MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 15 - 18 (John Taylor/ Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550874)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Symphony No.15 in G Major, K. 124
Symphony No.16 in C Major, K. 128
Symphony No.17 in G Major, K. 129
Symphony No.18 in F Major, K. 130
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 there with 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 anAllegro in the tripartite sonata- or sonata-allegro form of a two-subjectexposition, followed by a development and recapitulation. A contrasting slowmovement in a related key was often in ternary form, a central section framed bya repeated opening section. The symphony might be expected to end in a form ofrondo, following the key-pattern expected in sonata-form and offering contrastedepisodes framed by a repetition of the principal theme.
Leopold Mozart and his son first visited Italy on an extended tour in 1769,during which Mozart wrote his opera Mitridate, r?¿ di Ponto forperformance in Milan. He returned in 1771 to present his serenade Ascanio inAlba, written for the Archduke Ferdinand and Maria Beatrice d'Este, a princessof Modena. By the end of the year he and his father were again in Salzburg,where Mozart, during the following months, wrote a number of symphonies. Thefirst of these, in A major, is dated 30th December 1771, to be followed bySymphony No.15 in G major, K. 124, dated 21st February 1772, scored for theusual pairs of oboes and horns and strings. All join in the opening of the firstmovement and the first subject, followed by secondary material and the necessaryshift of key before the opening of the central development section, leading tothe expected final recapitulation. The C major Andante allows the strings theprincipal theme, briefly punctuated by the wind. The original key of G major isrestored, following normal practice, in the Minuet, with a contrasting D majorTrio for strings alone. The last movement again follows what was now establishedcustom in a rondo, its principal theme recurring exactly between the twoepisodes that intervene, before the final coda.
This symphony was followed by the Symphony in C major, K. 128,completed in May 1772. With only three movements, the work is scored, as before,for oboes, horns and strings and it is these last that introduce the firstsubject, with its triplet rhythms, in contrast to the second subject, marked bythe octave leaps of the violins. There is relative daring in the change of keythat opens the central development, leading before long to the return of theprincipal theme in a recapitulation. The slow movement is scored for stringsalone, its outer sections, varied the second time, framing varied material atthe heart of the movement. The symphony ends with a rondo in which the first ofthe two contrasting episodes framed by the principal theme is relativelyextended in length.
The Symphony in G major, K. 129, was completed in the same month. Itis scored for oboes, horns and strings and starts with a forthright principaltheme, entrusted to the violins, while the first violins later offer the gentlersecondary theme, material that serves to open the central development section, amere 21 bars in length. The movement ends with a recapitulation and a coda thatechoes the end of the exposition. The strings introduce the C major slowmovement, soon to be joined by the oboes and horns. The movement has contrastingmaterial at its heart, after which the thematic material of the first part isrepeated, with the necessary changes of key to lead to a final C major. Thefinal movement, with its hunting-horn opening, allows its principal theme toappear fully or in part in different keys, notably in the central developmentsection, after which first and second subjects re-appear before the unanimousconclusion.
Mozart's Symphony in F major, K. 130, was the work of the same month,May 1772, to be followed by further symphonies during the summer. It is scoredfor flutes, two horns in high C, two horns in F and strings. The violins startthe first movement with a characteristic rhythm, soon joined by the wind, withthe two flutes doubling the theme. This leads to a secondary theme for theviolins, now in contrasting style and rhythm. The opening figure is heard at thestart of the central development, followed by the return of the principal themeproper and a recapitulation of the other material of the exposition.