Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg. He died on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. His Divertimento, K. 131 was composed in Salzburg during the summer of 1772. His Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra, K. 314/271k dates from the spring or summer of 1777. The Symphony no. 38 in D Major, K. 504 (“Prague”) was composed in 1786 and first performed on December 6 of that same year in the city that bears its nickname. The “K” number used for Mozart’s works refers to the name Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who first issued the Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart in 1862. The Köchel catalogue has been updated and revised many times to keep pace with musicological revelations. This work is scored for flute, oboe, bassoon, four horns, and strings.
Divertimento in D Major, K. 131
This program by the Winston-Salem Symphony presents three different instrumental compositions that range chronologically from 1772 to 1786, and geographically from Salzburg to Prague. The Divertimento in D Major, K. 131 represents the kind of light party fare that was popular in aristocratic homes of wealthy citizens and patrons of Mozart’s native Salzburg. Scored for strings and a soloistic (concertante) group comprising flute, oboe, bassoon, and four horns, this delightful piece in six movements cannot fail to charm the senses of its listeners, while at the same time challenge the musicians whose task it is to perform it. The inclusion of the four horns strongly suggest that the patron for whom the work was written was fond of hunting, as this was the human activity most closely associated with that instrument.
The lively first movement, Allegro, features the solo flute, whose color is set off effectively from the strings. This is followed by an Adagio just for strings. The first of the Divertimento’s two Menuetto (Minuet) features no less than three trio sections. The first of these displays the quartet of horns, while the second presents the flute, oboe, and bassoon. The last trio, cast in D minor, is a fascinating dialogue between the horns and winds. A jaunty gavotte-like Allegretto is next, placing the flute as well as a solo violin on display. Each of these soloists has opportunity for presenting a brief “Eingang” (short connective cadenza). The second Menuetto begins boldly with the horn quartet, each phrase of which is answered by the rest of the instruments. The first of its two trio features the flute and strings, while the second one allows the oboe to join the strings. The final movement has three discrete sections. It begins with a solemn “chorale” for the four horns (Adagio), joined toward the end by the flute and oboe. This leads without break to a lively Allegro molto where again the horns and winds are afforded ample opportunity for virtuoso displays. Mozart has one more delight in store—a final section in ¾ meter (Allegro assai) known as the “Kehraus”—a signal that the party is over and it is time for the guests to depart.
Concerto for Oboe in C Major, K. 314/271k
Composed between April and September 1777, Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 314/271k may be better known to some listeners as his Flute Concerto no. 2 in D Major, although the authenticity of the flute version has been called into question by some Mozart scholars. The reason for two different K. numbers for the Oboe Concerto represents an updated (i.e., earlier) placement of the piece in a later edition of Köchel’s chronologically-arranged catalogue of Mozart’s works. Regardless of which instrument lays claim to the work, it is a thoroughly charming composition that places considerable technical challenges to the soloist, without making its audience aware of its difficulties.
The Oboe Concerto was composed for the Bergamo-born soloist, Giuseppe Ferlendis, who, along with members of his family, filled the ranks of the Prince-Archbishop’s orchestra in Salzburg. Mozart must have thought highly of his skill, despite the fact that Haydn, who heard him perform much later (1795) in London was less enthusiastic. Ferlendis was only forty years old when Haydn heard him play, and it is possible that his playing was far better when he was twenty-two, the age at which Mozart first met him. The work became a favorite of another virtuoso, Friedrich Ramm, whom Mozart met when travelling to Mannheim with his mother.
Curiously, the piece fell into oblivion until a bass part was discovered by Bernhard Paumgartner in the Salzburg Mozarteum archives marked “Concerto in C/Oboe Principale.” Paumgartner recognized the music as being the same as the D Major Flute Concerto, which Mozart (presumably) had himself transcribed and transposed as an offering to Ferdinand de Jean, the amateur flutist for whom Mozart had composed the authentic Flute Concerto in G Major, K. 285c as part of a request for three new flute concertos. Thanks to Paumgartner, the oboe had regained a gem of its repertory.
The work comprises the three-movement structure typical of the Classical concerto. The first movement, marked Allegro aperto (Open and Lively; a tempo marking also used by Mozart in his Violin Concerto no. 5 [“Turkish”]) is filled with Mozart’s characteristic youthful energy. The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo (not too slow), is a harbinger of the profound and lyrical qualities found in Mozart’s beloved operatic arias of the next decade. The concluding Rondo (or Rondeau) starts with a bouncy theme that comes back again and again, interspersed by contrasting episodes filled with virtuoso passagework.
Symphony no. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”
Of Mozart’s last six symphonies, the one in D Major, K. 504 (“Prague”) stands out for a number of reasons. Even though Mozart had adopted the four-movement structure of the mature Classical symphony, this one lacks a minuet, and was actually referred to on concert programs and reviews in the early nineteenth century as “The Symphony without a Minuet” (the last of Mozart’s symphonies is popularly known by modern audiences as “Jupiter,” but was known earlier as the “Symphony with the Concluding Fugue”). The popular subtitle for the D-Major Symphony, “Prague,” refers to the fact that Mozart had composed it for performance in that Czech city that at the time was part of the Habsburg Empire. Mozart’s 1785 masterpiece of comic opera (opera buffa), Le nozze di Figaro, was the equivalent of a smash hit in Prague, and the composer wrote to his father of how the city had become mad for Figaro, with strains of the aria “No piu andrai” sounding in the streets. The success in Prague led to the premiere of Mozart’s next opera, Don Giovanni, which enjoyed its premiere there in 1787. Indeed, Mozart makes a humorous self-reference to the afore-mentioned Figaro aria in the finale of Act II.
The first movement of the “Prague” Symphony begins with a broad and noble Adagio introduction, echoes of its excursion into the minor mode can be heard in the Overture to Don Giovanni of the next year. The same might be said of the energetic and high-spirited Allegro that forms the main body of the movement. A typical Mozartean trait is a poignant excursion into the minor key during the presentation of the second theme group of the exposition. One may discern how this first movement must have been an inspiration on the young Beethoven as he sat down in 1802 to compose his own D-Major Symphony (no. 2, op. 36). The second movement is a beautiful and operatic Andante that balances sweetness with moments of drama, and even sadness. The finale, Presto, on the other hand is filled throughout with sunshine, power, and boundless energy. These qualities are derived mainly from rhythmic energy of the principal theme’s first four notes (three short notes followed by a long one).
Program note by David B. Levy © 2015