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

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Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

Symphony No. 1 in D major

One would think that Haydn’s own catalogue of his works would settle any questions of chronology, but the dates and order of his early works, as well as the details of his early biography, remain shady.

Given the polish of this work, it is clear that Haydn had already composed a substantial body of youthful chamber music, divertimenti and piano sonatas, which he may have thought unworthy of including in the Entwurf Catalog. And this may not have been his first symphony. As a genre, the symphony was still evolving; derived from the opera overture, it contained three movements (fast-slow-fast), like the Baroque concerto, but the basic elements of sonata form were still to be solidified.

This symphony may have been composed for Count Morzin into whose employ Haydn entered in 1759. The first movement has a celebratory character featuring the horns, suggesting that it may have been composed for a special occasion. The Andante is for strings alone, typical for the Pre-classical period. The rondo finale has a “chirpy” quality and features a violin solo. Both humor and extensive solos remained features of Haydn’s style.

Today is the Stamford Symphony premier of this piece.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

Divertimento for Strings in D major, K. 136

Between 1769 and 1772, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold made three journeys to Italy, the longest a ten-month trek from December 1771 to October 1772. The goal was not simply to parade the boy around like itinerant one-man circus, but to land him a prestigious job in one of the important courts of Europe. During the three Italian journeys, the adolescent Wunderkind composed dozens of works in nearly all “public” genres, including operas, symphonies, sacred choral music and chamber music. Solo keyboard music was more suitable for private use or small gatherings among the aristocracy whom Leopold was courting.

During the final trip, Mozart composed the Divertimento K. 136, together with its companion works K. 137 and K. 138. These three compositions were probably written as three-movement string quartets (without a minuet and trio movement). The designation “Divertimenti” on the manuscripts is probably not Mozart’s own, since in his time a divertimento was expected to have at least one, if not two, minuets. 

In these divertimenti, the first violin is always dominant, while the second has the dual role of accompanying the first violin in thirds or in imitations, and of adding its voice to the purely harmonic accompaniment provided by the viola and the cello. Nowadays, these divertimenti are usually performed by string orchestras rather than string quartets, and in this form, they work very well. The florid role of the first violin part may be successfully performed today by an entire first violin section playing in unison. However, it is doubtful that this was possible with the quality of the musicians available to Mozart in Salzburg or in many other cities around 1770.

Most recent Stamford Symphony performance: March 12th, 1994

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