Vadim Gluzman, violin & leader
Janice Carissa, piano
The Jon Mac Anderson Program Notes underwritten by Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur LLP
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Serenade No. 6 in D Major, K. 239, “Serenata notturna”
Instrumentation: Scored for two small orchestras: I: two violin soloists, viola and double bass; II: violins, viola, cello and timpani
Duration: 15 minutes
In the year 1776, Mozart was home in Salzburg, grinding it and trying to make a living. Previous trips abroad had sadly failed to deliver hoped-for employment elsewhere so for the moment Mozart tried to make the best of a frustrating lifestyle. For the moment he desired nothing so much as to get out from under the yoke of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus Collordeo, his humorless and demanding employer. Indeed, Mozart would resign his position the following year, hoping for greener pastures elsewhere, but for now he took work where he could find it. Beyond more serious fare, including the composition of his ninth Piano Concerto, the year 1776 saw the composition of two serenades, lighter pieces designed as background music for various events. The more significant of the two, the eight-movement “Haffner” Serenade, was written for the wedding of a member of the Haffner family which took place in July. By contrast, the purpose of the Serenata notturna, far smaller in scope, has completely escaped historians.
Given that serenades were typically intended for specific occasions, we might conclude that the odd scoring of this work, including a solo double bass and timpani, might have been inspired by whatever musicians Mozart knew he would have on hand for the event. It is also safe to assume that Mozart would have led the ensemble from the solo first violin, for besides being a virtuoso pianist and fast becoming a composer with which to be reckoned, he also played a mean violin. A year earlier he had composed five violin concertos to prove it.
Mozart opens his D major Serenade with a stately March, which spotlights the first violin soloist nearly from the start, while in the second section, Mozart—who possessed a biting and ribald sense of humor—jokingly plays with the timpani and pizzicato strings. If the Menuetto-proper reflects Mozart paying formal tribute to the court dance, he unbuttons his formal attire during the spirited Trio at its center. The playful concluding Rondo is filled with fermatas, pauses during which Mozart and his ensemble no doubt took turns seeing who could play the most inspired improvisations, much like members of a jazz quintet might do today. The unmistakable twinkle in Mozart’s eye is evident throughout this absolutely charming finale, a work he no doubt dashed off in short order, yet which captures the ease and genius attached to almost everything he wrote.
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960): The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind
Instrumentation: Scored for klezmer clarinet and string quartet
Duration: 35 minutes
ProMusica audiences are no strangers to the music of Argentine composer Osvadlo Golijov, although tonight we present his Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet for the first time. The work is, in the composer’s words, no less than ‘epic…movements [that] sound like they are in three of the languages spoken in almost 6000 years of Jewish history: the first in Aramaic, the second in Yiddish, and the third in Hebrew.’ At its heart, Goliov’s Quintet takes as its springboard—and title—the eleventh and twelfth century Jewish mystic and kabbalist, Isaac the Blind, who believed that all facets of the universe are derived from combinations of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The word ‘epic’, in fact, defines much of Golijov’s quintet, not simply in terms of the liturgical music from which it draws but also its encompassing two significant and antithetical approaches to music: that of the string quartet, which has its roots in the music of Haydn and Beethoven and is considered by many as the ne plus ultra of classical writing, and Klezmer music, the instrumental music of the Ashkenazi Jews and which is at heart an improvised style emanating from the Jewish soul. Golijov’s quintet fuses these “two strong musical traditions into a single world.”
The first movement looks to two High Holiday prayers, one taken up by the clarinet and the other assigned to the quartet. Beginning slowly and almost hypnotically (the intent is that of an accordion), the movement accelerates into a frenzied state before eventually settling back into the obsessive eighth-note figure with which it began. The second movement is a Klezmer dance, though one played by the devil. The movement, which opens with the description to be played like “a dead accordion playing by itself,” relies on a constantly changing, irregular pulse, as if the music is skipping a heartbeat. Although intensely serious music, Golijov reflected on the humorous state of the movement’s composition: “While I was composing the second movement, my father would sit out on the deck with the newspaper—the sports pages—and every once in a while he would shout, “There you go! Another Yiddish chord!”’ At its most intense, the movement fully captures the ecstatic nature of the Nigun, a wordless Jewish chant.
In the third movement, the clarinet is meant to evoke a shepherd’s magic flute and the last movement—which was actually the first composed—Goljov spins out an instrumental adaptation of his K’VAKARAT, a work he had previously written for string quartet and cantor. The fact that the clarinet acts as the substitute for the human voice tells us all we need to know about that instrument’s role in the quintet as a whole.
As much of the clarinet writing is intended to evoke the improvisational world of Klezmer, Goliov has done little by way of technical indication for that instrument, leaving it up to the performer to explore the nuances of the Klezmer style. The composer’s string writing, by contrast, is highly detailed and incorporates a variety of challenging techniques and meters.
Finally, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind lasts some 35 minutes. So, sit back and take in the entirety of Golijov’s—and Isaac’s—mystical, magical world.
W.A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
Instrumentation: Scored for flute, pairs of clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings
Duration: 26 minutes
The year 1786 might be regarded as a high-water mark for Mozart, who was then experiencing compositional success both at home and abroad (especially, though not exclusively, in the world of opera). Critically, the thirty-year-old also remained highly regarded as a pianist, and although performance outlets for his music would begin to dry up within a few years, for now Mozart was flying high. That confidence is evident in every bar of his brilliant A major Piano Concerto, a work probably premiered that spring during one of several Viennese subscription concerts.
Composed in the first quarter of 1786, K. 488 provides a glimpse into the working habits of the Austrian genius. Rather than set aside everything else to focus on a work of this magnitude, Mozart was juggling several such projects simultaneously, including no less than an entire opera, The Marriage of Figaro, which was set to receive its premiere two months after the completion of this concerto. And his next piano concerto, following closely on the heels of the A major heard tonight, was completed just a week after Figaro’s successful Viennese debut! Just how Mozart managed to create so much impressive music, much less find the time to scribble it all down, is just another of the many mysteries surrounding the man. (This is not to say there wasn’t some crossover at times and in fact the brighter section at the center of this concerto’s second movement, introduced by the flute and clarinet, would be recycled in his opera Don Giovanni the following year).
Mozart all but established the blueprint for what we now think of as the piano concerto and while it’s true that others had written for keyboard and orchestra before Mozart came along, over the course of his meteoric lifetime he established any number of principles that would become the standard—and then, just as quickly, he would throw a wrench into the works. One of these wrenches comes in the second exposition of K. 488’s first movement, known in a concerto as a double exposition: the orchestra enters before the soloist where it serves to introduce the traditional two contrasting themes heard for the rest of the movement. But in the course of Mozart’s second exposition (now with soloist) a third theme is presented for the first time. Clearly Mozart had more music in his head than he knew what to do with!
This concerto also includes a number of other curiosities including its scoring. In such settings Mozart typically included at least one and more often two oboes, yet the instrument is completely absent from this score. Instead, Mozart calls for two clarinets and these he uses to striking effect, particularly in the second movement, as mentioned above, and again in the third movement, where the clarinet interrupts the F-sharp minor middle section with a new tune in the bright key of D major. This section, by the way, along with the general feel of the moving Adagio, betrays Mozart as an opera composer to the core.
We should also keep in mind that Mozart conceived of this stirring concerto—as with all his keyboard and violin concertos—with himself as the soloist. While no record survives of the work being performed during his lifetime, we can assume Mozart was at the keyboard at its spring premiere. Unsurpassed operas, concertos, symphonies, chamber, choral and incidental music, a boy wonder and a mature compositional titan, an instrumental virtuoso, a devoted husband and father, and all within the all-too-brief span of 35 years. The man could do it all.
© Marc Moskovitz