrote for his early operas and for others’ dramatic works.

There are more challenges. From concert programmes and letters we know that once Mozart had moved to Vienna he amputated his multi-movement orchestral serenades from Salzburg, and performed them as three- or four-movement recycled symphonies in Vienna, where they were probably marketed as new. Should they too be included in a complete edition of the Mozart symphonies?

The questions pile up. But from this rather chaotic account it should be evident, I hope, that the idea of a complete recording of the Mozart symphonies borders on the absurd. This is all about choices, and perhaps especially about weeding out.

During the organization of this recording we have consulted Neal Zaslaw’s outstanding studies (Mozart’s Symphonies, Oxford, 1989). We have chosen the 44 symphonies that scholarship regards as authentic. We have excluded doubtful works, just as the truncated serenades from Salzburg and the small overtures to operas etc. of his youth have been omitted. What remain are 44 small and large masterpieces which together and individually paint a picture of the development of the symphony and a portrait of one of the world’s greatest composers.

Release date: 
June 2011
Track count: