Conductor’s Notes, March 20, 2016, “Peter and the Wolfgang”

FCS FCS Blog, Monte's Memos

Throughout history composers have stood on the shoulders of the generations of composers who preceded them, learning, copying, and being inspired. Many have been quite open in their admiration, as was Tchaikovsky with Mozart.  We are pairing these two masters for you in four compositions.

No one doubts the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).  He glows brightly in the pantheon of music and clearly had both a direct and indirect influence on the composers that followed him.  In 1786 just two months before the premiere of his great opera The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart premiered a one-act farce for Emperor Joseph II at his palace entitled “The Impresario” (Der Schauspieldirektor).  For this relatively inconsequential play Mozart wrote five pieces of incidental music: the overture; two duets; and two trios.  The Overture is written in a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek parody style of Italian opera.  While the emperor did not notice, other musicians certainly did including Antonio Salieri (1750 – 1825), the emperor’s composer-in-residence.

Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 40 in g minor in 1788  at a time of personal distress.  Not only was he short of funds (a rather chronic ailment) but his wife, Constanza, was ill.  Despite these problems, it has been said … “There are few things in art that are perfect.  The g minor symphony is one of them.”  A direct precursor to Romanticism, the work was thought pivotal in the history of music by no less than Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883).  After the premiere in 1789, Mozart revised the symphony to include the then-new instrument, the clarinet.  This version, which we play today, was first performed in 1791 in Vienna conducted by Salieri.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) admired Mozart and wrote two works in homage to him: the String Serenade in C major; and the Fourth Orchestral Suite, called Mozartiana which we will play today.  Written in the spring and summer of 1887 as Tchaikovsky was enjoying a leisurely boating vacation down the Volga River, the Suite No. 4 uses a different Mozart melody for each of the four movements.  Those are: Gigue from 1789; Menuet from 1788; Ave Verum, K618 for the Preghiera or prayer; and the K455 Variations on a theme of Gluck.  At the premiere on November 26, 1887, Tchaikovsky called the piece “The past revisited in a contemporary work”.

The waltz was a favorite form for Tchaikovsky, think of the famous ones from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker.  To these can be added the Waltz that opens Act II of his 1879 opera Eugene Onegin.  The delightful dance was an immediate favorite and is one of the most performed excerpts from his larger works.

We hope you enjoy these interconnected works by two great masters and will join us on May 1 for our season finale featuring Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner.