Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October Newsletter: Majestic Mozart at the Kimmel Center

On Friday, October 30, at 8 p.m., Valentin Radu and the Ama Deus Ensemble will present Majestic Mozart, our 29th season's first concert at the Kimmel Center. The concert will feature choral, vocal and instrumental solo music as well as a popular symphony. The Ama Deus Ensemble welcomes our stellar quartet: Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano), Jody Kidwell (alto), Timothy Bentch (tenor) and Kevin Grace (bass). In addition to his role as conductor, Maestro Radu will also appear as piano soloist for Mozart’s jubilant Piano Concerto No. 23, performing this work while conducting from the keyboard of the incomparable B√∂sendorfer Imperial Grand piano.

Don’t miss this all-Mozart concert! Click here for tickets.

Read on for some insight into the music.

The Mass in C Major, K.317, Krönungsmesse ("Coronation")

Mozart's Mass in C Major, or Coronation Mass, is undoubtedly his most brilliant religious work, filled with inspired melodies, and glorious choruses. It is a "short setting" of the mass, or a Missa Brevis. It was completed on March 23, 1779, in Salzburg. Mozart had just returned to the city after 18 months of fruitless job hunting in Paris and Mannheim, and his father Leopold arranged for his appointment as court organist and composer at Salzburg Cathedral, although he accepted apparently begrudgingly. The mass was almost certainly premiered there on Easter Sunday April 4, 1779. Contrary to a popular misconception, it was not intended for the church of Maria Plain near Salzburg. The mass appears to have acquired the nickname "Coronation" at in the early nineteenth century, after becoming the preferred music for royal and imperial coronations in Austria as well as services of Thanksgiving.

Exsultate, jubilate ("Exult, rejoice"), K. 165

This religious solo motet was composed at the time Mozart was staying in Milan during the production of his opera Lucio Silla which was being performed in the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan. The motet was written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, who was singing the part of the primo uomo Cecilio in Lucio Silla. While waiting for the end of the run, Mozart composed the motet for his singer, whose technical excellence he clearly admired. Its first performance took place at the Theatine Church on 17 January 1773, while Rauzzini was still singing in Mozart's opera at night.

Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810)
by Joseph Hutchinson

Mozart made some revisions around 1780. In modern times, the motet is usually sung by a female soprano. For our concert on October 30 we are thrilled to welcome back Andrea Lauren Brown, who is flying from Germany just to sing this concert!

The motet is divided into three parts: Allegro – Recitative, Andante, Allegro. Although nominally for liturgical use, the motet has many features in common with Mozart's concert arias, such as those drawn from his operas. Mozart also used elements of concerto form in this motet. The final "Alleluia" is famous from adapted use in films and commercials, and its popularity is well founded, considering its joyful melody and its simplicity.

Symphony No. 40

Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550, in 1788. It is sometimes referred to as the "Great G Minor Symphony," to distinguish it from the "Little G Minor Symphony," No. 25. The two are the only extant minor key symphonies Mozart wrote.

The 40th Symphony was completed on 25 July 1788. The composition occupied an exceptionally productive period of just a few weeks in 1788, during which time he also completed the 39th and 41st Symphonies (26 June and 10 August, respectively). Nikolaus Harnoncourt argues that Mozart composed the three symphonies as a unified work, pointing, among other things, to the fact that the Symphony No. 40, as the middle work, has no introduction (unlike No. 39) and does not have a finale of the scale of that of No. 41.

This work has elicited varying interpretations from critics. Robert Schumann regarded it as possessing "Grecian lightness and grace". Donald Francis Tovey saw in it the character of opera buffa. Almost certainly, however, the most common perception today is that the symphony is tragic in tone and intensely emotional; for example, Charles Rosen (in The Classical Style) has called the symphony "a work of passion, violence, and grief."

Although interpretations differ, the symphony is unquestionably one of Mozart's most greatly admired works, and it is frequently performed and recorded.

Concerto for Piano in A major No. 23, K. 488

Herbert Glass writes, "The A-major Piano Concerto replaces the bright-toned oboes usually found in Mozart’s concertos with clarinets, for darker coloration, particularly in the passionate, richly chromatic slow movement in the rare key of F-sharp minor. But unlike K. 482 and K. 491, which likewise employ clarinets, there are no trumpets and drums here. The atmosphere remains intimate, with interchanges between the woodwinds – flute, clarinets, bassoons – heightening the chamber-music feeling of the first two movements; and while the rondo-finale may be a send-’em-home-smiling affair, it hardly lacks those passing touches of pathos without which Mozart simply wouldn’t be Mozart. K. 488 has all the characteristics of the work of a wise old master, giving the impression of having seen and heard everything and having no regrets. And in a sense Mozart was old, at the age of 30."

There is a story, recorded by Shostakovitch in his memoirs, that in his final years Stalin became addicted to listening to music on the radio, on one occasion a performance of Mozart's K. 488, played by Maria Yudina, a particular favorite of his. (This link is surprising, since she was as celebrated for her non-conforming political views as for her interpretations of Shostakovich (of whom she was a close friend), Bach, and Mozart. Instead of playing encores at her recitals, she would read poems by banned Russian writers and recite the sayings of Russian Orthodox clerics, a practice quite forbidden and quite dangerous during the Stalin regime.)

Dmitri Shostakovich and Maria Yudina, 1950
According to the story Stalin had asked Moscow Radio for a copy of Yudina's performance of K. 488 from a broadcast and they agreed to send it immediately. The problem arose that this broadcast was a live performance and it had not been recorded. The radio personnel called Yudina and hastily assembled an orchestra late that night, delivering the recording to Stalin the following day. Volkov relates Shostakovich's words: "Soon after [Stalin heard the recording] Yudina received an envelope with 20,000 rubles. To which she responded: 'I thank you, Joseph Vissarionovich...I will pray for you day and night and that the Lord forgive you your great sins.'" The pianist is said to have donated the 20,000 rubles to her church.

Oddly, Yudina was never censured nor imprisoned for any of her renegade acts and her career continued until shortly before her death in 1970. "They say that her recording of the Mozart concerto was on the record player when the leader was found dead in his dacha [in 1953]. It was the last thing he had listened to." Whether the story is true or not, Yudina did make a recording of K. 488 and the matrix survived. Her performance is now available on CD and can currently be viewed on YouTube.