Monday,  Jul 23, 2018,20:47 (GMT+7) 0 0
Mozart and the symphony
Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Mar 21, 2018,18:16 (GMT+7)

Mozart and the symphony

Bradley Winterton

The symphony is not at the forefront of Mozart’s productions, as it is of Beethoven’s. Many people prefer his operas, his piano concertos, his masses and his chamber music, quartets and quintets especially. Nonetheless, his symphonies are a major constituent of his output, unequal though they may be.

He wrote 41 symphonies, but many of them were juvenile productions. Today numbers 29 to 41 are generally considered the important, mature ones. The Ho Chi Minh City Ballet and Symphony Orchestra (HBSO) will be performing Symphony Number 41 in the Saigon Opera House on Thursday, March 29, beginning at 8 p.m.

Mozart’s final three symphonies are considered the finest of them all. They are in E flat, G minor and C major, and all were completed in the summer of 1788. Brahms wrote as follows: “The last three symphonies of Mozart are much more important [than Beethoven’s First Symphony]. Some people are beginning to feel that now.”

The reason Brahms wrote that some people were “beginning to feel” the superiority of Mozart’s final symphonies was that Mozart wasn’t esteemed as highly as he should have been in the mid-19th century when it was taken for granted that Beethoven was his indisputable superior. Brahms, a considerable scholar in his own right, suspected otherwise.

The English poet Thomas Hardy wrote a poem in 1898 called ‘Lines to a movement in Mozart’s E Flat Symphony’. It begins ‘Show me again the time/ When in Junetide’s prime/ We flew by meads and mountains northerly!’ No one online seems interested to identify which movement of the Symphony Number 39 Hardy was referring to, but a learned friend of mine tells me he’s convinced it’s the first.

If the 39th symphony is remarkable for its general structure and beauty, and the 40th symphony for the intensity of its minor-key intensity, the 41st is widely acknowledged as the most magnificent of them all.

“It is the greatest orchestral work of the world that preceded the French Revolution,” wrote Sir George Groves, editor and founder of Groves’ Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The work is celebrated for its length, the clarity of its instrumentation, and especially for the masterfulness of the fugal 4th (and final) movement.

The 41st symphony has acquired the nickname ‘Jupiter’. This happened, though, after Mozart’s death, and according to Wikipedia was based on the fact that the work’s famous last movement echoes a symphony by a near-contemporary Carl Ditter. This symphony was called ‘The Fall of Phaeton’, and the planet the Greeks called Phaeton the Romans called Jupiter. This seems unlikely, however. Phaeton in Greek mythology was the youth who asked to drive the horses that pulled the sun, but was unable to control them and fell to destruction. It seems more likely that Mozart’s final symphony was called ‘the Jupiter’ because if its general magnificence. Jupiter was, after all, the king of the gods.

The first half of HBSO’s program next Thursday consists of operatic excerpts. Prominent among these are four items from Weber’s Der Freischutz (‘the marksman’) which HBSO is producing in its entirety on July 28 and 29.

After the Overture we will hear a tenor aria from Pham Trang. In it the opera’s hero, Max, laments that he has lost a shooting contest to a character called Kilian, ‘Durch die walder, durch die Auen’.

Next from this opera we hear the baritone Dao Mac, as Kaspar, sing his aria ‘Schweig, damit dich Niemand warnt’ (‘Silence, let no one warn him’).

Finally we’ll hear the chorus ‘Viktoria, der Meister soll leben’ (‘Victory! Long live the master!’), which comes after Max has lost his shooting match. All four items are from the opera’s first act.

Items from Verdi’s Rigoletto and Attila, and from Johann Strauss II and Offenbach, complete the program.

This concert, then, containing Mozart’s greatest symphony and a taste of the opera to be given its Vietnam premier in July, is certainly one to look out for. It will be conducted by HBSO music director Tran Vuong Thach.

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