The Humanity and Humor of Mozart and Haydn

Friday, November 14, First Parish, Sudbury
Saturday, November 15, Emmanuel Church, Boston

Quartet in D Major for flute and strings, op. 5, no. 1        Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
    Presto assai   

Concerto in C Major for fortepiano and strings, K. 415            W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)
    Rondeau (Allegro)


Trio in D Major for fortepiano, flute, and cello, H. XV:16                                     Haydn
    Andante più tosto Allegretto
    Vivace assai   

Quartet in Eb Major for fortepiano and strings, K. 493                                     Mozart

Suzanne Stumpf, classical flute; Sarah Darling and Karina Fox, violins
Marcia Cassidy, viola, Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, fortepiano

 Program notes

Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are renowned for the broad emotional compass of their compositional output. This program brings listeners four varied works by these two great Classical masters that amply capture their wit, exuberance, lyricism, and profoundity.

The release of Haydn’s six “opus 5” quartets seems to have been initiated by the Amsterdam-based publisher J. J. Hummel in 1763, probably without Haydn’s knowledge. While the authorship of many of the quartets in this set has been questioned, the fourth and sixth are thought be arrangements of his divertimentos for flute, oboe, two violins, and bass, composed between 1755 and 1760. The first quartet may also be an arrangement of a Haydn divertimento, as there are many stylistic similarities between this work and his divertimentos of this period.

Unique and inimitable to Haydn is the humor and sunny disposition infused in so much of his music. In each of the faster movements of the D Major quartet, Haydn playfully swaps melodic and accompanying roles amongst the instruments, creating a banter of colorful dialogue. In the Adagio movement, his imaginative use of texture changes in support of its earnest melodies result in a tender and charming lyricisim.    

The death of Haydn’s longtime patron Prince Esterházy in 1789 freed the composer from the geographical isolation imposed by his tenure at the remote Esterházy palace in Hungary and from the restrictions in his contract with the Prince that prohibited him from publishing his works. Shortly after the Prince’s death, Haydn traveled to England, making a sensation through his appearances in London as composer and conductor. Concurrently, London’s publishers eagerly sought works from Haydn, and in 1789, publisher John Bland commissioned a number of works including three piano trios with flute.

As with many of the piano trios of his London period, the Piano Trio in D Major has a more outgoing quality than some of his more intimate earlier trios. The effectiveness of the trio performed in this program lies in his use of surprise elements, including bold dynamic outbursts, and mid-phrase interruptive pauses in the first movement, and clever, unexpected modulations in its jocular Rondo finale.

In 1781, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart resigned his position with the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. This emancipatory act marked the beginning of his life as an independent performer and composer based in Vienna. One of the attractions of that great city was its active and varied concert life, and Mozart was eager to make a name for himself with the concert- and opera-going public. Mozart’s piano concertos were a frequent feature of the concerts he organized during Lent in Vienna when opera (which was the primary form for public music-making) was traditionally forbidden. Possibly because the audiences for which these concertos were composed were accustomed to hearing opera for much of the year, the concertos are somewhat operatic in character, utilizing the structures and techniques of vocal aria and recitative and possessing great emotional scope and depth.

The Concerto in C Major, K. 415 is among the first three he composed for the Lenten season of 1782-83, and it is considered the most brilliant of the three. The fanfare motives and bright texture in the tutti sections of the first movement are more evocative of a symphony or opera overture than of a concerto. The middle movement, in the subdominant key of F Major, is a graceful pastorale. The final movement is a gigue in rondo form with its high-spirited character sharply contrasted by two plaintive Adagio episodes. This concerto is one of three Mozart intended for publication. In a letter to the publisher Seiber in Paris, Mozart stated that the works could be performed with full orchestra (including winds), or with only strings. Our performances adopt this attractive, less commonly used option.

Although in 1782 Mozart asserted that his music was designed to please both learned and naive listeners, the increasing complexities of his music and his flights of genius were such that it took years for audiences to catch up, tragically past the point when he could derive any benefit. His two piano quartets of 1785-86 were composed in response to a commission for three quartets by the publisher Hoffmeister, but after the first was issued, Hoffmeister withdrew from the venture because the public found the music too difficult. Mozart had, in the meantime, already completed the second quartet in Eb heard on this program. It was issued later by Artaria, utilizing the copper plates of the violin and viola parts begun by Hoffmeister.

The piano quartet is a form virtually invented by Mozart. While piano trio texture essentially amounts to a piano sonata with accompaniment and interjections by violin or flute and cello, the addition of a viola adds myriad compositional possibilities for exploration. In the Eb Major Quartet, Mozart often treats the strings as an opposing force to the piano, almost giving the effect of a piano concerto. In the first movement of the work, solo and dialogue textures among the instruments are probed through the development section by the perpetual manipulation of a motivic gesture taken from the second theme.

The final rondo uses antiphonal exchange between strings and piano to delightful effect. Here extended virtuosic passage work in the piano heightens its concerto-like quality. The piano’s concluding passage of the first section is interrupted with unison outbursts from the strings to which the piano lyrically responds. The drama reappears later in the movement but with the roles reversed. This conflict is finally resolved in the coda where the “interrupting theme” is extended and harmonized in the cheerful character of the opening.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf