Concert Notes

Mozart, with Anderson & Roe

John Adams
b. Worcester, Massachusetts, USA / February 15, 1947

Composer, conductor, and creative thinker, John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. The most frequently performed living American composer of orchestral music, his works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. He also maintains an active life as a conductor, appearing with the world’s greatest orchestras and with programs combining his own works with composers as diverse as Debussy and Stravinsky to Glass and Ellington. The title of this rousing fanfare, composed in 1986 and premièred by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, describes it to perfection. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
b. Salzburg, Austria / January 27, 1756; 
d. Vienna, Austria / December 5, 1791

After spending six unhappy months in Paris, Mozart returned to Salzburg in January 1779. It was a dismal homecoming. He had set out 18 months earlier in search of greater fame and appreciation than he had been receiving. Although he was greeted with acclaim in several cities, no offer of employment was forthcoming. He was forced to return to his job as Concertmaster at the court of Prince-Archbishop Hieronymous Colleredo.  

He despised his autocratic employer and the drudgery of working for him. Still, those feelings didn’t keep him from producing a steady stream of superb music. This included the well‑known “Coronation” Mass; two fine symphonies (Nos. 32 and 33); the splendid Sinfonia concertante for violin, viola and orchestra; and this immensely appealing Concerto for Two Pianos. 

He composed the concerto in early 1779, to be played by himself and his older sister Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl). The warmth of his affection for her comes through clearly. The accompanying ensemble of oboes, bassoons, horns and strings provides a warmly textured background, especially in the gracefully flowing slow movement. The playful concluding rondo restores the amiable mood of the opening movement. Mozart clearly held a lasting affection for this piece. He performed it, along with a pupil, Fraulein Auernhammer, on several occasions in Vienna during the 1780s. 

Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major, K. 365
1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Rondeaux: Allegro

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky           
b. Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia / May 7, 1840; 
d. St. Petersburg, Russia / November 6, 1893

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony reflected the personal turmoil he underwent during its creation. He began composing it in February 1877, during the same period that he entered into highly influential relationships with two women. The first was Nadezhda von Meck, an immensely wealthy patron of music. She agreed to supply him with a monthly allowance that would give him the freedom to compose more freely.

The second was Antonina Milyukova, an emotionally unstable former student in his composition class at the Moscow Conservatory. Her declarations of love left him deeply confused. His desperate desire to conceal his homosexuality, and Milyukova’s persistence, led him to give into her advances. They were married on July 6, but the relationship quickly fell apart. He had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. Fleeing to Italy, he completed the symphony in Venice during January 1878.

In a letter to his patroness, Tchaikovsky disclosed the emotions that he had borne in mind while composing it. A harsh brass fanfare opens the symphony and recurs throughout it. “This is fate,” he wrote, “the power which hinders one in the pursuit of happiness from gaining the goal, which jealousy provides that peace and comfort do not prevail, that the sky is not free from clouds – a might that swings, like the sword of Damocles, constantly over the head, that poisons continually the soul. There is nothing to do but submit and vainly to complain.” The two main themes of the first movement proper are a restless, yearning string melody and a wistful, dance‑like theme introduced by solo clarinet. The latter offers some moments of consolation, only to be driven savagely into the background by the ‘fate’ theme.

“The second movement shows another phase of sadness,” Tchaikovsky continued. “Here is that melancholy feeling that enwraps one when he sits alone at night in the house exhausted by work; a swarm of reminiscences arises. It is sad, yet sweet, to lose one’s self in the past.” 

The atmosphere of gloom is dispelled by the playful third movement, where the strings play pizzicato from first bar to last. “Here are capricious arabesques, vague figures which slip into the imagination when one has taken wine and is slightly intoxicated,” according to Tchaikovsky.

A brilliant flourish for full orchestra gets the finale under way at top speed. Woodwinds introduce the main theme, a Russian folk song called In the Meadow There Stands a Birch Tree. This builds rapidly to the appearance of a confident, march‑like theme. After this sequence is repeated more elaborately, the atmosphere gradually loses its sense of well‑being. The “fate” theme makes a catastrophic reappearance, bringing the festivities to a grinding halt.

“If you find no pleasure in yourself, look about you,” Tchaikovsky wrote. “Go to the people. See how they can enjoy life and give themselves up entirely to festivity. There still is happiness, simple, naive happiness. Rejoice in the happiness of others – and you can still live.” The music regains its momentum, to end in a blaze of celebration.

Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
1. Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima
2. Andantino in modo di canzone
3. Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato, Allegro
4. Allegro con fuoco



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