Mozart in Paris

March 31, 2007, First Parish, Wayland
April 1, 2008, Emmanuel Church, Boston

Quartet in D Major for flute and strings, K. 285      Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
  Allegro • Adagio • Rondeau (Allegretto)      
  Tempo di Menuetto

Trio in Bb Major for fortepiano, violin, and cello, op. 16, no. 1       Johann Schobert (d. 1767)
Quartet in D Major for flute and strings, op. 14, no. 1        François Gossec (1734-1829)
  Allegro moderato
  Tempo di Minuetto

Divertimento in Bb Major for fortepiano, violin, and cello, K.254    Mozart
  Allegro assai
  Rondeau (Tempo di Menuetto)

Suzanne Stumpf, flute; Lisa Rautenberg, violin
Marcia Cassidy, viola; Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, fortepiano

Program Notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited Paris during two distinct periods of his life: as a touring child prodigy dazzling the courts of Europe, and as a mature and aspiring composer seeking fame and patronage. In both instances, he was greatly influenced by the brilliant and varied musical life in Paris. Although opera was foremost in the attention of the Parisian public, an active and exciting concert scene existed, led by the long-established Concert Spirituel and its rival the Concert des Amateurs. These concert organizations provided opportunities for both French and foreign composers and virtuosi— including Mozart—to establish their reputations.

Mozart’s first visits to Paris occurred in 1764 and 1766 as stops on an extensive tour his father Leopold had organized to display the talents of his son and daughter Nannerl. During these visits Mozart performed for King Louis XV and the Prince of Conti. More significantly, he came into contact with two of the leading French keyboard virtuosi, Johann Eckard and Johann Schobert.

Johann Schobert was born in Silesia and settled in Paris around 1760, where he entered the service of the Prince of Conti and became well-known as a composer and virtuoso performer. Mozart greatly admired Schobert’s music as evidenced by an arrangement he made of a movement of a Schobert sonata in his keyboard concerto K.39, composed in 1767. Mozart quoted and arranged Schobert’s music in other works and, when he returned to Paris in 1778, taught Schobert sonatas to pupils there. Baron Grimm, whom Mozart had befriended while in Paris, described Schobert’s compositions as charming and stated that he “knew perfectly the effects and magic of harmony.” Schobert’s piano trio in Bb Major is a fine work which aptly displays his fluid and effervescent style.

Mozart’s D Major flute quartet was composed in Mannheim in 1777, just prior to his second trip to Paris. As in his other chamber works for one wind instrument and strings, Mozart tends to preserve the homogeneity of the strings while treating the flute somewhat more soloistically. This is especially the case in the plaintive Adagio movement where the aria-like flute solo is accompanied by pizzicato strings. The outer movements exhibit a lively, conversational interplay between flute and strings quite in keeping with the intimate, domestic quartet genre. The G Major quartet is in a two-movement form that was quite common in this genre. The amicable and conversational intentions in the work are made quite clear by Mozart’s rather detailed indications of dynamics.

François Gossec was a prominent composer, conductor, professor of composition at the newly-founded Paris Conservatory, and the founder of the Concert des Amateurs. He was a successful and prolific composer of instrumental music, including symphonies and chamber music. Mozart made his acquaintance in 1778, describing him to his father as “A very good friend and at the same time a very dull fellow.” The flute quartet selected for this program is from his op. 14 set of six published in 1770, his only opus for that instrumental combination. It is set in the popular three movement format, ending with a minuet, and is full of lively dialogue shared nearly equally among all the instruments.

Mozart made his second trip to Paris in 1778 on the heels of a Mannheim sojourn where he had tried unsuccessfully to obtain an appointment at the court. On this Paris visit, he found opportunities not as a virtuoso performer, but as a composer—he received many performances his works, including symphonies at the Concert Spirituel and a group of ballet movements Les petits riens as part of a performance of Piccinni’s opera Le finte gemelle. Mozart’s Divertimento in Bb Major was composed in Salzburg in 1776 and published in Paris around 1782. The work is cast in the mold of the keyboard sonata with accompaniments, with the violin mostly paralleling or accompanying the keyboard, and the cello doubling the bass line. This delightful work goes far beyond the light entertainment function its name implies, especially in its tender, expressive slow movement.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf