Jeremy Denk Plays Mozart – October 18 & 19, 2019
Mein Jesu (My Jesus), BWV 487
Orch. Leopold Stokowski
Johann Sebastian Bach
In 1736 Johann Sebastian Bach contributed some two dozen sacred songs to over 900 compiled by Georg Schemelli in Schemelli’s Song Book, intended for home devotions rather than public services in church. Bach wrote his songs for soprano and figured bass in a musical shorthand indicating the harmony.
Throughout his long conducting career, Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) sought to popularize classical music. To this end he transcribed many works in colorful orchestrations and also collaborated with Walt Disney in 1940 on the film Fantasia. His 37 orchestral transcriptions of J.S. Bach’s instrumental and vocal works gained him many admirers – and many enemies. The most famous of these transcriptions was the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, used in Fantasia. He transcribed Mein Jesu for orchestra in 1937.
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K. 459
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart composed a total of 28 solo keyboard concertos, most of them for his own use in subscription concerts in Vienna. Consequently, the timing of their composition was influenced by the artistic climate and the economic wellbeing of the city. In the short period between 1782 and 1786, with a booming economy, aristocratic families vied with one another to underwrite and sponsor concerts of the latest in musical fashion. During those flush years, Mozart was in great demand both as a composer and performer at the keyboard, composing 17 concertos, including this one in F Major. “Concertos,” Mozart wrote his father, “are a happy medium between what is too hard and too easy…pleasing to the ear…without being vapid.”
However successful a composer might be at this time, both the greatest prestige and the money came primarily from opera, as opposed to instrumental music. After 1786 Mozart was eager to be seen more as an opera composer than a performer. He concentrated his efforts and genius – beyond anything he had produced before in this genre – on his three great comic operas with libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosí fan tutte.
The Concerto in F major was composed in late 1784 and probably premiered in one of six successful subscription concerts Mozart gave in February and March of 1785. The Concerto is scored for piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings. But in his thematic catalogue entry Mozart also lists two trumpets and timpani, not included in the surviving autograph. The composer either penned a second version, now lost, or made an error in the catalogue entry. The extant version also contains Mozart’s own cadenzas.
In this concerto Mozart gives special prominence to the winds, especially the principal oboe and flute, which get lovely solo riffs and dialogues with the piano. Although in conventional sonata-allegro form, the first initial theme, a modified fanfare motive, persists throughout the movement as an almost constant presence in the form of a refrain between episodes, almost like a rondo. The second subject gets considerably less attention, and Mozart provides a third melody as well.
The Allegretto also uses its main theme as a refrain, creating an expansion on the conventional da capo (ABA) structure to AB AC. It is in this movement that the oboe and flute are featured so prominently.
In the finale, Mozart continues his tendency to feature refrains, as well as showcasing the winds. It is a rondo, but combined with a sonata form. The brief rondo theme (or first subject) is followed by a fugato, which becomes one of the principal subsidiary themes of the movement. But the interplay of these two styles throughout the movement creates an atmosphere of good humor rather than pedantry. With its brief middle section, the harmonic digression has the quality of a development, and the various themes are recapped at the end of the movement.
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
No other composer symbolized the Romantic movement in music as did Robert Schumann. Talented both in music and literature, he used the latter to promote his romantic ideals about the future of music. He was a true elitist, pitting “us,” the enlightened (the Davidsbündler) against “them,” the masses, whom he called “Philistines.” The latter appellation has remained part of the international elitist vocabulary to this day.
Schumann’s five-year pursuit of his beloved, the brilliant Clara Wieck, had all the ingredients of a soap opera (or grand opera): A hostile father-in-law, an adoring young bride-to-be, secret correspondence, lawsuits and court battles, accusations of alcoholism, banishment from Wieck’s house, economic pressure, etc. Clara was an outstanding pianist and composer in her own right, and their eventual triumph led to a stormy but happy marriage unleashing a flood of creativity in both husband and wife – including seven children.
Although listed as Robert Schumann’s fourth symphony, the Symphony in D minor was actually his second, composed in 1841 during the happy first year of his marriage to Clara. In his diary, the composer wrote “…my next symphony will be called Clara and I will portray her with flutes, oboes and harps.”
The Symphony broke with the prevailing symphonic traditions, being more of an orchestral fantasy on several related themes that undergo transformations and variations. In this way it forms a bridge between the Classical symphony and the later tone poems of Franz Liszt. Schumann himself referred to it as “Symphonistische Phantasie.”
The result of these innovations was a chilly reception at the premiere in Leipzig. Schumann withdrew the work and only returned to it in 1851 after the success of his Third Symphony. He revised and reorchestrated it, fusing all four movements to be played without a break, which made it even closer to a “Phantasie.” However, many conductors ignore this directive and separate the movements.
Two motifs, the theme of the introduction and a three-note hammer-blow motif in the Allegro of the first movement serve as the unifying theme for the whole work, reappearing in many guises in all subsequent movements.
The pensive mood of the Introduction, Ziemlich langsam (quite slowly) gains momentum and leads to the Lebhaft (lively) first movement, with its harsh “hammer-blow.” The second movement, Romanza, again Ziemlich langsam, introduces a melancholy theme on the oboes and cellos, alternating with the opening theme of the Introduction.
The lively Scherzo marked Lebhaft (lively) opens with the hammer-blow motif providing the rhythmic pulse to a theme again based on the Introduction. The movement ends on a poetic and gentle note that merges imperceptibly with the slow introduction to the Finale. Again in the lively Finale the hammer-blow motif sets the rhythm for the two lively themes until the joyous presto closing section.
Program notes by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn