Overture Magazine - 2018-19 Season BSO_Overture_JanFeb_19 | Page 12

LEON FLEISHER PERFORMS MOZART and in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Leon Fleisher last appeared with the BSO in January 2016, performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 4, Marin Alsop, conductor. About the Concert PIANO CONCERTO NO. 12 IN A MAJOR Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, Austria December 5, 1791 In 1781, Mozart abandoned the stifling atmosphere of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s court and launched his career as a free-lance musician in Vienna. This was a daring move in the late-18 th century, as most musicians made their living through a steady appointment at a princely court. Without this security, Mozart was proposing to make his way much as today’s performers do: by securing many engagements as a pianist and gradually building himself a following. In his first three piano concertos for Vienna, he was careful to create music that would woo a diverse audience. As he wrote to his father: “These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear and natural, without being vapid. Mozart had additional pressure to please when he composed the Piano Concerto in A Major in the fall of 1782: he had just married Constanze Weber a few months before, and their first child was on the way. The opening theme of the first movement is Mozart at his most charming. Pay close attention to this rising-and-falling theme; you will hear it again in the second movement in a very different guise. The second movement begins with a richly harmonized hymn-like theme in the strings based on a melody by Johann Christian Bach, youngest son of Johann Sebastian, and a composer Mozart revered and emulated from the time he was only eight. Immediately following this hymn tune is a phrase in the violins that should sound familiar. J.C. Bach had died on January 1, 1782, and this seems to be Mozart’s very personal tribute: a quotation from Bach followed by a mournful quote 10 OV E R T U R E / BSOmusic.org from himself. Later, the soloist takes a little rocking phrase that closes the exposition section and develops it though a series of minor keys into a meditative passage of extraordinary depth and beauty. For his rondo finale, Mozart gives us a two-part refrain: the first a flippant, trilling theme, the second a mock-ominous descending tune in the strings’ low register. This movement is particularly engaging in that Mozart playfully blocks the final return of the rondo refrain and the piece’s conclusion. He even throws a solo cadenza at us when we least expect it. Instrumentation: Two oboes, two horns and strings. SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN D MAJOR Johannes Brahms Born in Hamburg, Germany, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, Austria, April 3, 1897 Johannes Brahms’ composing retreat during the summer of 1877 played an important role in the character of his richly melodious Second Symphony. This was the picturesque mountain resort of Pörtschach on the Wörtersee lake in southern Austria. By the time he reached middle age, Brahms — busy the rest of the year in Vienna with performances and publishing his music — did most of his composing during the summer months. Finding a place conducive to creativity became all-important to him. Many commentators, comparing Brahms’ pairing of a heroic symphony in C minor and a lighter successor symphony with Beethoven’s similarly contrasting Fifth (also in C minor) and Sixth Symphonies, have called Brahms’ Second Symphony “Pastoral”: a nature symphony full of sunshine. However, such comparisons can be misleading. Although it has Brahms’ most joyous finale, the Second Symphony is still a densely constructed, rather serious work with a strong undercurrent of introspection and melancholy. The symphony grows like a mighty oak from the seeds of its first three notes heard in the cellos and basses. From this seed motive, will sprout many of the themes in all four movements. The warmly Romantic timbre of the horns lends the opening theme an autumnal glow. More ardent is an arching, soaring melody for the violins built from the three-note seed. But this movement’s most famous tune is the second subject a stately, mellow waltz sung by the cellos and violas. Brahms shows off his formidable contrapuntal skills in the development section with a powerful, fugal treatment of the horns’ opening theme. The violins’ arching theme also is worked out while the three-note seed motive is tossed continually from instrument to instrument. After the recapitulation, Brahms lightens the mood briefly for a rhythmically playful coda. Immediately the music darkens again for the brooding second movement with its magnificent long melody for the cellos full of yearning. The meter then switches to 12/8 for a rhythmically halting, frustrated theme for the woodwinds. A turbulent developmental section subsides into reveries of the main cello theme, followed by a full return of that melody. While the first two movements wander mostly in the shadows, the third and fourth movements dwell in sunshine. The third movement is a charming intermezzo. The oboes present the principal theme, derived from the three-note seed motive. It returns twice more with two exuberant dance episodes led by strings in between. Despite their different meters and fast tempos, they are actually variations of the oboes’ melody. The finale’s mysterious, rhythmically vague opening hardly prepares us for the true mood of this movement, but it soon explodes in a fortissimo blaze of sound. The second theme is full of mature contentment, offered by the strings in their deepest, richest register. The coda is an outburst of utterly uninhibited joy with the mellow theme ultimately sped up and blazing forth in triumph from the trumpets. Instrumentation: Two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings. Notes by Janet E. Bedell, © 2019