Archive for May, 2014

Music in May, 2014

Friday, May 16th, 2014

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

Duo in B-flat Major, K. 424 for violin and viola, 1783

Michael HaydnIn 1783, Mozart and his wife Constanze travelled from Vienna to Salzburg for vacation and a visit with the family. While there, Mozart learned that his friend Michael Haydn (the less famous brother of Joseph Haydn) was ill and unable to complete a commission for six duos from the Archbishop who was withholding pay until he finished. Always generous with his old friends, Mozart offered to complete the set and wrote two duos for violin and viola as a “ghost writer.” At this time, Mozart had absorbed the chamber music of Joseph Haydn as well as the contrapuntal marvels of J. S. Bach and was in the middle of composing a set of string quartets that would set a new high water mark in the genre. It is natural, therefore, that these two “one off” string duos are utter masterpieces in themselves, each a full multi-movement sonata vividly demonstrating Mozart’s musical genius. (more…)

Mendelssohn, String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44/2

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847

String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44, No. 2, 1837

Mendelssohn composed his six four-movement string quartets over a period of twenty years, his first at eighteen in response to the death of Beethoven and his last at thirty-eight in response to the death of his sister Fanny during his own last year. In the middle, Mendelssohn in his late twenties, happy, busy, successful and famous, wrote a mature set of three quartets, Op. 44. True to his spirit, talent and style revealed in full so early in this prodigy’s creative life, the Op. 44 quartets are beautifully crafted works in an agile “late” classical style instantly recognizable for their Mendelssohnian character. Full of nervous, virtuosic passion, intimate romantic lyricism, sprightly dance movements and an almost neo-Baroque perpetual counterpoint, Mendelssohn’s quartets are definitely final flowers of a style closer to Haydn and Mozart (with a tinge of Schubert) than Beethoven whose far-reaching innovations cast a long, forbidding shadow over the 19th century. While on his honeymoon in 1837, Mendelssohn composed the E Minor quartet, the first of three despite its published identity as “No. 2.” Because of its outer movements in the minor mode, it is perhaps the most dramatic of the three with an urgent complexion it shares with Mendelssohn’s last quartet as well as his two beloved piano trios, in this case, an aching urgency recalling Mozart. (more…)

Mozart, String Quartet in A Major, K. 464, “Drum”

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

String Quartet in A Major, K. 464, “Drum”, “Haydn” Quartet No. 5, 1785

1781 represents an important turning point in Mozart’s life. He was now living in Vienna where he would stay for the rest of his life. Here, Mozart began to seriously explore the music of J.S. Bach with its intricate marvels of learned counterpoint, a crucial musical ingredient that Haydn and Mozart would merge with the gallant creating a new hybrid texture at the heart of the classical style. 1781 also witnessed the first meeting of Mozart and Haydn and a series of chamber salons where Mozart learned first hand of Haydn’s latest creation: the famous Op. 33 string quartets which Haydn composed that very year. It had been close to a decade since either composer had written for the medium, and Mozart’s astonishment at Haydn’s new quartets impelled him to follow suit. Over the next two years, Mozart uncharacteristically labored to produce six quartets, finished in 1785 and lovingly dedicated to Haydn as the man who finally taught him how. This “call and response” represents an exquisite artistic dialog that would continue with subsequent retorts by Haydn and eventually a brazen young Beethoven. (more…)