MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 40, 28 and 31 (Barry Wordsworth/ Capella Istropolitana/ Gunter Appenheimer) (Naxos: 8.550164)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756- 1791)
Symphony No.28 in C Major, K. 200
Symphony No.31 In D Major, K. 297 (Paris)
Symphony No.40 In G Minor, K. 550
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of acourt musician, Leopold Mozart, whose important book on the study of the violinwas published in the same year. Leopold Mozart was to remain for the greaterpart of his life in the service of the Archbishops of Salzburg, rising in 1763to the position of deputy Kapellmeister, the summit of his career. WolfgangAmadeus Mozart, the second and youngest surviving child of his father'smarriage, showed prodigious gifts as a child, and these abilities werecarefully nurtured by his father, whose own interests were thenceforwardsacrificed to his son's advancement in pursuit of what Leopold Mozart was toregard as a divinely appointed mission. In material terms his final achievementwas a failure, but in musical terms a miraculous success.
Young Mozart spent his precocious childhood in a series of concerttours that took him to the cities of Austria and Germany, to Paris and toLondon, greeted wherever he stayed with curiosity and wonder. The boy hadremarkable ability as a keyboard-player, as a violinist and as a composer, andall these gifts were displayed, in conjunction with the less remarkable talentsof his elder sister, Anna Maria, known in the family as Nannerl.
It was in the 1770s, in particular, that Mozart began to feel more thanusual impatience with his surroundings. In 1772 the old Archbishop, anindulgent patron, had died, to be succeeded by a more modern churchman,Hieronymus von Colloredo, son of the Imperial Chancellor and a man thoroughlyin sympathy with the ecclesiastical reforms to be initiated by Joseph II. As anemployer the new Archbishop was unsympathetic, while Salzburg itself had itsown inevitable provincial limitations, compared with the obvious and seductiveattractions of the capital, Vienna.
In 1777 Mozart left his position in Salzburg, where he had beenappointed Konzertmeister, to seek his fortune elsewhere. Leopold Mozart was notgiven leave of absence, although he was told that he too could leave for good,if he wanted, a course he was too prudent to adopt. Mozart set out with hismother for Paris, taking in, on the way, his father's native city of Augsburgand, more fruitfully, Mannheim, where he spent some months, learning from thefamous orchestra there, an army of generals, in the words of one contemporary,and enjoying the company of a young singer, Aloysia Weber, with whom he planneda wildly impracticable tour of Italy.
Paris proved a disappointment. As a child Mozart had caused asensation: as a man he proved less of an attraction, although he endeavoured toprove as best he could that he was not just "a stupid German", to betreated with haughty disdain by the French nobility. In the summer of 1778 hismother died and in the autumn Mozart began his slow return to Salzburg, wherehe was given another position in the court musical establishment, a place fromwhich he was to secure final dismissal only in 1781.
The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in initially successfulbut precarious independence in Vienna. Here he was able to realise more fullyhis greatest ambition, as a composer of opera, a skill that he had hithertoexercised only in occasional commissions outside Salzburg. He excelled as akeyboard-player and pleased his audiences, until the novelty of his playingbegan to wear thin, while attracting amateur and professional pupils. Animprudent marriage in 1782 increased the expenses of living, in spite of hisown optimistic forecasts, and his final years were rendered uneasy through theuncertainty of his income, coupled with the expectations that he and his fatherhad long entertained.
Mozart died after a short illness in December, 1791, at a time when hisnew German opera, The Magic Flute, was drawing good audiences, and when itseemed that the tide might once again be turning in his favour. In his lifetimethere were always contemporaries who had a proper estimate of his worth,including the composers Haydn and Beethoven. It has been left to posterity,however, to accord him something of his due as "the miracle that God letbe born in Salzburg".
In October, 1772, Mozart, accompanied by his father, had set out on thethird and last of his Italian journeys, the principal object of which was thefirst performance of his new opera Lucio Sillain Milan. Their return in March,1773, was followed in July by a stay of two months in Vienna, during which theywere once again able to enjoy the friendship of Dr. Mesmer, the practitioner ofanimal magnetism, who had made himself a proficient performer on the musicalglasses, and to be received by the Empress. In Italy Leopold Mozart had soughtin vain a position for his son in the establishment of the Grand Duke ofTuscany, and now he was to meet similar disappointment at the Imperial court.
"The Empress was very gracious", he told his wife in a letter r: hometo Salzburg, "but that was all".
There is some doubt about the exact dating of the symphonies thatMozart wrote at this time, several of them in a form that suggests that heexpected a further invitation to Italy. The Symphony in C Major, K. 200, wascompleted either in November 1773 or in 1774, possibly after the better known AMajor Symphony, K. 2u1. The work is scored for an orchestra that includestrumpets, as well as the usual pairs of oboes and horns, and strings.
The symphony opens with a principal theme based on a descending scale,introduced by a brief call to our attention. The second subject allows theoboes to punctuate a melody entrusted primarily to the strings, a figure fromthe main theme leading to a central development section and finalrecapitulation. Muted strings dominate the moving Andante, with its embellishedfirst violin part, and this is followed by a Minuet, where the horn has its ownshort-lived moment of glory, and a Trio of simple texture, scored for stringsalone. The last movement, opened by first and second violins in comic operamood, provides a sparkling conclusion to the symphony and a hint of the kind ofinstrumental writing that was to come, when Mozart finally broke away from theconstraints of Salzburg.
In a letter home from Paris to his father in June, 1778, Mozart expressesthe belief that his new symphony, Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297, laterknown as the Paris Symphony, will please the few intelligent French people whowill hear it and that even the asses will find something to admire. Theperformance a week later at the Concert Spirituel was more successful than thecomposer had dared to imagine from the inadequate rehearsal. After it was over,Mozart told his father in a further letter of 3rd July, he treated himself toan ice and said the rosary, as he had vowed to do. The same letter attempts toprepare Leopold Mozart for news of the death of his wife, Mozart's mother, whohad in fact died that day.
The Paris Symphony was written for the larger orchestra available inParis at the Concert Spirituel, where there were some forty string players anda wind section with clarinets, which Mozart here included for the first time inthe scoring of a symphony. Some concessions were made to French taste, whichfavoured the grandiose and noisy, but there is above all the more significantinfluence of Mannheim, with its disciplined virtuoso orchestra that Mozart hadheard before he set out for Paris.
The first movement of the symphony has no repetition of the exposition,the first su