Mozart and Haydn

Friday, January 27, 2017 at 7:30pm
Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 3:00pm
Symphony Hall

“Aisslinn Nosky makes classical music cool.”
Boston Spirit Magazine

Haydn called Mozart “the greatest composer I know;” Mozart called Haydn “my best friend.” Enjoy what each heard in the other in this musical reunion, featuring Mozart’s sparkling concerto with a soloist WGBH calls “an audience favorite for her imaginative interpretations, scorching technique and a physicality onstage that Mick Jagger might admire.”

Harry Christophersconductor
Aisslinn Nosky, violin

Program Notes

The Beauty of the Moment

“When I come home, I feel sad because as I near our house I expect to hear the sound of your violin,” Leopold Mozart wrote to his son Wolfgang, who was in Munich at the time. Mozart reassured his father that he was still playing his violin, including his Violin Concerto in G Major, which he called “the Strassburg concerto” because of a melody by that name he incorporated into the third movement: “In the evening during supper, I played the Strassburg concerto … Everyone praised the clear, beautiful tone.”

There is a lovely family story associated with Wolfgang’s earliest attempts at playing the violin. Leopold, an accomplished violinist in his own right and author of an important book on violin technique, was playing music one evening with friends when the young Wolfgang asked to play with the group. Leopold shooed his son away with promises to teach him the instrument one day, but Wolfgang persisted. Finally, Wolfgang got his way when the second violinist invited him to play along with his part. Leopold instructed his son to play quietly and not annoy the grownups, but soon Wolfgang was playing the part alone and, although his technique was described as very bad, it was also said that he did not miss a single note.

The violin was an important part of Mozart’s early professional life. In 1769, at the age of 13, he was given the honorary title of concertmaster of the archbishop of Salzburg’s orchestra. This position was at first without pay, but three years later Mozart was officially appointed to the post with a small salary. Perhaps written for himself, the Violin Concerto in G, K. 216, was one of five violin concertos written by Mozart in the 1770s. The writing for the soloist and orchestra sparkles in the first movement of the concerto as the solo violin line weaves in and around the rest of the ensemble in a playful but pointed manner. Both in this movement and the next, Mozart likens the violin soloist to an opera singer, writing a short conversational passage for the soloist in the first movement and having the soloist sing long, lyrical lines in the second movement, while the upper strings play con sordino (with mutes). After the cadenza, the soloist also has the final word of the second movement as it restates the opening line of music.

The final movement, a rondo, is like a game of hide-and-seek in which the return of the first melodic idea is suggested and deflected in turn. About two-thirds into the movement, the concerto’s namesake tune (“Strassburg”) is heard. This melody, as well as the short, slower section featuring pizzicato in the strings that precedes it, create a lively and complex finale which draws to a close with the inevitable return of the opening idea.

The careers of Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791) and Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) followed very different paths, yet the two composers were friends and respected each other’s music. Mozart’s musical education took place in conjunction with his travels across Europe. After the promise of a prominent court position eluded him, he left his home in Salzburg and worked in Vienna for the rest of his life without the benefit of a steady position. Haydn’s early education centered around church choirs, first in the town of Hainburg and then Vienna. After his voice changed, Haydn worked as a freelance musician for a short time before becoming a court musician. In 1761, he was hired by the powerful and wealthy Esterházy family and held an active position with them for some 30 years.

Most of Haydn’s instrumental music was written while he was working for the Esterházy family. For some of these works, there is little information about the composition or its specific function. This is true of both the Overture in D, Hob. Ia:4, and the Symphony No. 26 in D Minor.

The Overture in D comes from a larger, now unknown work. The fast-paced single movement opens with a quick exchange between the lower strings and the violins. The interplay between instrument groups emerges as an overriding feature of this movement. This is coupled with Haydn’s expansion of the opening musical figure replete with what listeners have come to expect from this master composer: an unerring sense of timing as we are drawn further into the movement only to be delightfully surprised at the twists and turns along the way.

The history of Symphony No. 26 in D Minor is not much clearer than that of the overture. Haydn’s own catalog of compositions, which he began in the mid-1760s after being reprimanded for not composing enough, indicates that this symphony was written after 1767; however, the only copy in existence today—and not written by Haydn—is dated 1770. The excitement of the first movement lies in the restless energy created between the upper and lower strings of the first theme as well as the move away from and the return to this theme as the movement progresses. This deceptively simple construction of establishing an idea, moving away from it, and retuning to it has endless possibilities for realization in a composition. Haydn composed a staggering amount of music, however this principle guides each movement in some way. In other words, each symphony can be heard as a new solution to the challenges inherent in this fundamental pattern. The three movement Symphony No. 26 quotes two melodies often sung during services leading up to Easter. The first occurs in the first movement, but the melody incorporated into the second movement supplies the Lamentatione nickname for the symphony. Haydn sets this borrowed line in the oboes so that it floats above the strings and connects the two halves of the movement, leaving the listener with a sense that time itself is suspended.

It was common to perform instrumental music in church at this time—a situation that changed in the 1780s when Emperor Joseph II undertook church reforms. This may have been the original use of the music that became the first and second movements of Symphony No. 26. The final movement, a minuet and trio, returns to the mood of the opening movement.

Later in his life, Haydn remarked that the isolation and geographic distance of the Esterházy court from Vienna was a great learning experience because he was able to develop his own style as a composer. Gradually, that individual style was recognized beyond the confines of the court. 1781 was a pivotal year for the dissemination of Haydn’s music, particularly in Paris, because of two organizations in that city, the Concert spirituel and Concert de la Loge Olympique.

The Concert spirituel was formed in 1725. In 1773, Joseph Le Gros became its director, and in April 1781, he programmed Haydn’s setting of the Stabat mater for voice and orchestra in addition to the setting by the early 18th-century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, which had been presented regularly by the Concert spirituel during Lent since the middle of the century. After this concert, however, the Haydn setting was equally successful.

That same year, the Concert de la Loge Olympique was formed by virtuoso violinist and fencing master Joseph Boulogne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges and Claude-Francois-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Orgny. The concert series and its orchestra, sponsored by a Masonic lodge of the same name, rivaled the Concert spirituel. Due, in part, to Haydn’s growing popularity in Paris, the Comte d’Orgny, on behalf of the Concert de la Loge Olympique, commissioned a set of six symphonies (Nos. 82–87) from the composer in 1784.

The six “Paris” symphonies mark a new stage in Haydn’s symphonic writing. The slow introduction to the first movement of Symphony No. 86 in D Major moves from a placid opening to lines in the strings that plummet then soar. This turbulent introduction again calms down before the beginning of the Allegro section. Even this transition is surprising because it feels harmonically unsettled, as if something has been missed. Stability is quickly restored and the movement becomes a study in rhythm, shifting from one pattern to the next so that the sound never grows stale. Variety in rhythmic patterns also helps to define the sections of the second movement, titled Capriccio. With passages for flute, both alone and doubling the violin, and shifts between outbursts and contemplation, this one-of-a-kind movement is both soulful and dramatic.

Bassoon and flute are featured in the Trio section of the third movement, which is filled with many small surprises that keep the listener constantly engaged. In the fourth movement Haydn again turns to repeated rhythmic figures to generate anticipation. As this finale progresses, Haydn brings a whole new level of energy to the movement through his ingenious use of rests and pauses.

These four compositions span some 16 years and, on the surface, share many general characteristics. Listening beyond those similarities reveals the details of each work, whether the melodic interdependency of the violin and orchestra in Mozart’s concerto or the rhythmic tessellations of Haydn’s orchestral music. Within these details lay the beautiful musical moments conceived by each composer and brought to life by today’s performance.


© 2017 Teresa M. Neff, PhD

Christopher Hogwood Historically Informed Performance Fellow

Join H+H Historically Informed Performance Fellow Teresa M. Neff forty-five minutes before your performance in Higginson Hall in the Cohen Wing for Musically Speaking with Teresa Neff, a pre-concert conversation of the pieces on the program.

Haydn: Symphony No. 26, Lamentatione
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
Haydn: Overture in D Major
Haydn: Symphony No. 86

Audio Preview

Haydn: Allegro con spirito from Symphony No. 26, Lamentatione
La Petite Bande
Sigiswald Kuijken, director

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
Hanover Band
Roy Goodman, conductor
Stephanie Chase, violin

Haydn: Capriccio (Largo) from Symphony No. 86
La Petite Bande
Sigiswald Kuijken, director

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