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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Divertimento & Oboe Quartet

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Ensemble, Alexander Janiczek (conductor)
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Recording details: August 2010
Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: October 2011
Total duration: 63 minutes 16 seconds

Cover artwork: View of Vienna from Belvedere (1759) by Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna / AKG-Images, London / Erich Lessing

Director and violinist Alexander Janiczek leads principal players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in this beautifully intimate recording. Mozart's writing allows each player to shine and demonstrates the depth of talent within the Ensemble, illustrating why this orchestra has had such extensive success with its previous Mozart recordings.

The works on this disc are full of well-known tunes which demonstrate Mozart's trademark melodic beauty whilst acclaimed oboist, Robin Williams, gives a dazzling performance of the composer's great masterpiece.

This, the SCO's third recording of Mozart's serenades and divertimenti, is another great addition to the orchestra's catalogue.

A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.


'You’re unlikely to regret buying this exquisite disc' (Gramophone)

'This highly enjoyable performance is directed from the first-violin chair by Alexander Janiczek, who spins a fine, lithe line, with minimal vibrato, articulating the phrasing with deft bowing. His lead is followed by his string colleagues, while the two horn player—on natural, valveless instruments—shift neatly between subdued background and fanfaring foreground' (BBC Music Magazine)

'If only all the world's chamber orchestras had this approach!' (Early Music Review)

'An enjoyable, well-considered recording' (International Record Review)

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Given that chamber music takes such an important place in Mozart’s output – the great string quintets and quartets, and the wonderful range of works with piano – it seems surprising that in the first years of his maturity, from 1774, say, until 1781, he wrote so little. His earlier string quartets, dating from between 1770 and 1773, had been associated with visits to Italy and Vienna; in Salzburg, it seems, there was more call for serenade music for orchestra or wind ensemble, often performed out-of-doors. There is, however, an important series of works for strings and two horns (K.205, 247, 287 and 334) that are designed for single players and attest to his increasing mastery in writing for small ensembles.

Composed to celebrate particular occasions, these are generally called ‘Divertimenti’, though Mozart himself referred to them as ‘Cassations’, a somewhat mysterious term that may refer to performance in the street (Gasse meaning street or alley). He set considerable store by them, particularly the last three, proudly describing a successful performance of K.287 in which he took the difficult first violin part – ‘I played as though I were the finest fiddler in all Europe’ (letter to Leopold Mozart, Munich, 9th October 1777). Later, he asked his father to send the scores of all three divertimenti for him to use in Vienna.

In another letter (8th May 1782) he refers to K.334 simply as his ‘Robinig music’ – Georg Joseph Robinig von Rottenfeld (1710–60) had been a wealthy mine owner in the Salzburg area; his widow and children were long-time friends of the Mozarts. It is most likely that this Divertimento was written to celebrate the successful completion of Sigismund Robinig’s jurisprudence studies at Salzburg University in July 1780. Sigismund was an amateur violinist of some ability (he was able to play the concerto movements in Mozart’s Serenade K.203), so it is not impossible that he himself performed K.334’s elaborate first violin part. It’s more likely, though, that Wolfgang and Leopold were the violinists at the first performance. The Divertimento may also have been played in Munich at the time of the première of Idomeneo, with Johann Eck, brother of Franz Eck, Spohr’s violin teacher, as first violin.

Like the orchestral serenades, these divertimenti for strings and horns have an associated march to open the proceedings, and perhaps also to close them. In the Serenata notturna K.239, the march is incorporated into the work’s structure, becoming its first movement, whilst in the Divertimento K.251 it is added at the end in the autograph manuscript. (An echo of the practice of starting serenades with a march can be heard in Dvořák’s Wind Serenade Opus 44 (1878)). The March K.445, which accompanies the K.334 Divertimento is, on the surface, a simple celebratory piece, but it hints at the subtlety we shall find in the Divertimento with its varied textures, modulations to related minor keys, and, in the second part of its binary structure, a degree of formal complexity, as the motifs from the first part are combined in different ways.

For the Divertimento K.334 itself, Mozart returned to the same six-movement plan he had employed in K.247 and 287. To the standard four-movement form of the symphony or string quartet he adds a second minuet, and includes an adagio as well as an andante with variations. Though this Divertimento is the last of a series (if we except the identically-scored Musical Joke K.522), he did return to the form once more in 1788, for his magnificent Divertimento for String Trio K.563. And there are notable later examples of the same extended design – Beethoven’s String Trio Opus 3 and his Septet, and the Schubert Octet.

Along with the String Trio, K.334 is Mozart’s most expansive divertimento. The first and last movements in particular are unusually extended, with a rich variety of subsidiary material. The large scale is underpinned by a strong sense of overall structure. The first three movements are all based on themes that rise gradually to a high point, whereas the last two start high up and move downwards. Another characteristic feature is the importance throughout given to the second violin, which announces the second subjects of the first movement and finale, and elsewhere shares widely in dialogue with the first violin.

In a work of this type, designed above all as entertainment music, there is not much call for formal counterpoint, but Mozart shows his contrapuntal prowess through the sophistication of his part writing, so that even subsidiary voices have a distinct character and contribute to the overall expressive effect. The horns, however, often seem less important in this Divertimento than in the earlier ones, but their lower pitch – in D, nearly an octave lower than the high B flat horns of K.287 – adds an air of nobility to the sound, from the moment of their first entry at the thirteenth bar of the first allegro. The rich variety of texture and of melody that characterise this movement is held together by the frequent recurrence of the opening theme, with its characteristic trill and zigzag ascent. It takes no part, however, in the development section, which is largely athematic, concentrating rather on a series of elaborate modulatory sequences. After an extraordinarily long chromatic descent, the first violin, unaccompanied, wittily reverses the direction, to arrive back at the movement’s starting point.

The ‘Andante’ with variations in D minor is an almost unique example in Mozart’s Salzburgian occasional music, in being in a minor key. It has a distinctly melancholy air, initiating a remarkable sequence of pieces in D minor, including the middle movements of the Oboe Quartet and the Violin and Piano Sonata K.377, the String Quartet K.421, and the Piano Concerto K.466, which together suggest a strong emotional association with this key. Because of the minor tonality, the horns are confined mainly to the lower notes of their harmonic series, helping to create a dark sonority, and only emerging into melodic prominence for a radiant D Major variation. And even where Mozart lightens the texture, as in the final variation with its violin passagework above a unison pizzicato accompaniment, the effect is ghostly rather than light-hearted.

The following ‘Menuetto’ is a gracious piece, and in the early twentieth century one of Mozart’s most popular. Its mannered phrasing of paired notes seemed just as expressive of eighteenth-century elegance as the gentle syncopations of the celebrated Boccherini Minuet. Later in Mozart’s ‘Menuetto’, the separated pairs of notes give way to completely smooth phrases. Here, the melodic line is shared by the violins playing in octaves; this contrasts with the more unusual violin/viola doubling at the start, where the shared accompaniment of pizzicato violin and bass with detached horn notes gives the music an especially beguiling, distinctive sound.

The ‘Adagio’ in A Major juxtaposes a rhetorical chordal motif like the orchestral introduction to a recitative, with lyrical responses for solo violin. The horns are silent here, giving the movement an intimate character, with attention focussed on the first violin, whose part features elegant appoggiaturas, ornamental flourishes, and bright, shining passages in the high register.

The second ‘Menuetto’, energetic and high-spirited, has two trios, both related to the minuet itself. The first of them takes its cue from a mysterious little episode in D minor, and its isolated two-note phrases, each outlining a diminished chord, seem to question the minuet’s confident certainty. The second trio, too, appears to be in dialogue with the minuet, unsettling its straightforward tonality by repeating its emphatic final chords in different keys.

The concluding ‘Rondo’ has a pastoral character. On a first hearing there appear to be a bewildering number of different themes and episodes – even the rondo theme on its first appearance has several contrasting motifs (only repeated in sequence at the very end). But Mozart shows remarkable cunning in relating the separate ideas to one another, and the whole movement is animated by a succession of happy surprises and new vistas. The music sounds increasingly like a violin concerto as the ‘Rondo’ moves through its three episodes. After this third excursion the first episode returns in the home key before a last virtuoso flourish and the leisurely recall of the main theme.

Mozart’s Quartet for oboe, violin, viola and cello in F Major K.370 dates from the early weeks of 1781, when he was in Munich for the première of his opera Idomeneo. He had met the oboist Friedrich Ramm in 1777 in Mannheim. Ramm had been a member of the celebrated Mannheim orchestra since 1759; in 1778, when the Palatine Elector, Karl Theodor, the orchestra’s patron, also became Elector of Bavaria, he took most of the players, including Ramm, with him to Munich. Mozart had been immediately impressed by the oboist and quickly made friends with him. ‘Ramm … is a very good, jolly, honest fellow of about 35’ (letter to Leopold, 3rd December 1777). At this time, Mozart’s mother was not entirely happy about the friendship: ‘I never liked him being in the company of Wendling [the Mannheim flautist] and Ramm’ (5th February 1778), but it prospered nevertheless. Ramm gave several performances of Mozart’s Oboe Concerto K.314, and the oboe part in the ill-fated Parisian Sinfonie Concertante (never performed, but partially preserved, it seems, in the Sinfonia Concertante K.297b) was written for him, in addition to the Quartet. Their respect and admiration seems to have been mutual; if we are to believe Mozart, Ramm said of Idomeneo: ‘… no music has ever made such an impression on me’ (letter, 1st December 1780), and the friendship continued, with meetings in Vienna in 1787 and in Munich in 1790.

Ramm was famous for the purity of his tone, and judging by his part in the Quartet, Mozart could also count on his agility and his ability to play what were, at the time, unusually high notes. We can be sure, too, that the composer was confident in his qualities as an expressive player. The Quartet has elements of the concerto – showy passagework, especially in the ‘Rondeau’ finale, and the double presentation of this ‘Rondeau’s’ theme, at first played quietly by the oboe, then repeated forte by the strings, like an orchestral tutti. But it is primarily a piece of chamber music, in which the role of each instrument is treated with flexibility, so that even subsidiary voices can be heard to have motivic significance and melodic beauty. At the very start of the Quartet, for instance, the oboe is unmistakably the leader, but the violin and viola parts, whilst filling in the harmony and completing the rhythmic motion, have their own shape and expressive value. Unusually for him, Mozart uses the same melodic idea for both first and second subjects (with Haydn the procedure is much more common) but transfers it from oboe to violin, changing the harmony and writing a beautiful new descant for the oboe. In the recapitulation there’s a third version, with the violin imitating the oboe melody, and an especially expressive accompanying figure on the viola. Prior to this, the development, beginning with a round-like canonic passage in which all four instruments participate, is then taken over by the oboe, which twice attempts a cadence in D minor, sidestepped each time, so as to bring the music back towards the home key.

D minor is chosen again as the key for the slow movement, a brief adagio in the form of a sorrowful aria. Here the roles of oboe (solo voice) and strings (accompanying orchestra) are more sharply defined. Mozart had already been inspired to bring to his instrumental music something of the style of the passionate emotional utterances of his operatic characters, most notably in the Piano Concerto K.271 and the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola K.364. The oboe part in this little ‘Adagio’, no doubt as carefully tailored to demonstrate Ramm’s abilities as he had just designed the roles in Idomeneo for their interpreters, bring this mastery of dramatic expression into the realm of chamber music.

The ‘Rondeau’ in six-eight time, like the Divertimento’s finale, is another pastoral piece, but more compact in form. The rustic evocation comes into focus just before the first return of the main theme when the strings provide a drone above which the oboe plays a folk-like melody. (It is actually a new continuation of a theme heard earlier.) The most remarkable passage, however, is the central episode, where the oboe breaks free from the prevailing rhythm. Whilst the strings continue playing six notes in each bar, the oboe, with a different time signature, first recalls, in freely expressive phrases, the mood of the ‘Adagio’, and then sets off on spectacular fast runs, sixteen notes in each bar against six in the accompaniment. Three years later, Mozart remembered the extraordinary effect of this passage, introducing something very similar into the finale of his Piano Concerto K.456.

When he was writing the Quartet and the Divertimento, Mozart was fretting about his situation in Salzburg: ‘You know, my dear father, that it is only to please you that I am staying on there’ (letter from Munich, 15th December 1780). He probably had no idea that his employment at the Archbishop’s court would terminate in a few months, and that his great Viennese adventure was about to begin, but the works on this recording, in their resourcefulness and imaginative grasp, show how well prepared he was for exercising his talents in the most exalted arena.

Duncan Druce © 2011

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