Now that Mozart has turned 250, you would think that not much more could be discovered about the world’s most popular and most scrutinized composer. Then, along comes Austrian musicologist Michael Lorenz to dismiss a few old and new Mozartean myths.
This year he, along with Agnes Selby, the author of Constanze, Mozart’s Beloved, burst the bubble on the possibility that a daguerreotype of Swiss composer Max Keller and his family included a 78-year-old Constanze Weber Mozart Nissen, Mozart’s widow. After being touted as such by the BBC and New York Times, Lorenz revealed that it was a hoax.
Although Lorenz crushed our hopes for the authenticity of the photo, he had us rejoicing three years ago when he dispelled the long-held belief that Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major was called Jeunehomme by Mozart. It turns out that some early 20th century scholars gave it this name by garbling what Mozart had said in a letter to his father. Far from being written for a woman named Jeunehomme, the piece was written for Louise Victoire Noverre Jenamy—and so we finally have the correct name for this piano concerto.
Mozart had known the dancing master Jean George Noverre in Vienna. Later, in Paris in 1778, he would write the ballet music for Noverre’s Les Petits Riens, which was beautifully performed as part of last season’s Midsummer Mozart Festival. When Noverre’s daughter, Madame Jenamy, was in Vienna in 1776, she commissioned Mozart to write a piano concerto for her. The result was, which Mozart completed in Salzburg in January, 1777, and which is now newly and correctly named Jenamy.
To celebrate this discovery, this year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival will feature Piano Concerto No. 9, with the great André Watts at the keyboard, as the centerpiece of its first program. No excuse is needed though since, beyond any trivial or biographical interest, No. 9 is actually one of Mozart’s earliest masterpieces, a groundbreaking work that was not to be matched by any composer until Beethoven’s last piano concertos.
Although he was only 21 when he composed it, Mozart already reveals his genius for psychology, for hearing the instruments as individual voices as if they were characters in an opera. The variety of harmonies and oppositions between the soloist and the ensemble is both technically breathtaking as well as lyrically and emotionally ravishing. This concerto stands at the beginning of a long line of concertos that does not falter through Mozart’s last, No. 27.
The program will begin with the Serenade in D major, along with the two marches traditionally linked to this “Posthorn” Serenade. This seven movement work was the Finalmusik for 1779, that is, music to be performed outdoors in celebration of the end of the university year in Salzburg. Do not expect some slight incidental music, though.
Besides the beautiful solo in the second minuet for the rarely used posthorn, there is also a gorgeous sinfonia concertante for wind instruments in the third and fourth movements, a kind of pocket concerto. Throughout, the writing is delightful, usually upbeat but with those occasional peeks into the abyss that give Mozart’s work a deeper edge.
The second program of this year’s Midsummer Mozart Festival gives us the rare opportunity to hear all three of Mozart’s final symphonies in one evening. The three symphonies, Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, and Symphony No. 41, the great Jupiter, were written during a six week period in the summer of 1788. Mozart entered the opening bars of these three works into his Verzeichnis aller meiner Werke, his autograph thematic catalogue of his compositions, between June 26 and Aug. 10 of 1788.
In other words, during a six week period, after the failure of Don Giovanni in Vienna, during the time that his infant daughter died, while composing half a dozen other pieces, he carried these three symphonies around in his head and then wrote them down one after the other in fully orchestrated versions. Not only would that be difficult in itself, but these are the greatest symphonies of the 18th century and among the greatest pieces of music ever composed.
The contrapuntal final movement of the Jupiter is usually singled out for particular excellence, but all three symphonies are magnificent from beginning to end. No. 40’s first movement, for example, begins with an insistent, dark, minor theme that pushes everything before it as it rushes to its inexorable fate, a musical correlative to Marvell’s, “But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
Among other aspects, the three together encapsulate the progression from the full flowering of the classical to the first seeds of the romantic, whose ripened ears were to be reaped by Beethoven. Listening to them in sequence is like hearing Charlie Parker’s passage from swing to bop on his Jazz at the Philharmonic recording of “Lady Be Good.”
Compositions though, no matter how great, are just marks on paper. The other half of the equation is performance and Maestro George Cleve and his Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra are more than equal to the task of interpreting these classics afresh.
In fact, a Cleve performance always provides access to something surprising, new and revelatory in this music. Given the inspired programming, the excellence of the ensemble, the stellar Andre Watts as guest artist and Mr. Cleve wielding the baton, this promises to be another surpassing season for the Midsummer Mozart Festival.
MIDSUMMER MOZART FESTIVAL
Program 1: 7:30 p.m. July 20 at Mission Santa Clara, campus of Santa Clara University; 8 p.m. July 21 at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco; 6:30 p.m. July 22 at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma; and 7 p.m. July 23 at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.
Program 2: 7:30 p.m. July 27 at Mission Santa Clara; 8 p.m. July 28 at Herbst Theatre; 6:30 p.m. July 29 at Gundlach Bundschu Winery; 7 p.m. July 30 at First Congregational Church.
For tickets and information about the programs call (415) 627-9145 or see to www.midsummermozart.org.