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The Scottish Chamber Orchestra's second Serenades disc includes the Serenade in D, Serenade K203 and Divertimento K251.
The years 1773-7 marked an unusually stable period in Mozart’s life. With the exception of a three-month stay in Munich (December 1774-March 1775) for the production of his opera La Finta Giardiniera, he remained solely in Salzburg. There he fulfilled his duties as Konzertmeister, composing for church, court and a circle of Salzburg patrons. In the earlier part of 1774 for example, he wrote the well-known Symphony in A major, K201, Bassoon Concerto, Concertone for two violins and orchestra, a set of keyboard variations and a number of works for the church, including two Mass settings. Mozart was acutely aware of the stylistic differences between these different genres. Though the K201 Symphony contains passages that could easily fit into a serenade, the serenade as a whole doesn’t demand such concentrated attention from its audience; the melodic style is more straightforward and there are fewer moments of contrapuntal intricacy. The emphasis is on a bright, entertaining style, full of contrast and colour. That said, the first and last three movements of K203 were widely circulated in the 1780s as a symphony, almost certainly one of a set of three offered for sale by manuscript music dealers in Vienna and Hamburg.
The first movement after the March begins with a slow introduction. Its serious mood is quickly dispelled by the atmosphere of light-hearted celebration in the following ‘Allegro assai’. During the course of the Serenade, different instruments come into prominence. Typical Salzburg practice involves the alternation of oboes and flutes (the same musicians played both instruments). The change to flutes gives a distinctive sound to the second of the three ‘Minuets’; in its ‘Trio’ section the first flute assumes a solo role, along with bassoon. Throughout the rest of the Serenade bassoons are not specified in the score, except in the introductory March where two are called for. In this case they play the same, quite prominent, part. This doesn’t mean the bassoons were silent elsewhere in the Serenade. Their role was the usual eighteenth-century one of reinforcing and helping to articulate the bass line.
The first ‘Minuet’ is scored for strings alone. In F major, it forms the middle movement of the interpolated violin concerto, its melody cunningly fashioned from a single three-note motif. The outer movements of the concerto, ‘Andante’ and ‘Allegro’, are in B flat major. This is a high key for the horns, and their bright, ringing sound dominates the tutti passages. At the start of the ‘Andante’ the violas divide; the little staccato figures they play in conjunction with the oboes join up the violins’ melodic phrases. This gives an entirely original character to this lyrical movement.
The other ‘Andante’, in G major, functions as the Symphony’s slow movement and also has its own particular sound. This movement is scored for violins and begins with a rustling accompaniment figure reminiscent of a nocturnal breeze. One feature of this particularly beautiful piece is the prominent solo oboe, entrusted with the subsidiary theme in both exposition and recapitulation and unexpectedly returning again in an extended coda. Unusually, in this movement Mozart chooses to pitch the first and second horns in different keys, D major and G major. The reason for this takes us right back to the opening bars of the March. Here, too, the horn parts are unusual in being set not in the key of the work (D major), but five notes higher, in A major. Mozart exploits this higher tessitura to give the orchestra a brighter sound. This arrangement also allows him to answer the trumpets’ downward fanfare in the first bar, based on a D major chord, with a similar A major horn fanfare in bar two, outlining the dominant chord. These same two fanfares reappear (transposed to G major and D major) in the ‘Andante’, here forming a dialogue between the two horns. They provide a leitmotif for the entire work, appearing as the bass line at the start of the introduction to the first ‘Allegro’, during the allegro of the concerto (bass and solo violin in dialogue, with the horns joining in near the end of the movement) and played by the whole orchestra near the start of the finale.
Exceptionally, this Serenade has three minuets and Mozart saves the most splendid until last. With its proud, insistent rhythm and contrasting plaintive oboe solo in the ‘Trio’, it provides a perfect foil to the helter-skelter fun of the ‘Prestissimo’ finale. As a whole, the Serenade shows the eighteen-year-old composer writing in an easy, informal style, but showing great originality in the way he gives his work coherence, and able, through highly sophisticated appreciation of the sonorous and technical capabilities of the different instruments, to captivate his audience with a brilliant interplay of colour and rhythm.
The Divertimento, K251 is in the same key as the Serenade and similarly, is designed for summer entertainment. That said it is very different in both scale and design. Its instrumentation is reminiscent of the series of Divertimenti for strings and horns (K247, K287 and K334) intended for solo performance and featuring virtuoso parts for first violin. In K251, a shorter work, this element of concerto-like display is largely absent and though Mozart may have intended a performance by seven solo instruments, much of the writing has an orchestral character. Even the oboe has to wait for the third movement, the ‘Andantino’, for its first extended solo. The opening ‘Allegro’ is dominated by its spirited, catchy initial theme. Especially effective is the minor key version featuring the oboe. Shortly after this the jovial atmosphere is intensified, as all the instruments take up the theme’s characteristic rhythm.
The following ‘Minuet’ has a stately manner. The horns play in the low key of D major, lending a sonorous, opulent sound to the ensemble. The delicate ‘Trio’ section, by contrast, is scored for strings alone. The ‘Andantino’ is in rondo-style. Mozart revels in the sound of the new key, A major, making only limited excursions away from it; the first four bars of the recurring rondo are based entirely on the A major chord. The movement does, however, contain some delightful surprises. When the oboe takes over the theme, it is transformed and given a new continuation in which, after a pause and a short oboe cadenza, the rondo melody resumes at a faster tempo.
For the second ‘Minuet’, Mozart abandons the traditional ‘minuet & trio’ form, writing instead a sequence of variations that provide solos in turn for oboe, first violin and second violin; between each variation the ‘Minuet’ returns in its original form. The finale is another rondo that echoes the first movement’s vivacious, joyful mood. Halfway through, following a minor-key episode featuring solo oboe, a new theme in popular style is introduced. We can imagine that this is a quotation of a melody well-known to the original audience. Notably, similar quotations occur in the finales of the Violin Concertos K216 and K218, and the Divertimento, K287.
K251, like K203 and most of Mozart’s serenades and longer divertimenti, has an accompanying march. Since this ‘March’ is part of the autograph manuscript and not preserved separately, it doesn’t have its own Köchel number. Its title, ‘Marcia alla francese’ (French March), is likely a reference to its rhythmic basis, five beats, followed by three silent (or de-stressed) ones, the traditional pattern of drumbeats to which the French infantry marched. The pattern can be heard repeated in the bass part.
The manuscript of K251 bears the date July 1776. It has been suggested, though with no direct evidence, that it was composed as a name-day present for Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl (26 July). Certainly, from a letter he wrote two years later from Paris, we know that Mozart had in previous years composed music to celebrate the occasion. Nannerl would doubtless have fully appreciated this Divertimento’s wonderful craftsmanship and found such a sunny work a perfect celebratory gift.
Duncan Druce © 2008