Program Notes | Happy Birthday Mozart

These notes appear in the program for Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra’s Happy Birthday Mozart concert on Saturday, January 27, 2018, 7:30 PM at the Schrott Center for the Arts, Butler Arts Center.

Concert features:
A world premiere by Chen-Hui Jen called in eternal dusk, Guest Artist Sean Chen performing Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 and ICO paying tribute to Mozart’s birthday with his Jupiter Symphony.

in eternal dusk (2017) – [World Premiere]
Chen-Hui Jen, born July 3, 1981, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Composer Chen-Hui Jen has provided the following commentary on her new piece, which is being premiered this evening by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra:

Chen-Hui Jen

 in eternal dusk was commissioned by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, made possible through the League of American Orchestras’ Women Composers Commissions generously supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

“The work’s title, in eternal dusk, represents a state of being within and towards an intangible distance. During recent years, I have frequently traveled across the Pacific Ocean and North America. I always feel drifting and torn apart as the time and space drastically change – memories, auras, dreams, and thoughts – everything seems vivid, but at the same time so surreal and distant. I therefore designed the structure with a continuous flow in polyrhythm to reflect my perception of time and imaginary space, where I seek for something that remains inside myself while everything is lost, except waves, twilight, and endless longing.”

 

Concerto No. 1 for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 35
Dmitri Shostakovich, born September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia; died August 9, 1975, in Moscow.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Certainly one of the most important composers of the 20th century, Shostakovich is revered for his symphonies, film music, chamber works and operas. He struggled mightily with the Soviet bureaucracy throughout much of his life, going in and out of favor with the arts monitors of the Josef Stalin administration. Tonight’s work is a thoroughly engaging composition that precedes his political troubles and shows the witty and playful side of Shostakovich. He was an excellent piano soloist himself before myriad health issues forced him to retire from professional playing – he was a lifelong chain smoker who died from the effects of lung cancer and also had nerve and muscle issues that damaged his hands and feet.

Shostakovich was 27 when completed his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1933. He had previously written the first three of his eventual 15 symphonies, several ballets and film scores, and his two operas, The Nose and Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. The latter of these would be premiered successfully in 1934, but would be the work that in 1936 would tarnish his reputation with the political operatives and cause two decades of struggling with the Stalinists, often to the point of fearing for his family and his life. Laurel E. Fay explains in her biography Shostakovich – A Life that the composer told one of his students about the beginnings of this work: “The composer subsequently divulged to a student that he had initially conceived the work as a concerto for trumpet; the difficulties of writing for that solo instrument and the addition of the piano had transformed it into a double concerto, and finally the piano had eclipsed the trumpet.” Certainly the brilliant trumpet part is still much more than a portion of the accompaniment forces.  An unnamed musicologist quoted in a program note compared the role of the trumpet to that of the Greek chorus in a theatrical production – sometimes commenting on and sometimes setting the mood for the following action.

The premiere performance took place on October 15, 1933, with the composer as soloist and with Fritz Striedy conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. It was an instant success with its blend of styles – the neo-baroque gestures to the popular music hall raucousness to the brashness of circus music, but all tinged with and calmed by Shostakovich’s elegant and often longingly elegiac lyricism. As is often the case, Shostakovich employs references, sometimes subtle, to several styles and time periods. In this work he includes nods to piano works of Haydn and especially Beethoven – particularly significant is a quote from his Rondo Capriccio often called “Rage Over a Lost Penny.” Shostakovich alludes to several of his own works as well as the familiar Austrian folksong Ach du lieber Augustin. The concerto consists of four movements, rather than the more traditional three, but the third is quite short, and could be considered an interlude, leading from the slow second movement to the Finale.

The work is scored for piano soloist, auxiliary trumpet soloist, and the string section of the orchestra. Its duration is about 23 minutes.

 

Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, in Vienna.

The ICO is pleased to present Mozart’s 41st and final symphony this evening, on the very day of the composer’s 262nd birthday! Mozart’s 31st year, 1787, saw the composition of several of his greatest works as well as some personal highs and lows. He had been living in Vienna since 1781 and had been married to Constanze since 1782. She had given birth to three sons, but two did not survive their first year. In January, 1787, the family traveled to Prague for the successful introduction of his opera The Marriage of Figaro. He wrote his Symphony No. 38 and gave it the title “Prague.” In April they were back in Vienna, where he met the young Beethoven, who had come to study with him. His father Leopold died. He composed his magical Eine kleine Nachtmusik.

His 32nd year was mostly one of poor circumstances – his new opera Don Giovanni was not well received at its premiere, the family was financially strapped, probably from living well beyond their means, and his six-month-old daughter Theresia died. He did write his final three symphonies during the summer months – No. 39 in E-Flat Major, K. 543; No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; and tonight’s work, Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551. The 41st symphony was completed on August 10, 1788, but we do not have any information about the premiere performance. The title “Jupiter” probably originated around 1819, and the composer’s son Wolfgang reported in 1820 that it was coined by J.P. Salomon, a German composer and musical impresario who was also responsible for bringing Franz Josef Haydn to London in the 1790s.

A. Peter Brown, writing in his multi-volume work on the history of the symphony The Symphonic Repertoire, gives us a statement about the opening of the Symphony #41: “Within the Viennese context, K. 551 could only have been understood as a ceremonial work that combined Imperial and liturgical associations. A symphony in C major with its trumpets and drums often implied celebrations of the birth, name, or wedding day of a member of the imperial clan. By the 1780s, such celebrations were a lesser part of Imperial and Viennese life, but the memories and associations remained. The first movement of the “Jupiter,” with its flourishes, fanfares, dotted rhythms, and the like, would have been recognized as having this character.”

The slow second movement contains a quotation from an opera aria whose English translation is “you are a bit innocent, my dear Pompeo.” The words are thought to be the creation of Lorenzo da Ponte, with whom Mozart created Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro. The aria does not appear in any larger work by Mozart, and it may have been created for use as an addition to a work of another composer.

Happy 262nd Birthday !

The crowning jewel of Mozart’s symphonies is the final movement. It goes against the grain of earlier symphonies by shifting the weight of the four movements from the opening to the ending, which anticipates symphonies from later composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, and later Romantic era symphonists. It opens with a simple-sounding four-note motive that serves as the basis for a spectacular fugue treatment. Four other themes are introduced and treated in various forms of counterpoint, which is the act of combining two or more melodies to serve together and create a more complex musical structure. Counterpoint, especially imitative forms such as the fugue, was a major facet of the Baroque era (especially renowned in the works of J.S. Bach and others), and it must have created quite a sensation when it was first heard in the context of the mature Classical era. The last section of the movement is truly one of the great achievements of Mozart’s compositional accomplishments, and indeed, in all of the history of music.

Interestingly, the first recording of this great work has a Hoosier flavor to it – the conductor of the Victor Concert Orchestra’s 1913 recording was Walter B. Rogers (1865-1939), a renowned cornetist and bandmaster from Delphi, Indiana!  Symphony No. 41 is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. Its duration is about 31 minutes.

Notes By Charles P. Conrad, DMA – © 2018

Comments (2)

  • joanne hom

    4 weeks ago

    Thank you for this very informative and well written’ program notes’. I will certainly have a better appreciation and understanding of tonight’s musical pieces.

    • Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for the feedback. We hope you had a terrific time at the concert Saturday night! See you again soon!

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