The Mozart Connection
Concerto for Flute & Harp - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (soloists: Ruth Molins and Sally Jenkins)
Symphony No. 8 in G Major - Antonin Dvorak
Fandangle - Alec Roth
We welcome two well-known and popular soloists in this concert with the 'Mozart connection'. Ruth is our first flute in the ESO and very well-known to local audiences with her solo performances. She was last heard in 2012 in the Rutter - Suite Antique. Sally Jenkins has appeared several times with us in the past, both as soloist in the Handel Harp Concerto, and also as harpist for the orchestra in several concerts.
Concerto for Flute & Harp - Mozart
By 1777 Mozart had resigned his position with the Archbishop of Salzburg, and set out with his mother to seek his fortune elsewhere in Europe. Whilst in Mannheim, he was commissioned to write two concertos and some quartets for flute. This was the first time that Mozart had composed for the flute, and it is on record that he was not particularly fond of the instrument. Listening to exams I can sometimes see why!
Nonetheless, the two concertos he produced were characteristically rich in melody and had a clear structure of form and texture. In 1778, Mozart and his mother arrived in Paris, where he had been so well received as a child prodigy. Now, as an adult, it was to prove more difficult for him to find work. He was forced to teach composition and take whatever commissions came his way. One of his students was the daughter of an amateur flautist, the Duc de Guines who commissioned Mozart to write concertos for flute and for harp, for himself and his daughter to play. Mozart professed a similar dislike for the harp, as he generally despised all French musical taste, which he felt both instruments epitomised. However, he was enthusiastic about the performing abilities of both patron and daughter, writing to his father that “the Duc de Guines plays the flute extremely well, and his daughter plays the harp magnificently. She has a great deal of talent and even genius.” He duly delivered a concerto for the two instruments together, which proved to be a winning combination, as the flute and the harp were perennial favourites of the French, both supremely sensual in sound, pure-toned and penetrating - the harp being considered as the nearest one could get to a “plucked flute”.
Mozart’s concerto was an absolute charmer and it even prompted the musicologist Alfred Einstein to dub it “an example of the finest French salon music”. Mozart set his Concerto in the most congenial of harp keys, C major, and crammed it full of immensely attractive melodies shared by both soloists. The only regret that he could possibly have had about composing this perennial favourite was that he was never paid for it! It must be remembered that the Concerto in C major for flute and harp was composed for the home rather than the concert stage. It remains a unique piece of music, as there are no duo concertos for this combination by composers who made their careers writing principally for virtuosos of the concert stage. In its modest orchestration, it was well-suited for the salon.
With thanks to Lynn Varley for reproduction of excerpts from her article.
Dvořák's eighth symphony was written in less than a month and is regarded by many as the greatest of his nine. At the time of the composition, Dvořák said that he wanted "to write a work different from my other symphonies, with individual ideas worked out in a new manner." and he was clearly successful in that intent. Formally the work follows the classical pattern as in Mozart, and has obvious influences from Beethoven in the second and fourth movements. However the use of harmony and melody depart from earlier models, and create a work of great originality. Most notably Dvořák makes use of simple folk like melodies, with a Czech character, but weaves them into a coherent form through very subtle development.
Although often described as a "sunny" work, in truth it is much more than that. There are passages of drama, exhilaration, happiness and nostalgia. Overall it is a work that evokes a wide range of human emotions and is yet profoundly optimistic. Some writers have found in the symphony a nostalgic longing for childhood, created partly by the simplicity of the melodic material and partly by the orchestration. Dvořák had three children who did not survive to adulthood, and it is quite likely that some of the sadder, reflective passages in the work express the emotions associated with his dark past.
At the time, the key of G major was considered inappropriate for a symphony, since it was largely associated with popular or rustic music. No major composer had written a symphony in G major since Haydn. Dvořák's choice of key was probably made deliberately to reinforce his use of simple folk music, and Mozart also had very defined meanings for, and use of, keys. With G it was the minor one that he had great affinity. Interestingly the next major composer to write a symphony in G major, was Mahler who, in his fourth symphony, perhaps influenced by Dvořák, associates the key with childhood.
Raphael Kubelik, the conductor, in a rehearsal when it came to the opening trumpet fanfares of the finale said to the orchestra – “Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance.”
Fandangle - Alec Roth
Ever since my wife has sung with the Birmingham based Ex Cathedra I have loved supporting their fine concerts.
During that very pleasant experience I have come to hear and really love the music of Alec Roth, and heard some premieres – “A Time to Dance’ was one of the latest - and it is just being committed to CD as I write, and is very well worth listening to. It is for choir, soloists and a baroque orchestra – a fascinating combination.
His Fandangle is a thrilling short orchestral piece that cannot fail to awake, excite and engage with its ever-changing rhythms.
There was a odd ten minutes spare in the timing of this concert, and it seemed a good idea to add an extra little gem, which gives yet another 'connection' - tell me about it when you come to the Concert. Any Mozart overture is a joy and this is no exception!
Brian Northcott - Musical Director