Enhanced Program Notes – Mozart + Haydn: Outside the Box

Performance by Leopold, Nannerl, and Wolfgang. Watercolor by Carmontelle, ca. 1763.

Portrait of Mozart at age 14 by Saverio Dalla Rosa

Opening of the Violin Concerto in A Major

Wax sculpture of Haydn by Franz Thaler, c. 1800

Engraving of Johann Peter Salomon by Georg Siegmund Facius or Johann Gottlieb Facius after a Thomas Hardy oil painting

When Mozart expressed his frustration with audiences’ acceptance of his music, specifically his piano concertos, his father responded by suggesting he write simpler music. And in a now infamous story surrounding a Mozart opera (The Marriage of Figaro) Joseph II is reported to have complained that Mozart used too many notes, to which the composer replied that he had used only as many as were necessary.

Mozart challenged audience perceptions of him from the time he was a child when he—usually with his talented older sister Nannerl—performed throughout Europe. His musical skills were often thought to be a trick of some kind and tests were devised to verify Mozart’s talent. That skepticism continued as Mozart turned to composition: When, in 1768, Mozart’s opera (La finta semplice) was proposed for performance in Vienna, doubts about the quality of a piece composed by a child were immediately raised. Even though a private reading of the work convinced most of its worth, the director of opera in Vienna refused to allow the performance to move forward. Instead, the opera was premiered in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg under the patronage of his father’s employer, the archbishop.

Mozart, too, was employed by the archbishop: He was made honorary Konzertmeister (principal violinist) in 1769 and three years later he was officially appointed to the post with a modest salary of 150 florins (about $1,500). Because Mozart also continued to travel and compose, he expected to be offered a court position. When this did not happen, a discontented Mozart returned to his duties in Salzburg in 1775. Composed that same year, the Violin Concerto in A major, K.219 was the last of five violin concertos written by Mozart, possibly for himself as soloist.

By marking the first movement Allegro aperto, a tempo indication Mozart rarely uses for instrumental music but one that is more common in his operas, he may be hinting at the drama to come. The solo violin entrance is highlighted by a tempo change to Adagio before returning to the original Allegro.

The solo violin recalls this Adagio section in the second movement of the concerto with the effortless way in which the opening solo line flowers into extended, expressive passages.

The final movement begins with the solo violin playing a gentle, triple-meter minuet theme, which Mozart uses to tease the ear with its stops and starts.

Next, the central section shifts to duple meter with runs and figures for the soloist. In Mozart’s day, these figures plus the use of col legno (playing with the wood of the bow) in the low strings and the minor key were associated with the music of non-Western cultures and contributed to the naming of this concerto as “Turkish.”

After this musical excursion, the return of the minuet sounds even sweeter.

Mozart left the archbishop’s court in 1781 and moved to Vienna, where he wrote some of his most enduring and daring works. He also befriended Joseph Haydn. The two composers met frequently, including the night before Haydn left for his first trip to London.

After working as music director for one of the most powerful families in Austria for almost 30 years, in 1790, Haydn was released from service to the Esterházy prince, given a pension and the freedom to pursue new opportunities. One prospect came almost immediately: an offer to travel to London and present his music there. (Mozart had been made the same offer, but declined it.) The concerts were the idea of violinist and entrepreneur Johann Peter Salomon. Because Haydn’s first trip was so successful, a second tour was arranged for 1794-1795.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 in E-flat major was written in Vienna in 1793, and premiered in London on February 10, 1794. In this first symphony Haydn scored with clarinet, the winds are highlighted throughout the work. In the first movement, a clarinet solo playing a rising figure marks the move away from the first theme.

Further on in this same movement, Haydn starts and stops the momentum as he shifts the harmony to unexpected places. Then, using the interplay of winds and strings to build and release tension, Haydn guides the movement to completion.

A similar interchange between strings and winds characterizes the second movement, Adagio,

which traverses unexpected sonorities. Haydn also creates a sense of forward momentum by continually building new musical ideas from ones already heard. Through it all, we are being steered by a sure hand that knows just when to return home.

With the third movement, the tumbling line that opens the Minuet section alternates between piano and forte, giving the sensation that the whole is just on the verge of spilling out of control.

The Trio, featuring oboe and then clarinet, offers a feeling of stability before Haydn returns to the Minuet once more.

After a light-hearted start on a theme that one might easily whistle,

the interplay of winds and strings in the Finale fulfills all expectations and it seems that this symphony will close somewhat quickly. But what appears to be the end is only a pause, an opportunity for Haydn to change course. As we are left wondering what to expect next, he uses the winds and strings to transform an innocuous opening into a rousing conclusion.

Haydn’s Harmoniemesse is his last completed composition and, like his other late Masses, was commissioned by the Esterházy family. Haydn titled this work Missa; the nickname Harmoniemesse is the result of the prominence of wind writing throughout the six-movement setting of the texts of the Roman worship service.

The vast proportions of this mass are evident from the opening of the Kyrie, which begins with a motive in the first violins and clarinets.

It then continues to spin out as more instruments enter. Haydn marked the first entrance of the chorus on his score “NB fortissimo.” With the quiet preparation for the chorus’s entrance in addition to the unusual harmony, this moment is truly special. Equally memorable is the closing of the movement as Haydn returns to the music of the opening and then tapers off to a whisper.

With the simplicity of the opening of the Gloria, scored for solo soprano singing a folk-like melody,

Haydn establishes an unambiguous mood that he maintains until “Et in terra pax” (And on earth peace). Here, Haydn again introduces unexpected sonorities before returning to the music that opened this movement.

Haydn divides the Credo into three larger musical sections, reflecting a similar division in the Gloria. He sets the second, slow section of the Credo for soprano solo (“Et incarnatus est”), introduced by solo clarinet and accompanied by a steadily increasing orchestral palette.

With the constant, unsettled figuration in the violins we may not be aware of the harmonic distance Haydn has traveled by the time the chorus enters with “Crucifixus.” By the end of this section, however, it is undeniable that we have returned to the mood and key of the opening of this slow section even as we have descended to one of the lowest pitches in the mass. Another surprise occurs with the subsequent fast section (“Et resurrexit”): Haydn withholds the trumpets and timpani until the words “judicare vivos.”

The Sanctus opens with quiet statements in the chorus offset by florid lines in the first violins.

The brevity of this movement is answered by the extended Benedictus, which begins quietly, but builds in intensity.

Like the Kyrie, the melodic ideas in this movement bend and transform until the return of the “Osanna,” an exact repetition of the closing of the Sanctus.

The opening of the Agnus Dei is indebted to Mozart’s “Coronation” Mass, a copy of which Haydn owned. In this movement, the oboe and bassoon weave lines in and around each other supported by the strings playing pizzicato (plucking).

Ironically, the generally placid mood of the Agnus Dei is shaken with “dona nobis pacem,” which is introduced with great fanfare.

Haydn reflects the proportions of the Sanctus/Benedictus in the proportions of the Agnus Dei/Dona nobis. The Sanctus is about one third the length of the Benedictus. Similarly, the Agnus Dei is about one third the length of the Dona nobis, connecting a hymn of praise with a prayer for peace. Haydn makes further connections by returning to the instrumentation of the opening of the Agnus Dei to initiate the last, and extended, invocation for peace.

Although Mozart and Haydn worked within the basic musical formula of presenting material, altering it, and finally returning to it in its (more or less) original form, the music on today’s program shows how each composer went further. Haydn, perhaps, expressed this concept best when he said that he had no choice but to be original. The musical breadth and vision of these two composers and friends challenged, astounded, and delighted 18th century audiences. Their music became the foundation on which later composers stood.


Teresa M. Neff | 2018