If there’s one thing Dottore Gianni loves, it’s classical music. And in the world of classical music, who is the crème de la crème? Why, MOZART, of course! Who says so? Dottore Gianni says so. So there!
|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart|
On Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the 3 pm matinee of one of the Chamber Orchestra series, a concert entitled (not very artfully) Mozart the Magnificent. While it’s not the cleverest of titles, certainly much of Mozart IS magnificent, and much of what we heard at the matinee was magnificent, sometimes the piece of music itself, sometimes in the playing of it, and once at least magnificent in both the music and the interpretation.
The concert began a tad stodgily with the Overture to Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus). The opera gets a fair amount of play these days, but not nearly so much as the composer’s truly great works (Marriage of Figaro, Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Cose fan Tutte, to rattle off my favorites). Mozart did not write much opera seria (opera with serious stories, versus comic opera), and this one was commissioned in the last year of his short life (born 1756, died 1791 – you do the math, because Dottore Gianni’s no good at it), while he was also working on The
Magic Flute and his brilliant Requiem. The libretto was written by a writer named Metastasio who pumped out script after script first in Rome, later in Vienna. Actually he was not NAMED Metastasio, as his real name, much longer and a lot less flashy, was Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi. But why does Dottore Gianni care about Metastasio? He doesn’t really, but he enjoys going off on tangents, so he can regale his readers with things that have little to do the topic. Not one of Metastasio’s words can be found in the overture of course – it’s all Mozart.
But while I’m on a tangent, you may as well know a bit about the opera and the circumstances under which it was written. Mozart was commissioned to celebrate the coronation of
Leopold II as King of Bohemia AND the Holy Roman Emperor. It was one thing to be the former (though that was the largest single area in the empire), another entirely to be the latter, as the Holy Roman Empire consisted of much of Central Europe, though it diminished through the centuries. While the empire dates back as far as 800, when Charlemagne was crowned the first of these by the Pope, the Hapsburg family had a virtual of Austria stranglehold on the title from 1415 to 1806, when Napoleon rampaged through Europe and abolished it as “a useless anachronism.” Leopold (who was the brother of Marie Antoinette, by the way) was the penultimate emperor, succeeded by his son.
Even before Napoleon stamped the last vestiges out, the great French writer Voltaire also pronounced it useless in a famous statement:
"This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire!”
|The Holy Roman Empire in 1648|
But holy, Roman or/nor emperor, Leopold was said to be a benevolent ruler, one who in fact was frequently “clement,”as in mild, merciful, gentle. So someone got the bright idea to look back to ancient Rome to find a “clement” predecessor, not an easy task as most Roman emperors were anything but clement. But The Emperor Titus (ruled 79-81 AD) generously (clemently?) did much to relieve the suffering of the survivors of the Mount Vesuvius eruption (quite an event to happen in the first year of your reign, right?). So a connection was made between the two for the purposes of this opera.
It was not admired in its first performance, when Emperor
Leopold’s wife Maria Luisa of
Spain pronounced it “German rubbish,” (Dottore Gianni understands that Mozart in turn called her "Spanish fly") but it proved popular with less critical
audiences and as noted above still gets performed occasionally. It’s not the
best of Mozart operas, one of the least interesting of his overtures (so thinks
the good doctor), and frankly, the performance of it was somewhat lackluster –
fitting, I suppose, but a rather dull start.
|Empress Maria Luisa|
The second and primary piece of music in the first part of the concert is one of Mozart’s best-known pieces for orchestra and soloists, the Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 in E-flat major. What, you might ask, is a sinfonia concertante? Dottore Gianni would be happy to oblige. In fact he more or less answered it just above. There are symphonies, usually written in four movements, that involve an entire orchestra, and there are concertos (or concerti, as the good doctor prefers to call them – after all it IS una parola Italiana – an Italian word!) that involve the full orchestra but which feature a soloist, usually piano or violin, doing the most difficult work. A sinfonia concertante involves an orchestra and more than one soloist, two in the case of Mozart’s, a violinist and a violist. Mozart’s piece features solos and duets by the two, which can be every bit as impressive as the single soloist playing a concerto.
For those few of you who may also wonder, what in the name of god is K. 364? Well, the K stands for Kirschel, a slight transliteration from the original German, Köchel, full name
Ludwig Alois Friedrich Ritter von Köchel (1800-1877) – but
let’s just call him Ludwig von Köchel, shall we? This very
busy man was a musicologist, a writer, a composer, a botanist and publisher. He
was knighted, or “rittered” as you might say in German – the Ritter in his full
name is an approximation of an English knight – for tutoring the four sons of
Archduke Charles of Austria. Along with a knighthood (ritterhood?) he was also
given a sum of money that enabled him to live the rest of his life as a private
scholar, proving, to play on a phrase made famous by Mel Brook’s, “It’s very
good to be the Archduke” (always) but occasionally at least “It’s very good to
be a tutor!” All of this you can easily
read for yourself in good old Wikipedia, but I thought I’d spare you – one of
the reasons they call the good doctor “good!”
|Ludwig von Köchel|
But Köchel is known primarily for his listing of the works of Mozart. He divided Mozart’s works into 24 categories and numbered each and every one of the prolific Mozart’s musical compositions. So while other composers have an “opus” number listed after their individual pieces of music (“opus” is Latin for “work”), Mozart has a K. number (for Köchel) listed after it. Which is just as well, because assigning opus numbers has been done in many different ways (see Wikipedia on “opus number” if you care to, and if you care to get confused) – Köchel’s system is very impressive in comparison.
But! Back to the sinfonia concertante. Maestro Tchivzhel chose to make use of two of the orchestra’s own, the first chair second violinist Joanna Mulfinger Lebo and the first chair violist Kathryn Dey. I have seen both of them play in the very intimate “Spotlight” series, in fact in one of my first blogs on music (having failed to get a good enough retirement to travel regularly – travel you may recall is the reason this blog was created) I announced that I had a crush on the violist “Katie” Dey. The crush continued as the two came out as soloists on Sunday afternoon. Ms Dey was resplendent in a red strapless gown, while Ms Lebo wore a perfectly fine blue-ish gown that frankly made this young attractive woman look a tad frumpy, especially next to Ms Dey. However, in my opinion Ms Lebo played better than Ms Dey, so that evened the scales for the pathetically lecherous but musically astute old Dottore Gianni.
However neither of them shone. This made for a quite competent but hardly thrilling performance of the Sinfonia Concertante, and I think that’s all that need be said about it.
VERY interestingly to Dottore Gianni is that the first piece of the second portion of the concert has something in common, if only in a tangential fashion and probably only in the good doctor’s sometimes over-active imagination, with the Sinfonia Concertante. The sinfonia had on this occasion at least something of a rivalry between two divas about it, Dey outshining Lebo in appearance, Lebo outshining Dey in performance. And during intermission this impression in the mind of Dottore Gianni was increased when two women nearby were talking about the two musicians, and one said something to the effect that the violist outshone the violinist. I heard this comment without hearing much of the rest of the conversation and, while none of it was any of my business, wondered for a second if they were talking fashion or musicality. Then I pushed it from my mind and began to read the program notes on what I would hear in the second half. But save the thought of the rivalry between two artists.
Well! The first musical offering in part two was another overture, and by the way a much finer overture that that to La Clemenza di Tito, that of The Impresario. Unlike La Clemenza, the Schauspieldirektor (impresario in German, and quite a mouthful of German it is) is not an opera (in which as well as arias, duets and other musical ensembles, dialogue, called recitative, from the Italian recitativo, is sung rather than spoken) but a singspiel. As you might guess, in a singspiel, dialogue is spoken and leads into sung arias, duets and so on. In the eighteenth century ballad operas in England and opéra comique in France were similar forms. In the twentieth century the American musical somewhat fills that bill. Mozart wrote a few of these singspiels, including The Abduction from the Seraglio and most importantly The Magic Flute, both of which are FAR better pieces than The Impresario!
The comic play to which Mozart put his music was written by Gottlieb Stephanie, a nonentity who should never have been allowed to write for the theatre in Dottore Gianni’s as well as many others’ opinions. Referring to another Mozart singspiel for which Stephanie wrote the words, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart himself wrote to his father saying that, "you are quite right so far as Stephanie's work is concerned. ... I am well aware that the verse is not of the best.”
|Emperor Joseph II, in life...|
|And as played by Jeffrey Jones in the film version of|
Amadeus: "Too many notes, Mr Mozart!"
|Sometimes The Impresario is updated|
The Impresario is a short piece and was part of a double bill on its premiere. The other piece was a short opera buffa (a comic opera, in which everything is sung, with no spoken dialogue) called Prima la Musica, poi le Parole (which translates to First the Music, then the Words), by none other than Mozart’s arch-rival, Antonio Salieri! Amadeus, anyone?
To complicate this “plot” even further, the two dueling divas in Mozart’s singspiel were played by Aloysia Lange and Madame Caterina Cavalieri. Mozart used the vocal highpoints of two talented singers in writing their arias to feature the
|Aloysia Weber Lange|
best of each voice, thus creating a sort of musical duel. But who were these two women? Well, besides being real life rival singers, Aloysia Lange was the older sister of Mozart’s wife, Constanze, whom Mozart married only after his first love – wait for it – Aloysia – turned him down! Oh, and Aloysia’s husband was also cast in The Impresario. As Facebook would oft have us believe, “It’s complicated.” And Madame Cavalieri was the mistress of – again, wait for it – Salieri!
The rehearsals and backstage atmosphere must have been something! As Gwendolyn bursts out in The Importance of Being Earnest, “The suspense is terrible! I hope it continues.” Or we could just say, “It’s complicated.” Someone should write a play, or an opera, or a singspiel about this!
|Eighteenth century cartoon showing a backstage battle between two rival actresses, Peg Woffington vs Kitty Clive|
It’s said that on the occasion, Salieri’s music (now completely forgotten) delighted, and Mozart’s did not. Mozart also lost the battle of remuneration, paid less than half of what Salieri received. It was explained that Mozart had added only a few pieces of music (in addition to the overture, two arias, a trio, and an ensemble finale), while Salieri had written a complete opera buffa. That Mozart could compose any music at all with the humiliations he endured while his rival was heaped in praise amazes Dottore Gianni. And yet he managed. The performance of The Impresario was given in February 1786, and in May Mozart premiered The Marriage of Figaro at the Burgtheater on the first of May.
|Dottore Gianni's photo of the Burgtheater in 2001|
Finally, if you will, the finale. (Drumroll – bada-bing!) Mozart’s last three symphonies (39, 40 and 41) are some of the finest symphonies – some say THE finest – ever written. They form a bridge from the baroque into the classical, and could easily be confused with the first symphonies of Beethoven, whom Mozart influenced mightily. The concert ended with Symphony No. 39, K 543 in E-flat major. He
|Constanze Weber Mozart|
wrote that and the two other late symphonies in a two-month span during 1788, when his personal life was in a shambles. There was not enough money to live on and he had to move to smaller lodgings, his wife Constanze was in poor health, and the couple’s daughter had recently passed away. Mozart’s situation was never to improve and he died impoverished three years later, but he somehow managed to produce some of the world’s greatest music under increasingly worsening circumstances.
Symphony No. 39 is written in four movements, marked:
I. Adagio, Allegro
II. Andante con moto
III. Menuetto: Allegreto
I have no words to adequately describe the music. It is sublime. All right, Dottore Gianni has once again failed as a music critic (surprise surprise) but the Greenville Symphony outdid itself in the playing of ths symphony, particularly in the last movement, which Maestro Tchivzhel took at breakneck speed, severely taxing the violin section. The violins managed it brilliantly despite the speed, and it thrilled the audience. It was the highlight of the concert, and one of the most professional performances of the season, thus far.
Coda: Some of you may remember that in the Chamber series, Tchivzhel introduces, often in a witty manner, the pieces about to be played. He did so on this occasion, though while he’s always clever he pretty much parroted the program notes. But at the end of the concert proper he turned and offered the audience not just an encore, but a quiz, or has he says “A KVEEEEZ! He explained that the orchestra would play a portion of a piece of music and that the first person that guessed what it was would win two tickets to any concert later in the season. He even brought out an usher whose eagle eye would identify the hands as they raised, so that the first person to raise her or his hand would have the first chance.
The music began and an old man (yes, even older than Dottore Gianni – this is a Sunday matinee remember, and Dottore Gianni is actually one of the younger audience members, relatively speaking) right in front of me, after whispering to his wife for a second, raised his hand. Then a younger man raise HIS in the row just behind me. I meanwhile was waffling between Brahms and Beethoven but was not even able to identify the composer, much less the specific piece of music, by the time the music ended. Tchivzhel asked the old fellow to stand and tell us the title. “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony” replied the man in confidence. Tchivzhel sighed and said, “Very close, but not correct.” The old man crumpled back into his chair. Then the young man behind me correctly answered Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. Tchivzhel grilled him further: “VEEEECH (read which) movement?” A pause, then again correctly, the last. Tchivzhel brought the man up on stage, asked the fellow if he was a musician, the fellow responded that he had played violin in his college orchestra – the tickets were bestowed, applause from the audience, the orchestra played that last bars once more for emphasis, and with that the concert ended.
Slight disappointment in some of it, but the concert ended very well indeed! No more concerts until late January, so unless Dottore Gianni can find something else to jabber about, or wins the lottery and can afford another trip across the pond before then, ciao tutti!