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Symphoria returns to large orchestra performances, featuring Steven Heyman in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Mozart’s well-known Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

 

 

 


PROGRAM

BEETHOVEN: Concerto, Piano, No.3, op.37, C minor
MOZART: Symphony No. 40

 


 

 

All programs and artists subject to change.

PROGRAM NOTES

Our previous Casual concert was devoted to baroque music. Tonight, we switch to the classical period with two major works that, in different ways, herald the romantic era to come. Our symphony is the Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, one of three symphonies that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) wrote, along with a great deal of other music, in the miraculous summer of 1788. The major-key symphonies that surround it, Nos. 39 and 41 (“Jupiter”), are both bold, energetic, and upbeat. The middle sibling, calling for a smaller orchestra with no trumpets or drums, is one of only two Mozart symphonies in a minor key, ...
Our previous Casual concert was devoted to baroque music. Tonight, we switch to the classical period with two major works that, in different ways, herald the romantic era to come. Our symphony is the Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, one of three symphonies that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) wrote, along with a great deal of other music, in the miraculous summer of 1788. The major-key symphonies that surround it, Nos. 39 and 41 (“Jupiter”), are both bold, energetic, and upbeat. The middle sibling, calling for a smaller orchestra with no trumpets or drums, is one of only two Mozart symphonies in a minor key, and it’s more inward in character. It was held in high regard by the romantic composers who followed—beloved by Schubert and Chopin, championed by Liszt, touted as “pivotal to the romantic world” by Wagner.

But while it was uniformly appreciated, it was not uniformly interpreted. For some listeners—despite its minor key—the symphony’s beauty, impeccable fluency, and balance took priority. Schubert reportedly heard the voices of angels in the third movement trio; and Robert Schumann (who will be featured on our next concert) described the Fortieth more generally as “a work in which every note is gold,” one that incorporated “floating Grecian grace.” For others, the work reflected the despair of the young composer as he faced ill-health and diminishing financial stability. Of course, it’s risky to make easy translations between composers’ states of mind and their music (especially in this case, where the symphony that followed was suffused in C-Major self-confidence). Still, over the years, the view that the symphony is fundamentally dark has become dominant.

Yet to capture the true complexity of this work, we probably need to hold both positions at once. Surely, compared to roiling drama of Mozart’s earlier D-Minor piano Concerto, much less the fire and brimstone that rend his opera Don Giovanni, the outward appearance of the G-Minor Symphony seems relatively benign. In its formal structures, for instance, it’s not only clear but also surprisingly economical (especially compared to the profligacy of the “Jupiter Symphony”). Its basic building blocks are limited; but as conductor Larry Loh says, “It’s astounding how he’s able to create so much from so little.” At the same time, the work is full of grinding dissonances, surprising modulations, and shocking juxtapositions. The last two movements are especially striking in this regard. The rhythmic and canonic overlapping, says Larry, make the Minuet sound “satirical.” He also points to the “Jekyll and Hyde” quality of the opening of the finale, with its back and forth between quiet arpeggios and subito forte outbursts—and there’s a more disruptive passage later on, at the beginning of the finale’s development, where Mozart tosses out, seemingly at random, eleven of the twelve chromatic pitches (everything, in fact, but the work’s anchoring pitch, G) before it settles down. Then, too, while most minor-key works of the period resolve into the major at the end, this one stays resolutely in the minor. Even when the G-Minor Symphony is at its most wrenching, though, you can’t dismiss Schumann’s insistence on its grace. In sum, it’s a work of profound (or should we say sublime?) contradictions.

One editorial point: After Mozart finished the symphony, he revised the orchestration to include clarinets. That’s the version we’ll be hearing tonight.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was one of the great admirers of the G-Minor Symphony (he even copied out part of it in his sketchbooks), as well as of Mozart’s D-Minor Piano Concerto (which he performed and wrote cadenzas for). But the inspiration for tonight’s concerto, the Piano Concerto No. 3 (1803), comes more directly from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 (in fact, as our soloist Steven Heyman points out, Beethoven gives an explicit “nod” to the Mozart in the cadenza). Yet the Beethoven Third is not a Mozartian concerto: if Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony anticipates the romantic period, this is one of those works (like the contemporary Eroica Symphony) that throws open the doors. As Steve puts it, Beethoven, having already given us two “lighter-textured concertos in the Haydn tradition,” now offers a “beefier” work that “kicks off his middle period, his heroic phrase.” No surprise, then, that the Beethoven Third Concerto, like the Mozart Fortieth Symphony, was rapturously admired by later composers. In fact, it was such a magnetic draw that Liszt, Clara Schumann, Charles Valentin Alkan, Busoni, Amy Beach, the young Fauré, and many others wrote cadenzas for the first movement, even though Beethoven had already written his own (which Steve will be playing tonight).

The Third Concerto is a dramatic work, its drama heightened by Beethoven’s use of the latest in piano technology, expanding the range of the solo part to take advantage of the expanded keyboards of the newest instruments. Yet despite the drama, Steve notes, it’s still “melody-driven.” Steve is attracted in particular to the middle movement, a Largo that’s “transcendent, lyrical, almost bel canto—very operatic with incredibly beautiful ornamentation.” There are moments, too, where the pedaling crosses harmonies in a way that makes it “sound as if you’re in a cloud or a bit of a fog. This glorious music is heartfelt and deeply inspirational. ” In typical Beethoven fashion, though, he upsets your expectations in the Largo’s final measures—in part, by interrupting the quiet music with a forte chord, in part by opening the finale in a way that leaves you somewhat confused as to “where it’s heading.” In the end, though, we soon find ourselves in a rollicking, highly syncopated rondo that rounds out the concerto in high spirits.

Peter J. Rabinowitz

Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org

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