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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)


Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists Detailed performer information
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Recording details: April 2014
Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs & Robert Cammidge
Release date: February 2015
Total duration: 66 minutes 36 seconds

This new recording includes four sextets for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons, together with the Serenade in E flat major, the first of Mozart's three great wind serenades. This is wonderful repertoire, and since 2012 it has been a focus of exploration for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists.

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


'The E flat Serenade, usually heard in its wind octet version, with added oboes, is a masterpiece … the SCO wind soloists play the rare original scoring for six players—darker in timbre and sparer in texture—with brio' (The Sunday Times)» More

'Frank-Gemmill and Johnstone’s [natural horn] playing and that of all their SCO colleagues is equally worthy of praise … [SCO] players have been making a speciality of performing wind-band music in recent years' (MusicWeb International)» More

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Mozart as entertainer
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the few great composers who wrote occasional (that is, non-concert) music consistently throughout his life. Some of these works were meant to provide recreation for performers, both amateur and professional, in the casual atmosphere of their living rooms. Such Hausmusik includes the four-hand piano music, the piano trios and the lovely notturni for voices and basset horns. Mozart also provided orchestral dances for formal balls. His many sets of minuets, contredanses and German dances were written primarily after 1787, when he was named successor to Gluck as court composer to Joseph II .

The rest of the entertainment music falls into the somewhat interchangeable, and universally confused genres of divertimento, serenade, cassation, Nachtmusik, Harmoniemusik, Finalmusik and Tafelmusik. The names applied to Mozart’s various works today are taken from the nineteenth-century Breitkopf & Härtel complete works edition and often contradict those Mozart used to refer to individual pieces. We shall try to clarify the nature of the various genres by defining their differences; but one must recognize that all of these terms have overlapping meanings, and eighteenth-century composers evidently did not seem bound by narrowly drawn definitions. A chronological synopsis below lists both the traditional title and Mozart’s for each work.

Excluding Hausmusik and dances, Mozart’s occasional music may be classified into four genres. First is the music for parties, which provided a pleasant sonic background for social encounters. Such works could be played in the salon, or outdoors in the summer. Second, there is the formal ceremonial music, which added a festive quality to a wedding or an important appointment for a local figure, or marked a Church feast-day. These orchestral works were likewise performed both indoors and out. Third, there is the music specifically conceived for outdoor performances, especially at night. Finally, there is banquet music, provided by Mozart for the Archbishop’s dinners. The term divertimento would seem to be most appropriate to the music for parties, serenade and Finalmusik to the ceremonial works, Nachtmusik to the outdoor evening music (sometime also called serenade), and Tafelmusik (or again, divertimento) to the dinner music. In Mozart’s time, Harmoniemusik denoted the wind octet of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons; after about 1825, that designation was applied to all music for wind ensemble. The term cassation is problematic; in their great critical biography of Mozart, Teodor de Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix claim it refers not to a specific genre, but to the performance practice of separating the various movements of an occasional work by pauses (from the French casser), as befitting the social event. (Such a view might explain why Mozart uses the designation in his youth for works of the Finalmusik genre, while later referring to the divertimenti for parties as cassations.) More recently Neal Zaslaw has put forward a more plausible, etymologically based hypothesis, tracing the title to the German phrase gassatim gehen (‘to walk about and perform in the streets’).

Form and instrumentation
The basic formal structure of all four types of occasional music is derived from the four-movement symphonic mould. The dinner music contains the standard four, while the other three types use a flexible enlargement of it. A march typically prefaces and follows the divertimenti for parties and the serenade/Finalmusik works. Mozart’s marches are sparkling miniatures, a blend of solemnity and good humour. The marches to the divertimenti were usually played as the audience entered and left the performance room; those to the serenade/Finalmusik works were often memorized by the musicians, who then walked through Salzburg performing them to attract the public to the celebration. The first movement of the work itself is usually an allegro in sonata form, like that of a symphony (though often less complex). This is followed by a minuet and trio, and then the slow movement, in which an intimate, singing line in the uppermost instrument provides a moment of expressive contrast. After a second minuet and trio comes the finale, a light and often virtuoso work, usually cast in rondo form (in which a refrain alternates with contrasting episodes). The repetition of the march rounds off the symmetry of the total structure, which thus centers on the slow movement.

Mozart often adds to this basic model. Most typically, a theme with variations will follow either the first movement or the fourth. An additional slow movement appears in several of the works. Particularly theatrical is the interpolation within a piece of series of concertante movements, featuring a violin or some of the orchestral winds as soloist(s) of the ensemble; this practice is found in the serenades/Finalmusiken.

The instrumentation of the works varies according to the specific genre. The divertimenti for parties are scored for strings with two horns; an additional wind instrument appears in two of the five. The serenades/Finalmusiken call for string orchestra with a large complement of winds; they sometimes include trumpets and timpani. The oboists who played these works were expected to play the flute as well: oboes are used in the outer movements, while flutes replace them in the middle ones. The Nachtmusik works are most often for winds alone (exceptions: the Notturno for four orchestras, K286/269a; the Serenata notturna, K239; and the most famous of Mozart’s occasional works, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K525). Most Tafelmusiken were also for wind ensemble, as depicted in the second-act finale to Don Giovanni.

The music
There is a miraculous perfection about all of Mozart’s music. The apparent effortlessness of his expression is sometimes ascribed to his uncanny grasp of contrast and proportion. Each phrase seems a complete personal utterance, yet part of the larger work—a scene in a cohesive drama. Moods, instrumental registers, dynamics and tempi—all are balanced in a musical language of consummate subtlety and rhythmic sophistication. In Mozart’s hands, the clichés that deaden the works of his contemporaries somehow coalesce in a simple exterior that masks a world of implications.

In the occasional music, Mozart seems to challenge his abilities by tying his compositional hands behind his back. The works are not conceived for concerts; therefore, there is an intentional lightness of material and a calculated absence of overt theatricality. Only a composer of Mozart’s genius could overcome these potentially fatal limitations. We can delight in the wealth of detail in these works or use them for casual background music, as they were usually heard in the eighteenth century. There is something in each of them for every music lover, on whatever level he or she seeks.

Alfred Einstein, who combined scholarly knowledge and profound aesthetic insight into Mozart’s style, has said of the occasional music, ‘There are people who would trade a whole act of Tannhäuser or Lohengrin for one of these works, a lost paradise of music’. May these performances encourage wider appreciation of this paradise, in all its translucent perfection.

The present recording includes four of the five Tafelmusik sextets for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons, together with the Serenade in E flat major, K375.

Divertimento in B flat major K240 (Breitkopf & Härtel No 9)
The second of the five Tafelmusik sextets (the first, in F major, K213, is not included in the present recording), K240 is more carefully worked out than its predecessor. The first movement uses more thematic material, displays more dynamic contrasts, and has an interesting formal structure: like several of the early piano sonatas, the first theme appears at the end of the recapitulation, rather than at its outset. This procedure, also used by Michael Haydn, will be found again in the F major string/horn Divertimento, K247. The second movement of K240 is ampler than that of K213; its sequential theme is accompanied by a semi-polyphonic texture of great beauty. Instead of a dance rondo à la K213, the finale is a full sonata movement.

Divertimento in E flat major K252/240a (Breitkopf & Härtel No 12)
The third of the Tafelmusiken is formally the most adventurous work in the series. Mozart begins with a slow movement in 6/8, in miniaturized sonata form, proceeds to the minuet, then interpolates a second dance—a polonaise—to make up for the missing first allegro. The ‘Polonaise’ is in the dominant key of B flat and is quite elaborate, both in its extended second half and brief coda. Only the last movement, ‘Presto assai’, fits the normal mould. (Its coda elicits a rare solo appearance by the two horns.) According to Zaslaw, it may be based upon the folk tune ‘Die Katze lässt das Mausen nicht’ (‘The cat doesn’t give up catching mice’).

There are two fermatas (holds) in the first movement. It is uncertain whether Mozart really wished the top instrument in the ensemble to improvise—often such holds imply improvisation by the principal voice—or whether Mozart was wittily stopping the music for a few seconds to see whether the Archbishop would look up from his plate!

Divertimento in F major K253 (Breitkopf & Härtel No 13)
The fourth Tafelmusik sextet has just three movements. The first is an andante theme with variations, in which Mozart’s growing expertise in wind-writing is evident. Though the uppermost voice continues to dominate the ensemble, there is more prominent solo writing for the other instruments. The second half of the theme is interrupted by a rather abrupt pause on the dominant; the resulting tension is ingeniously renewed in each variation. The last variation is simply a faster reading of the theme. The other two movements are more typical—the standard minuet and trio, and a lusty allegro assai.

Divertimento in B flat major K270 (Breitkopf & Härtel No 14)
The fifth work of the wind sextet series has the most developed first movement. It is fuller in its proportions, more symphonic in concept and it immediately foreshadows the great E flat sextet for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons of 1781, K375, included in the present recording. Mozart has rapidly progressed from a treatment of accompanied solo oboe (in the original scoring, solo clarinet here) to a balanced, colourful ensemble in which obbligato horn parts and duets between oboe (here clarinet) and bassoon set off the solo oboe (clarinet) passages. There is a direct connection between the expansion of the form and the enrichment of the part writing: the timbral changes create contrasts that justify the ampler musical ideas. Instead of a series of simple tunes with straightforward accompaniment, Mozart uses subtleties of rhythm and harmony to more dynamic purpose. For example, the brief opening forte is immediately followed by a piano section, in which a repeated melodic fragment in the clarinets is punctuated by a response in the horns, and underscored by the ostinato tonic note in the first bassoon. The result is the kind of excitement and anticipation one associates with the beginnings of overtures or concerti. Similarly, the second theme is not in the new key of the dominant, F major, but poised on the threshold of that key. The implicative aura of this type of idea contributes to the greater coherence and overall interest more than the typical stable theme group.

Wind Serenades
The wind octet consisting of pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons was one of the most popular instrumental combinations of the Classic and early Romantic eras. It had a special name—Harmoniemusik—which only later became used as a general term for any combination of wind instruments. The medium was ideal for entertainment purposes, indoor and outdoor, and many noblemen had their private Harmonien, thus fueling the demand for new octets, which both major and minor composers hastened to fill. Mozart preserved for us one of the most important social functions of the Harmonie—that of providing banquet music for a sovereign—in the finale to Act II of Don Giovanni. In that scene, the Don is entertained by the octet with transcriptions from three contemporary operas—one of them Mozart’s own Le nozze di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro). This tableau corroborates the popular practice in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries of transcribing operas for Harmonie—a practice represented on the present recording.

Two of the most famous Harmonien of the age were those employed by Prince Liechtenstein and Prince Schwarzenberg. Mozart wrote for Lichtenstein’s octet; his famous quintet for piano and winds was premiered by him and members of that ensemble. Prince Schwarzenberg’s octet had English horns rather than clarinets, and the works for that special combination that survive attest to the importance of commissions from this illustrious patron of wind music. The three original works by Mozart—K375, 388 and 361—are without question among the finest (and most serious) works ever conceived for the medium. While they are among the most performed of all wind music, the circumstances and dates of their composition remain shrouded in controversy.

Serenade in E flat major K375 (Breitkopf & Härtel No 10)
This work is the first of the three great wind serenades. It was originally composed for six instruments—pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons—the version heard in this recording—and the precise circumstances of its composition are described in an oft-quoted letter written by Mozart to his father on 3 November 1781. In it, Mozart states that the work was composed for St Theresa’s Day (15 October 1781) and describes how the musicians performed the work several times in different locations, and how they pleasantly surprised him below his window with the first chord in E flat, just as he was undressing for bed.

The date of Mozart’s transcription of this composition into a work for standard Harmonie, through the addition of two oboes, is unknown. A letter to his father dated 27 July 1782, in which Mozart apologizes for not delivering a serenade for the Haffner family he had long promised—part of which became the ‘Haffner’ Symphony, K385—states as an excuse for the delay that ‘I had to compose quickly a Nacht Musique but only for Harmonie’. Alfred Einstein took this to be a reference to the Serenade in C minor, K388, and he renumbered the work to K384a in the third edition of the Köchel (1937) on the basis of this sentence. Marius Flothuis has pointed out, however, that the serious character and the careful working out of the C minor Serenade makes it most unlikely that Mozart could have been referring to such a somber and learned work as a mere entertainment piece. It is far more probable that the remark refers to a hasty reworking of K375 for octet. (K388 was probably composed in 1782, but perhaps even later, as suggested by the watermarks of the autograph.) In making his transcription, Mozart partially wrote out a new score, and partially entered changes into the original sextet version.

The work has many unusual features. Its opening fanfare—a series of repeated chords on the tonic in E flat—immediately catches the ear. The sound of this single chord is projected into one of Mozart’s few single-key pieces: all four of the remaining movements are also in E flat! The fact that Mozart avoids fatiguing the listener with a surfeit of the same sonorities, in music with a necessarily limited dynamic and instrumental range, bears eloquent testimony to his genius. The richness of the trio to the first minuet—and its length—demonstrates Mozart’s insistence by this point in his artistic journey that even entertainment music rise above chatty superficiality. As is so often the case with Mozart, it is the slow movement, at the centre of the work’s structure, whose warmth of sentiment forms the crown of the Serenade. Closing one’s eyes today during an outdoor performance of this work, it is easy to picture the evocative atmosphere of Vienna in the 1780s forever idealized in works such as this.

Robert Levin © 2015
Reprinted from the New York Philomusica synoptic edition of the Mozart divertimenti and wind serenades by permission

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