MOZART: Wind Serenades (Oslo Philharmonic Wind Soloists/ Tim Handley) (Naxos: 8.555943)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Our popular understanding of the serenade and divertimento in late eighteenth-century music is based almost exclusively on the works of Mozart. His are not only the finest works of their kind but they also hold an important place in his overall musical output which makes them doubly significant.
The divertimento and its related forms seems to have enjoyed a special place in the musical life of Salzburg. Leopold Mozart wrote many such works as did Michael Haydn, the Prince Archbishops Second Kapellmeister. Mozart himself was commissioned to provide entertainment music for affluent Salzburg families on a regular basis and lavished great care on the composition of these works not least for the reason that so many people heard them. Serenades were played outdoors and attracted large, popular audiences. Not all the performances went smoothly and the letters of the Mozart family vividly report the frequently poor standards of composition and performance as well as some of the minor scandals attached to the figures involved.
Mozarts serenades and divertimenti were occasional pieces and the enormous variety of styles and instrumentation reflect their diverse origins. Among them there is a significant body of music composed for wind band. A great deal of music was written for small wind ensemble during the second half of the eighteenth century; most of these works belong to the divertimento tradition although operatic arrangements were also very popular. In the supper scene in Don Giovanni Mozart has a small on-stage wind band play several items from popular operas of the day including Non più andrai from his own Le nozze di Figaro. This scene in the opera is particularly interesting from a musicological point of view since it provides us with a vivid example of the kind of setting for which much of the music of this kind was written.
The majority of Mozarts serenades and divertimenti were composed in Salzburg for local patrons. Whether the genre was less popular in Vienna or simply that Mozarts new professional activities revolved around other forms of music, his output dwindled after his move to the imperial capital in 1782. Of the four works featured on this recording, only the magnificent Serenade in C minor, K.388 (K.384a), was composed in Vienna. The others, with one exception, were composed in Salzburg probably as Tafelmusik for the Prince Archbishops band of two oboes, two horns and two bassoons.
The authenticity of the Divertimento in B flat major, K.Anh.227 (K.196f), is by no means certain. The inclusion of a pair of clarinets in the scoring in addition to the customary oboes, horns and bassoons indicates that the work, if it is Mozarts, was not composed in Salzburg since we know that he had no access to clarinets there. The work has come down to us in a copy acquired by the publishing firm Breitkopf und Härtel in 1800 during a widely advertised search for compositions to include in their planned edition of Mozarts complete works. Breitkopf acquired the work, along with a copy of K.Anh.266, from the collection of the Prague flautist Leitl through the good offices of Mozarts biographer F.X. Niemetscheck. In his biography of the composer, published in 1798, Niemetscheck wrote: Here in Prague more [partitas for wind instruments for Tafelmusik and Serenades] are known. The inclusion of clarinets suggests that Mozart composed the work in Munich; the most likely date is early 1775 when he was visiting the city for the première of his opera La finta giardiniera.
The Divertimenti K.252 (K.240a) and K.253 are two of a set of five works composed by Mozart between July 1775 and January 1777. Mozarts autograph score for K.252 (Divertimento III à 6) is undated but as the second work, K.240, was composed in January 1776 and K.253, proudly signed Divertimento IV del Sigr. Caval. Amadeo Wolfg. Mozart, in August of the same year, we can assume that the present work was written during the intervening period. The works are far more assured than the earlier wind divertimenti written in Milan, particularly in their fluid and independent part writing for the six instruments. There is a good deal of variety in the music; K.253 is one of only three Mozart works to open with a set of variations; K.252 has one of his three polonaises.
The Serenade in C minor, K.388 (384a), has traditionally been dated to July 1782 on account of a reference Mozart made in a letter to his father concerning a Nacht Musique he was working on for wind band. It is now generally accepted that the work he was referring to is a lost arrangement of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which had received its highly successful première earlier in the month. It was certainly written some time in 1782 Mozart dated the autograph - but the exact date of composition and the occasion for which the work was written remain unknown. Mozart approached the composition of every work with care, even the most ephemeral entertainment music, but none of the works composed in Salzburg for wind band prepares us for the intensity, intellectual power and grave beauty of the magnificent C minor Serenade. That Mozart thought very highly of this work is obvious from his later arrangement of it for string quintet. The first movement, with its gripping unison opening, nervous syncopations and improbably beautiful second subject, is a miraculous creation, dramatic and yet structurally perfect. The recapitulation is no mere restatement, but represents a reworking and reinterpretation of the musical material. The Andante, a suave movement which shares something of the qualities of the serenade "Secondate, aurette amiche" in Così fan tutte, is a perfect foil for the dramatic first movement and provides a period of emotional respite before the Menuetto in canone. Like Haydn, Mozart was a contrapuntist of the first order, who had the rare gift of being able to write music of extreme complexity without sacrificing its expressive qualities. The driving canonic Menuetto with its contrasting Trio in double mirror canon is breathtaking in its mastery of strict counterpoint and yet has the seemingly effortless musicality of one of the composers most popular dances. The fourth movement is in the form of a theme with eight free variations. The fifth variation, in the relative major, is introduced by a phrase Mozart later reused in Don Giovanni to usher Donna Anna and Don Ottavio into the great Act I sextet. This same motif is employed to effect the return to C minor for the sixth and seventh variations. The final variation, in C major, brings the work to a bustling conclusion, recapturing for the first time the character and spirit of the Salzburg serenades.