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