MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 1 - 5 (John Taylor/ Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550871)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Symphony No.1 in E Flat Major, K.16
Symphony No.2 in B Flat Major, K.17 (attr. Leopold Mozart)
Symphony No.3 in E Flat Major, K.18
(Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787) Op. 7, No.6)
Symphony No.4 in D Major, K.19
Symphony No.5 in B Flat Major, K.22
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of theviolinist and composer, Leopold Mozart, a musician employed by the rulingArchbishop, and a man of some intellectual ability. In childhood Mozart and hiselder sister Anna-Maria, known in the family as Nannerl to her brother's Wolferl,toured Europe as infant prodigies, received at court in the countries theyvisited and providing a general subject of curiosity and interest. Thechildren's education and musical training was supervised by their father, whowas quick to realise his son's genius and sacrificed his own career to fosterit.
As Mozart grew to manhood there was evident a disparity between his naturalexpectations and the realities of provincial Salzburg, where an indulgent patronhad been succeeded by an Archbishop very much less willing to allow members ofhis household to absent themselves for months or years on end. Leopold Mozarthad, perforce, to be content with his lot as Vice-Kapellmeister, but in 1777 hisson left Salzburg, accompanied only by his mother, to seek employment elsewhere,in Munich, Mannheim or Paris, where, in June, 1778, his mother died. Nowhere didthere seem to be a position available in any way equal to what Mozart saw as hisdesert, and early in 1779 he returned reluctantly to Salzburg, where he wasgiven a position once more, with equal reluctance, by the Archbishop.
The summer of 1780 brought a commission for an opera in Munich. Idomeneo,re di Creta, was staged therewith some success in January, 1781. Therefollowed a summons from the Archbishop to attend him in Vienna and an uneasy fewmonths in which the young composer grew increasingly resentful, irked by hissubservient position and the refusal of his patron to allow him to earn moneyand honour by performing before the Emperor. In May there was an open quarrel,resulting in Mozart's dismissal. For the remaining ten years of his life he wasto seek to earn a living in Vienna, independent of a patron, although he waslater to be given a relatively unimportant position at court.
The Vienna years, during which Leopold Mozart was no longer at hand tocontrol his son's wilder plans, brought initial success in the opera-house andin the public concerts Mozart gave. His marriage to an impecunious girl, whoseearlier acquaintance he had made in Mannheim, when he had courted her sister,did nothing to assist his career, and by the end of the decade he was oftendepressed by the financial difficulties of the course he had chosen. He died in1791, at a time when his fortunes seemed about to take a turn for the better.
Although he had been ignored by the new Emperor, he had, nevertheless, fulfilleda coronation opera commission in Prague and was enjoying some popular successwith his new German opera The Magic Flute. The unfinished work he leftincluded a Requiem Mass, later completed by his pupil S??ssmayer.
During the second half of the century the orchestral symphony, derived inpart from the Italian operatic overture of earlier years, assumed increasingimportance. Its most common instrumentation, calling for pairs of oboes andFrench horns, with a four-part string section and possible keyboard continuo,suited very well the resources most often available in the musicalestablishments of ruling families and the nobility. The four-movement symphony,including a Minuet and Trio generally as its third movement,opened with an Allegro in the tripartite sonata- or sonata-allegro formof a two-subject exposition, followed by a development and recapitulation. Acontrasting slow movement in a related key was often in ternary form, a centralsection framed by a repeated opening section. The symphony might be expected toend in a form of rondo, following the key-pattern expected in sonata-form andoffering contrasted episodes framed by a repetition of the principal theme.
Mozart's first attempts at the symphony were made during the fruitful andextended concert-tour undertaken between June 1763 and November 1766. Of thesethe first were written during the family's stay in London, followed by a furthersymphony written at The Hague, as the Mozarts made their way gradually homeagain.
In April, 1764, Leopold Mozart, his wife and his two children, Nannerl andWolfgang Amadeus, left Paris, where the children had amazed the curious by theirmusical feats, for London. The Channel crossing was as uncomfortable as ever,expensive and emetic in its effects, and the enthusiasm of porters at Doverproved overwhelming. Soon, however, the family was established in lodgings inSoho, and Wolfgang and his sister had played at court to the delight of the Kingand Queen.
In August Leopold caught a dangerous infection, which weakened him very much.
He explained in a letter to his Salzburg landlord Lorenz Hagenauer about themysteries of an English illness called "a cold", for which the bestcure was foreign travel, although the natives apparently chose rather to sweatit out. For his convalescence he moved with his family to Chelsea and it wasthere, in September, that Wolfgang, unable to practise in case he should disturbhis father, set to work on his first symphony, his sister sitting by him andcopying the parts as he wrote.
The Symphony in E flat major, K.16, scored for pairs of oboes andhorns, with strings and cembalo, is remarkable as the work of a child of eight,although in some respects inevitably derivative. In particular the influence ofJohann Christian Bach, youngest son of the Leipzig Thomaskantor, is clear, andsupported by the known facts of the association of the two composers during theLondon visit. In three movements, the symphony opens with a sonata-form Allegro,its first motif contrasted with an elegant series of suspensions, and thesecond subject allowing the violas a little more to do than was often the case.
There is a slow movement full of the appropriate feeling and a suitably cheerfulfinal Presto.
The Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, K.17, is now attributed toLeopold Mozart. It offers a bright first subject in its brief exposition,followed by a short development. The E flat slow movement, without windinstruments, is dominated by the first violin melody, as is the Menuetto, followedby a cheerful Presto.
The third symphony in the old Breitkopf und Hartel numbering, now discarded,is the Symphony in E fiat major, K.18, copied out by Mozart. Thesymphony, which is of particular interest in its use of a pair of clarinetsinstead of oboes, is by Christian Friedrich Abel, son of the viola da gambaplayer Christian Ferdinand Abel, a colleague of Johann Sebastian Bach at Cothen,and now settled in London as an associate of Bach's youngest son JohannChristian in the Bach-Abel Concerts at Almack's Great Room in King Street, St.
James's. The symphony, in transparent sonata-form in its first movement, with anAndante largely entrusted to the strings and a final rapid Mannheim Presto,obviously impressed the young Mozart, who was in other respects muchindebted to Johann Christian Bach.
Symphony No.4 in D major, K.19, was also written in Lon