Mozart’s Piano Concerto, K. 414, and Symphony, K. 201 introduction

The K. 414 Piano Concerto (Vienna, 1782, age 26) that opens this  program, and the much earlier K. 201 Symphony (Salzburg, 1774, age 18) share the same tonic key of A Major. Otherwise, the two pieces seem to me to reflect totally different sides of Mozart’s genius. For both these reasons, their pairing on this program seemed an ideal way to consider some of the aspects of Mozart’s early process and progress as a composer.  In the Piano Concerto, I believe the composer sought to embrace the characteristic style of his time, though with his own unique sense of elegance and perfection.  He needed to win over an audience in Vienna that hardly knew any of his music but was familiar with the works of many of his contemporaries.  We do not know what may have inspired the Symphony, but the sense of innovation that permeates all four movements suggests Mozart was consciously  exploring new ground.

The Piano Concerto is full of charm, grace, and elegance throughout its three movements. As if to emphasize these light-hearted qualities, Mozart indicated that the wind parts (2 oboes, 2 horns, typical for the time) are “ad libitum” – that is, the piece may be played as chamber music, with the piano joined just by four strings, or possibly just string orchestra.

In contrast, the eight-years-earlier Symphony is one of a handful of miraculous works by the teen-age Mozart that seem to have burst forth “out of the blue,” as full-blown masterpieces. It is suddenly more mature, more vital, more experimental than almost any work that preceded it.  For this reason it continues to occupy a place in the repertoire of most major symphony orchestras. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wind parts are not just integral to this clearly symphonic piece; they are essential to it.  – James Freeman


Mozart’s Symphony No. 29, K. 201

K. 201 was a remarkable achievement for the 18-year-old Mozart. From the opening measures of the first movement, with the theme immediately repeated in canon between violins and lower strings (“What a beginning!,” exclaims Alfred Einstein, in his Mozart: His Character, His Work,), through the startling wind interjections of the second and third movements, to the high-spirited finale in which a signpost – a dramatic ascending scale – defines the beginning and ending of each of the sonata form structures, this is a piece far ahead of its and the composer’s time!  We do not know what personal event or experience might have inspired such a sudden leap forward.  Possibly Mozart wrote it for himself (and perhaps his father) to show what he could really do as a composer if he were given the chance to express himself beyond what was expected in Salzburg at that time.

I know of no more apt description of K. 201, and its originality, than Einstein’s, written some 70 years ago (1945).

“There is here a new feeling for the necessity of intensifying the symphony through imitation, and of rescuing it from the domain of the purely decorative through a refinement of detail such as is characteristic of chamber music.  The instruments change character; the strings become wittier, the winds lose everything that is simply noisy, the figuration drops everything merely conventional.  The new spirit shows itself in all the movements: in the Andante, which has the delicate formation of a string-quartet movement, enriched by the two pairs of wind instruments; in the Minuet, with its contrasts of grace and almost Beethoven-like violence; in the Finale, an allegro con spirito that is really con spirito, and which contains the richest and most dramatic development section Mozart had written up to this time.  .  . . What an immense distance he had traveled from the Italian sinfonia!“- James Freeman

Translations from the original German are by Alfred Einstein.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 414

Mozart’s departure from his hometown Salzburg in 1781 was unhappy, acrimonious, and even bitter.  Yearning for the artistic and personal freedom he felt he would never experience in provincial Salzburg, and very much against his father’s vehement protests, he left for Vienna. It was a major turning point in his life, and very much like the classic story of the young man setting out to seek his fortune in the great world beyond.  Even though the Mozart family had famously traveled all over Europe, they had always returned home to Salzburg. Vienna now became the center of Wolfgang’s life for the next ten years until his too-early death in 1791.

Within a year-and-a-half of arriving in Vienna, he had written among other works three new piano concertos, specifically intended to introduce himself as both composer and pianist to Viennese audiences. The first of these three was K. 414, probably written in the fall of 1782. Together with K. 413 in F and K. 415 in C, they were clearly intended as a set, a self-contained group, and were later published together as the composer’s Opus 4.  Mozart indicated that all three, as well as the slightly later K. 449 concerto, could be performed without winds, as chamber music for piano and strings.  He must have wanted these new works for Vienna to reach as wide an audience as possible, offering them as either orchestral or chamber pieces.

Still another sign that he hoped for many performances of these three concertos was that he wrote out cadenzas for each of them, and in K. 414 actually gave the soloist a choice of several different cadenzas and “lead-ins” for each of the three movements.  Mozart usually improvised his own cadenzas, but here he was clearly assuming that many pianists would not have that ability and would be more likely to perform the piece if it included written-out cadenzas.

Two of the three Opus 4 concertos (almost certainly including K. 414) were performed at a subscription concert early in 1783.  K. 414 in particular sparkles magically throughout, just what Mozart felt he needed to introduce himself to everyone in this new audience.  They clearly succeeded as a contemporary report indicated: “Today the celebrated Chevalier Mozart gave a Music Academy for his own benefit at the National-Theater in which pieces of his own composition, which was already very popular, were performed. The academy was honored by the presence of an extraordinarily large audience and the two new concertos and other fantasies which Mr. Mozart played on the Forte Piano were received with the loudest approval.”

Mozart wrote to his father the following.

“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.  There are passages here and there from which the connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.”

One of the passages that might have evoked recognition and appreciation from the connoisseurs is the principal theme of the second movement.  Mozart quotes here a theme from an orchestral overture by J.C. Bach, J.S. Bach’s youngest son and himself a famous composer at the time. J.C. Bach had befriended the eight-year-old Mozart in London in 1762, and this musical reference to a beloved older mentor, who had died only months earlier, was almost certainly intended as a con amore homage. – James Freeman

Gunther Schuller and Journey Into Jazz

Gunther Schuller was surely the most multifaceted musician (horn player, composer, conductor, educator, administrator, author, jazz player and historian of jazz, and advocate for living composers) of his time, or probably of any time.  At age 18 he was appointed principal horn of the Cincinnati Symphony and later held that position at the Metropolitan Opera.  As one of America’s most important and prolific composers, he was given a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award in 1991 and a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 among many other honors, including ten honorary degrees.  His 1959 orchestral work Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee remains a much-performed and especially admired milestone in 20th-century American music.

in 1955 Schuller and pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society.  At various times he worked with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Frank Sinatra, Gerry Mulligan, and others.  He was president of New England Conservatory from 1967 to 1977,  and for many years was closely associated with the Tanglewood Music Center (the summer home of the Boston Symphony), acting as artistic co-director from 1970 to 1984, and creating Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music.

Schuller guest conducted major orchestras all over the world, including Philadelphia’s Orchestra 2001 which co-commissioned his Concerto da Camera for its concerts in 2002.  (Orchestra 2001’s concerts in 2013 included the premiere performances of his Sonata for Two Pianos, commissioned by Robert and James Freeman. Their recording of the Sonata will be released by Innova Records later this year.)

From 1993 until the end of his life he was artistic director of the Northwest Bach Festival and the Festival at Sandpoint, Idaho.   His books include Horn Technique (1962), Early Jazz  (1968),  The Swing Era (1991), The Compleat Conductor (1998), and an autobiography (2011).

During his years as president of New England Conservatory, Schuller formed the New England Ragtime Ensemble and coined the term “Third Stream Music” to describe works that combine elements of jazz and contemporary classical art music. His 1962 Journey Into Jazz, with text by Nat Hentoff, is a perfect example of that term.  It was first performed in Washington, D.C., May 30, 1962. with the composer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

After hearing our performance of Journey Into Jazz, some audience members may be interested to see on YouTube a March 1964 performance of the piece, with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic, and Leonard Bernstein narrating. – James Freeman