Overture Magazine - 2018-19 Season BSO_Overture_JanFeb_19 | Page 29

MOZART SYMPHONY NO. 40 SYMPHONY NO. 40 IN G MINOR Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, Austria, December 5, 1791 During the summer of 1788, in an amazing burst of inspiration spanning just six weeks, Mozart composed his last three symphonies—Numbers 39, 40 and 41. This creative surge occurred during a low ebb in the composer’s fortunes. His popularity with the Viennese public had waned, pupils were scarce, a major court appointment was still beyond his grasp and he had begun to borrow large sums of money to support his wife and children . To add to Mozart’s frustrations, it seems that plans for the concerts to premiere these magnificent new works eventually fell through; today it is not clear when, if ever, in his lifetime they were performed. Of the last three symphonies, only the G-minor seems to reflect the turmoil Mozart was actually experiencing in his life as he wrote it. Its minor key harmonic daring and pervading spirit of anger and unrest distinguish this symphony from its fellows. In the opening bars of the first movement, an agitated rocking figure for the violins launches us immediately into a world of “storm and stress” (a proto- Romantic style that had recently infected European arts). Chromaticism will be the watchword for the entire symphony, used both in melodic patterns for the various instruments and in harmonic movement. At the opening of the development section of this movement, listen for Mozart’s sudden careening off to F-sharp minor—tonally about as far away from the home key of G minor as one can wander—followed by a passage of sinking chromatic modulations that sounds as though the whole orchestral machine were being rapidly unwound. Even the recapitulation abounds with surprises, including a sly moment of tonal uncertainty just before the final cadence. Pathos mingles with beauty in the second movement in E-flat major. The graceful flourishes that conclude the principal theme at first sound merely ornamental, but by the time Mozart has finished working them over in the development section, they have been transformed into audible tears of pain. The third movement is no courtly minuet; instead, it is a dance of defiance. The violins and bassoons are determinedly out of step with the rest of the ensemble, producing some violently accented dissonances. By contrast, the gentle trio, with its exquisite woodwind writing, is the only wholly untroubled section of the entire symphony. In keeping with the spirit of the rest of the work, the finale is not a playful rondo but rather another aggressive sonata form. The pert, upward-shooting principal theme, played softly by the violins, is immediately answered by stormy scolding from the full ensemble. The development section is introduced by a tough-minded spirit as the whole ensemble marches angrily away from the key of B-flat. More astonishments follow in the contrapuntally enriched development before the recapitulation wraps up the work in a mood that is more black comedy than high spirits. Instrumentation: Flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings. LEONORE OVERTURE NO. 3 Ludwig van Beethoven all nine of his symphonies combined. Unsatisfied with his creation, he composed three versions over the decade 1804–14 and wrote four overtures for it, all of which are now in the symphonic repertoire. The most famous of them is Leonore No. 3 (the opera was originally called Leonore), which Beethoven composed for the premiere of the opera’s second version in 1806. Based on a French drama by Jean Nicolas Bouilly, the story was drawn from real incidents during the French Revolution. It tells of the plight of Florestan, unjustly thrown in prison by political rival Don Pizarro. Florestan’s resourceful wife, Leonore, discovers where he has been hidden and, disguising herself as a young man, becomes a trusty at the prison. At gunpoint, she faces down the evil Pizarro, and her heroism is rewarded by the arrival of the Minister of Justice, Don Fernando. Fernando frees Florestan and the other political prisoners, and they join in a triumphant chorus hailing their freedom and Leonore’s courageous love. Essentially, the Leonore Overture No. 3 tells this whole story in music before the curtain even goes up, and that is exactly why Beethoven finally rejected it for the shorter, lighter Fidelio Overture. With the two trumpet calls heralding Don Fernando’s timely arrival embedded in the music and the concluding victory coda, the opera’s denouement has already been given away! But if it fails as a curtain raiser, Leonore No. 3 triumphs as a concert piece. The slow introduction paints a vivid picture of Florestan in his dungeon cell, and the wistful melody sung immediately by clarinets and bassoons comes from his despairing Act II aria, recalling his past joys with Leonore. When the music quickens, Leonore, with all her courage and determination, appears before us. The development section becomes a struggle between the forces of good and evil, ended by the offstage trumpet calls. After a hymn of hope and thanksgiving, the work ends in a mighty dance of victory. Born in Bonn, Germany, December 16, 1770; Instrumentation: Two flutes, two oboes, died in Vienna, Austria, March 26, 1827 two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. Beethoven wrote just one opera, Fidelio, but it probably cost him more effort than Notes by Janet E. Bedell, © 2019 JA N – F E B 201 9 / OV E R T U R E 27