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PROGRAM NOTES: The Path to Jupiter
March 9 & 10, 2019

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Franz Schubert, 1797-1828

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major


In the half century after Franz Schubert’s death, his reputation rested almost entirely on his wonderful Lieder while the rest of his music was mostly neglected. None of his orchestral music was published during his lifetime, and the first six symphonies were not published until 1884-85 in the Gesamtausgabe, the complete edition of his works.

In 1816 Schubert was persuaded by his friend Franz von Schober to give up his position as a teacher in his father’s school to strike out on his own as composer . As the prospect buoyed his outlook on life, the Symphony No. 5, with its lighthearted spirit reflected his mood.

At the time, Schubert was under a Mozart spell, brought about by listening to one of the late composer’s string quintets. He wrote in his diary on June 16: “…O Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, oh how endlessly many such comforting perceptions of a brighter and better life hast thou brought to our souls!” The Symphony reflects his musical infatuation, eschewing the “modern” Beethoven orchestra – which he had used (minus trombones) in his four earlier symphonies – for a lighter classical sound, with only one flute, and without clarinets, trumpets, trombones or timpani. He composed it for a small ensemble of friends who rehearsed new music in the salon maintained by Otto Hatwig, composer and violinist at the Vienna Burgtheater. The Symphony was performed at a meeting of the salon in the fall of 1816, the only time Schubert heard the work. After the composer’s death, The manuscript disappeared; the orchestral parts were rediscovered in the early 1870s through the detective work of George Grove, founder of the great Dictionary of Music (whose updated version is the definitive musical encyclopedia in the English language) and Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), who came to Vienna to hunt for Schubert manuscripts. Its first public performance finally occurred in 1873 in London.

Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major for Violin, Cello, Oboe & Basoon     

In 1791, Haydn made the first of two extended trips to London at the invitation of the impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, and actually considered settling there for good. He composed numerous works for performance in Salomon’s concerts, primarily his last twelve symphonies (known today as the “London” or “Salomon” symphonies). Like most concerts of the time, these concerts were a mixed bag, including vocal, chamber and orchestral pieces that went on for hours; for the decade of the 1790s, their star attraction was Haydn’s music.

Haydn composed the Sinfonia Concertante (he called it simply “Concertante”) early in 1792 for the Salomon concerts, with Salomon himself playing the violin solo at the premiere. The newspapers were enthusiastic: “The prevailing manner of this Master pervaded every movement – it had all his usual grandeur, contrasted by the levity of airy transitions, and the sudden surprises of abrupt rests,” wrote one paper, neatly capturing Haydn’s character and style.

Since the sinfonia concertante is a hybrid of a symphony and a concerto grosso, Haydn took liberties with both forms. While he opens the Allegro with an orchestral tutti, as in the standard classical concerto, there is no formal double exposition, and the soloists enter impatiently nearly at once as part of the ensemble. When they make their solo appearances, they share the theme, rather than each stating it separately, maintaining a charming conversation with the orchestra. The soloists later share the development among them, along with a lighthearted cadenza.

The short Andante keeps the orchestra discreetly in the background, almost as if it were a basso continuo, allowing each soloist to embellish the lyrical theme. 

The opening of the Allegro con spirito finale is interrupted by a recitative for the violin in Haydn’s classic mock-serious vein, leading into the bouncy theme. Haydn may have been thanking Salomon for his patronage by making this movement a showpiece for the violin, although the other soloists get their chance at some virtuosic display. There are a number of unexpected pauses and a false ending – the hallmarks of the composer’s love of surprises – before the finale.

Today is the Stamford Symphony premier of this piece.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 "Jupiter"            

Mozart composed his three last symphonies – or at least finished them – in the short span of six weeks in June-August 1788. They were not composed on commission but were probably written for a series of subscription concerts that Mozart planned for 1788-89 in Vienna but which apparently never materialized for lack of support. At this point, in Vienna at least, his star was already in decline despite the success of his two great operas in collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte, Don Giovanni (premiered in Prague) and The Marriage of Figaro. He was desperately in need of money – in large part because he was constitutionally unable to curb his extravagant spending habit. However, the notion that Mozart never heard these symphonies performed is the creation of nineteenth-century romanticism; in fact, Mozart probably scheduled the C major symphony for a concert in Frankfurt in October 1790. 

The three symphonies reflect very different moods, the darkest being No. 40. It is almost as if the tragedy of this symphony saw its resolution only the in triumph of No. 41. The nickname "Jupiter" is a late addition in an unknown hand, inspired probably by the majestic-sounding first movement. Olympian it may sound to us, but according to Eric Blom, Mozart borrowed the little auxiliary G major theme in the first movement from his comic bass arietta “Un bacio di mano” (K.541); the text that accompanies this theme runs, “Voi siete un po' tondo, Mio caro Pompeo,” (You are a little chubby, my dear Pompeo).

The symphony breaks no new ground either in form or content; its greatness lies not with its novelty but with its classic elegance. Despite the fact that Mozart composed 41 symphonies, this was not the vehicle he chose as an outlet for his greatest creative inspirations; many of the symphonies were among his earliest compositions. Haydn, on the other hand, was constantly tweaking the form throughout his long life to make each symphony different or innovative – often even quirky. 

Most recent Stamford Symphony performance: February 16th, 2013

Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2018