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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Overtures
Musik Och Ljudteknik (Sweden)
"There is an inner drive to these performances which makes these interpretations unbelievably natural"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
The life of Mozart and more particularly
his early death have given rise to romantic speculation of various kinds. The
film based on the play Amadeus, intended by its author as a fictional study of
jealousy and human paradox, has given further currency to gossip about the
composer's death, with writers suggesting various candidates for the position
of murderer, ranging from his wife's lover to the jealous husband of a
favourite pupil, free-masons seeking revenge for the betrayal of their secrets,
or, as in the work of the Russian poet Pushkin, turned into an opera by
Rimsky-Korsakov, the Court Composer Salieri.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in
Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician, Leopold Mozart, who in the year
of his son's birth had published an important book on violin-playing and was
winning a reputation for this and for his work as a composer. Leopold Mozart
realised very soon the exceptional talent of his son, and resolved to do his
best to foster it, sacrificing at the same time his own career. He was to
become Vice Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, retaining that
position until his death in 1787.
In childhood Mozart and his elder sister
Nannerl, the only two surviving children of the family, travelled widely
throughout Europe, performing before kings and queens, the nobility and the
curious. This period of early success was followed by disappointment as the boy
grew older. Salzburg seemed to offer very little opportunity, and the death of
the old Archbishop in 1772 had led to the appointment of a reformist successor
who proved very much less indulgent to members of his household. It seemed that
Mozart deserved better than provincial Salzburg could offer, and in 1777 he
left home to seek a position elsewhere, visiting Munich, Mannheim and Paris
without the kind of success that he wanted, compelled finally to return
reluctantly home again.
It was not until 1781 that Mozart
eventually broke with his patron, the Archbishop, during the course of a visit
to Vienna. The last ten years of his life were spent in the imperial capital,
without significant patronage and, more important, without the immediate
guidance of his father, who remained in Salzburg. Independent at last, Mozart
married imprudently, won some early success in the opera-house and in concerts
of his works, but was never one to cut his coat according to the cloth. His
income from composition, performance and teaching was variable and as the
decade came to an end proved quite inadequate for the maintenance of what he
regarded as a suitable style of living.
At the time of his death Mozart was
enjoying some popular success with his German opera, The Magic Flute and
it seemed that his fortunes had begun to take a turn for the better, in spite
of the neglect he suffered from the new Emperor. He died on 5th December, 1791,
after a short illness, leaving unfinished the commissioned Requiem Mass which
he had superstitiously suggested might celebrate his own death.
Salzburg had no permanent opera-house.
Nevertheless Mozart, even as a child, wrote music for theatrical performances
of one sort or another, before he finally availed himself of the opportunities
that Vienna offered during the last ten years of his life.
The first stage work to which Mozart
contributed was a Latin school play for Salzburg University, Apollo et
Hyacinthus, an Intermezzo to be performed in May, 1767, between the acts of
the main play, Clementia Croesi. The original legend was adapted to the
morality of the day, with the introduction of suitable female characters. The
short Overture is scored for oboes, horns and strings, the standard orchestra
of the time.
Mozart's next stage work was an opera
buffa, La finta semplice, with a libretto adapted from Goldoni, and
planned for performance in Vienna in 1768, but prevented by professional
intrigue. The work was later performed in Salzburg, but the Overture is not
included here, since it is in fact a symphony composed earlier in the year.
The visit to Vienna in 1768 provided the
opportunity for another work for the theatre, the German Singspiel Bastien
und Bastienne, derived from a parody of Rousseau's pastoral Le devin du
village. This was commissioned by Anton Mesmer, proponent of popular
pseudo-medical theories of animal magnetism and a friend of the Mozarts. The
piece deals with misunderstandings between the pastoral lovers of the title,
settled by the village magician. The brief G major Overture makes use of the
usual orchestral forces.
Mitridate, rè di Ponto,
was written for Milan and first performed there on Boxing Day, 1770. The
libretto was adapted at second-hand from Racine's Mithridate and offered the
composer his first opera seria text, a genre that was increasingly to be
displaced by newer fashions of realism. The story, an improbable adaptation of
history, deals with conflicting claims of love and filial piety in the family
of Mithridates, whose two sons are rivals with him for the love of his
betrothed Aspasia. The Overture is in the form of an Italian three-movement
sinfonia, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes and horns, and strings.
followed further commissions for Italy and was first performed in Milan on
Boxing Day, 1772, before the Archduke and Archduchess, the former keeping audience
and performers waiting for three hours while he wrote New Year greetings home
to the Emperor and the Empress. The libretto treats the life of the Roman
dictator Sulla with considerable freedom, providing a drama in the conventions
of opera seria. The Overture is in the form of an Italian sinfonia and uses
trumpets and drums in addition to the usual oboes, horns, and strings.
With a new Archbishop enthroned in
Salzburg in 1773, the Mozarts found their activities circumscribed. In 1774,
however, there came a commission for a new opera for Munich. La finta
giardiniera, an opera buffa with a libretto by Gluck's reform librettist
Calzabigi, was well enough received at its first performance on 13th January,
1773. The Overture, a sinfonia with a central slow movement, is scored for
oboes, horns and strings. Mozart added a third movement for concert use.
Back in Salzburg in March Mozart provided
a festa teatrale to celebrate the visit of the youngest son of the Empress,
Archduke Max. Il rè pastore was adapted from Metastasio, the court poet,
and had originally been performed by the children of the Imperial family. It is
a decorous tale of love and pastoral identities assumed wittingly or not by
princes. The C major Overture is scored for oboes, horns, trumpets and strings.
was commissioned for Munich and given its first performance there on 29th
January 1781. The libretto deals with the story of Idomeneo, King of Crete, who
promises to sacrifice the first living thing he meets on shore, on his safe return
from Troy. His son is the destined victim, saved from his fate by the
intervention of Neptune. The larger orchestra at Munich provided flutes, oboes,
clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, drums and strings, employed in the
Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
a German Singspiel on a fashionable Turkish subject of rescue from the harem,
marked the first dramatic success of Mozart in Vienna, where it was first
performed at the Burgtheater on 16th July 1782. It blends elements of comedy with
high seriousness. The Overture, in "Turkish" style, uses cymbals,
triangle and bass drum, piccolo, oboes, clarinets, horns, trumpets, drums and
strings, and includes a slower central section.
an occasional work, was demanded by the Emperor for performance at the palace
of Schönbrunn on 7th February 1786. With seven speaking parts and three singers
it parodies the difficulties faced by an impresario and formed part of a double
bill with the Court Composer Salieri's Prima la musics poi le parole.
The lively C major Overture is scored for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons,
horns, trumpets, drum sand strings.
Le nozze di Figaro
was first performed on 1st May 1786. The text was by Lorenzo da Ponte, adapted from the second play of the
socially subversive trilogy by Beaumarchais, in which master is outwitted by
man. The Overture, written two days before the opening, is closely related in
mood but not in themes to the drama and is scored for the usual orchestra.
which now includes clarinets.
The dramma giocoso Don Giovanni,
based by da Ponte on a Spanish drama concerning the amatory exploits and
ghostly punishment of the dissolute Don Juan, was commissioned for Prague,
where Figaro had won considerable success and where Mozart was always popular,
to celebrate the marriage of the Emperor's niece. In the event there were
delays, and Don Giovanni was given a fortnight later, on 29th October 1787. The
Overture was written down overnight for the dress rehearsal on 28th October. It
is scored for the same instruments as in the preceding work and opens with
hints of ghostly vengeance, to be taken by the stone statue of the wronged
father that Don Giovanni has murdered, followed by the rapider music of a
sonata-form Allegro, the mixture of tragedy and comedy that marks the opera.
Lorenzo da Ponte's next libretto for
Mozart was ordered by the Emperor and first performed at the Burgtheater in
Vienna on 26th January 1790, its success affected by the death of the Emperor
in February. Cost fan tutte deals with the story of two lovers who are
induced by an elderly cynic to test the faithfulness of their mistresses by
returning in disguise, after pretending to be called away to the wars. The
Overture, with the usual full orchestra, has a slow introduction, followed by a
lively Allegro, quoting only the notes that are to accompany the words of the
title towards the end of the piece.
The German opera Die Zauberflöte
with a libretto by the actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder, was enjoying
considerable popular success as Mozart lay dying in early December 1791. It had
had its first performance at the suburban Theater aufder Wieden on 30th
September. The piece combines magic with masonic ritual. The Overture, in the
masonic key of E flat, makes use of three trombones in addition to the usual
orchestra and opens with solemn chords and a slow introduction, followed by a
cheerful contrapuntal Allegro, interrupted for a moment by the solemn
three-fold chords that represent the knocking at the door of the initiate.
Le clemenza di Tito
was written for Prague to a libretto adapted from Metastasio. It was
commissioned for the coronation as King of Bohemia of the Emperor Leopold II,
who had shown no inclination to favour Mozart in Vienna. It was performed in
the imperial presence on 6th September, to be described by the Empress as
"porcheria tedesca". but Prague audiences reacted more favourably,
although the story of imperial clemency by the Roman Emperor Titus lacks
anything of the originality of the operas immediately preceding it. The
Overture, including clarinets as well as trumpets and drums, is well suited to
an occasion of official celebration and without any slow introduction makes an
immediate call on our attention.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in
1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber
orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard
classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its I1Bme drawn from the ancient
name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the historic university
established in the Slovak and one-time Hungarian capital by Matthias Corvinus,
the orchestra works principally in the recording studio. Recordings by the
orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's
Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well
as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.
Berry Wordsworth's career has been
dominated by his work for the Royal Ballet which started when he played the
solo part in Frank Martin's Harpsichord Concerto, which was the score used by
Sir Kenneth MacMillan for his ballet, Las Hermanas. In 1973 he became
Assistant Conductor of the Royal Ballet's Touring Orchestra and in 1974 Principal
Conductor of sadlers Wells Royal Ballet. He made h is debut at Covent Garden
conducting MacMillan's Manon in 1975 and since then has conducted there
frequently. He has toured extensively with the Royal Ballet, conducting
orchestras in New Zeeland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Canada and Australia,
where he has been guest conductor for Australian Ballet.
In 1987 while retaining his connection
with both Royal Ballet companies as guest conductor, Barry Wordsworth also
worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic,
the Philharmonia, the Ulster Orchestra, the BBC Concert and the London
Philharmonic Orchestras. He also continued to work with New sadlers Wells
Opera, with whom he has recorded excerpts from Kalman's Countess Maritzaand,
Lehar's The Count of Luxembourg and The Merry Widow. For the
Naxos label Wordsworth recorded a number of Mozart and Haydn symphonies, works
by Smetana and Dvorak and for the Marco Polo label works by Bax.
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