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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.
from notes by Duncan Druce © 2008