Happy Birthday, Amadeus!

Saturday, January 27, 2018 @ 7:30 p.m. | Scottish Rite Cathedral

Mozart

Overture to Don Giovanni

Mozart

Piano Concerto No. 21

  • Boris Slutsky, Piano

Mozart

Symphony No. 39

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on this day, January 27, in 1756. The Reading Symphony Orchestra celebrates the legendary composer by performing three of his beloved works, including Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major and the dramatic Overture to Don Giovanni. Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major rounds out the program, featuring pianist Boris Slutsky.

Happy 262nd Birthday, Mozart!

About the soloist

Pianist Boris Slutsky, characterized as “…a sound wizard of high caliber” (Esslinger Zeitung), has performed on nearly every continent both as a soloist and chamber musician. He is also a widely sought-after pedagogue and the Chair of the Piano Department at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(1756-1791)

 

Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527
Composed in 1787
Premiered on October 29, 1787 in Prague, directed by the composer

The Marriage of Figaro played in Prague for the first time in December of 1786; it was a smash hit. When Mozart visited the city the following month for further performances of the opera, Pasquale Bondini, the manager of Italian opera at the National Theater and the local producer of Figaro, commissioned him to write a new piece for the considerable sum of 100 ducats, equal to 12.1 ounces of gold bullion. As soon as Mozart returned to Vienna in February, he asked Lorenzo da Ponte, creator of the masterful libretto for Figaro, to write the book for the new opera. Da Ponte suggested the subject of Don Juan; Mozart agreed. Mozart worked throughout the late summer on the score, and left for Prague with his wife, Constanze, on October 1, 1787. The premiere of Don Giovanni was a triumph exceeded in Prague only by the wild success of The Marriage of Figaro.

“Everything in this tremendous introduction breathes terror and inspires awe,” wrote the French composer Charles Gounod of the opening of the Don Giovanni Overture. These august preludial strains, the only music from the opera heard in the Overture, later accompany the graveyard scene, during which the statue of the Commendatore, whom Giovanni has slain in the first scene, comes chillingly to life. Giovanni invites the specter to dinner. The Commendatore consequently appears at Giovanni’s banquet and carries the unrepentant libertine to Hell. The remainder of the Overture follows traditional sonata form, heightened in expression by a sizeable central development section of considerable emotional weight.

Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Composed in 1785
Premiered March 10, 1785 in Vienna, with the composer as soloist

“We never go to bed before one o’clock and I never get up before nine…. Every day there are concerts; and the whole time is given up to teaching, music, composing and so forth. I feel rather out of it all.” Father Leopold Mozart had reached a rather brittle 66th year when he sent these lines off to his daughter, Maria Anna, from Vienna on March 12, 1785, just two days after Wolfgang had premiered his C major Piano Concerto (K. 467) at the Court Theater. Leopold added that the new Concerto had an excellent reception — the applause, he allowed, was “deafening,” and the audience was even moved to tears.

The orchestral introduction of the C major Concerto opens with a soft, martial strain for unison strings answered by the winds. Other themes follow in abundance before the entry of the soloist. A brief excursion into the shadowy key of G minor by the pianist leads to the second theme in a brighter key of G major. The Andante is one of Mozart’s most sensually beautiful creations. The muted strings, pulsating accompaniment, exquisite scoring and rich harmonic palette give this movement a dreamlike quality. The sparkling rondo-finale joins the rollicking spirit of opera buffa and the intensity and wealth of expression of the symphony with the virtuoso elements of the concerto.


Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543
Composed in 1788

The city of Prague fell in love with Mozart in January 1787. The Marriage of Figaro met with a resounding success when he conducted it there on January 17th, and so great was the acclaim that was awarded to his Symphony in D major (K. 504) when it was heard only two days later that it has since borne the name of the Bohemian capital. He returned to Vienna in early February with a signed contract to provide Prague with a new opera for its next season. The opera was Don Giovanni, and Mozart returned to Prague on October 1st to oversee its production. Again, he triumphed. He was invited to take up residence in the city, and he was tempted to abandon Vienna, where his career seemed stymied and the bill-collectors harassed him incessantly, but, after six weeks away, he returned home for pressing reasons both personal and professional. Personally, his wife, Constanze, was due to deliver their fourth child in December, and she wished to be close to her family for the birth. (A girl, Theresa, was born on December 27th.) Professionally, the venerable Christoph Willibald Gluck was reported near death, and Mozart, who had been lobbying to obtain a position at the Habsburg court such as Gluck held, wanted to be at hand when the job, as seemed imminent, came open.

Mozart arrived back in Vienna on November 15th, one day after Gluck died. Three weeks later he was named Court Chamber Music Composer by Emperor Joseph II, though he was disappointed with both the salary and the duties. He was to receive only 800 florins a year, less than half the 2,000 florins that Gluck had been paid, and rather than requiring him to compose operas, the contract specified he would write only dances for the imperial balls. Still, the income from the court position, the generous amount he had been paid for Don Giovanni, and his fees for various free-lance jobs should have been enough to adequately support his family. However, his desire to put up a good front with elegant clothes, expensive entertaining, and even loans to needy (or conniving) musicians drained his resources.

Despite the disappointments inflicted upon him, his precarious pecuniary position, and an alarming decline in his health and that of his wife, Mozart was still working miracles in his music. On June 26th, he finished the E-flat Symphony (K. 543), the first of the incomparable trilogy that he produced within two months during that unsettling summer of 1788. The reason he wrote the E-flat, G minor and C major (“Jupiter”) Symphonies has never come to light. It has been speculated that they might have been composed for a series of concerts he planned originally for June, but which was several times postponed for lack of subscribers and eventually cancelled all together. A second possibility is that the symphonies were written on speculation to be published as a set. A third consideration might have been a trip that Mozart was trying to arrange to London at that time. Should the tour materialize, he reasoned, these symphonies would make a fine introduction to the British public. None of these three situations came about, however, and the genesis of Mozart’s last three symphonies will probably always remain a mystery.

The E-flat Symphony opens with a large introduction of surprising emotional weight. The remainder of the movement, however, uses its sonata form as the basis of a lovely extended song rather than as an intense drama. The halcyon mood carries into the Andante, a sonatina in form (sonata without development section) and a sunbeam in spirit. The Minuet, with its sweet trio, is a dance of grace, elegance and prescient Romantic vigor. The finale combines wit and verve with suavity of style and harmonic felicity.