Concert Notes

Zukerman Plays Mozart

Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
b. Salzburg, Austria / January 27, 1756;
d. Vienna, Austria / December 5, 1791

Between April and December 1775, Mozart composed the last four of his five violin concertos. He probably wrote at least some of them to play himself. He completed No. 5 on December 20. It is not only the most accomplished of the series, but also the most unusual. The soloist’s first entry, for example, is remarkable for being quite different in tempo and mood – quiet and dreamy – from the preceding orchestral introduction. It’s as if the violinist were saying to the orchestra, “catch your breath while I introduce myself.”

The second movement is a true adagio, slow and heartfelt, in contrast to the easy, flowing andante that was typically of the era. Its lyrical intensity borders on the operatic. The finale, a rondo in the style of a minuet, is the source of the concerto’s nickname. In the delightfully startling minor key episode mid-way through, Mozart instructed the cellos and basses to strike their strings with the wood of the bow, and asks the soloist for virtuoso pyrotechnics. These practices recall the Turkish military music that was all the rage in Austria at the time, a lingering effect of the sieges that the Turkish army, with its percussion-laden military bands, had made against Vienna during the previous two centuries.

Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”
1. Allegro aperto
2. Adagio
3. Rondeau: Tempo di menuetto

Don Quixote, Op. 35
Richard Strauss
b. Munich, Germany / June 11, 1864
d. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany / September 8, 1949 

Don Quixote is the most mature, ingenious and subtle of Strauss’s tone poems. Dating from the period between Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben, it was performed for the first time in Cologne on March 8, 1898.

Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes’s timeless fable about an aging knight and his imaginary adventures was published in 1605. Strauss subtitled his version “fantastic variations on a theme of knightly character.” His fertile Romantic imagination made each variation a showcase for his unsurpassed skills at orchestration and musical characterization. He gave the role of Don Quixote to the solo cello, and the solo viola represents his faithful servant, Sancho Panza.

The piece consists of an introduction, theme (actually, themes), ten variations and finale. The events depicted in the variations are clearly spelled out in the score. Strauss chose them carefully to offer plentiful variety of mood, and to present a satisfying mixture of pure story-telling, character portrayal and graphic description. Together they create a compelling, often poignant overview of this fascinating character.

The expansive introduction shows Don Quixote at home, sound of mind although intensely absorbed in books on chivalry. The numerous thematic fragments include a gentle oboe melody representing Dulcinea, the ideal, imaginary lady patron on whose behalf he will shortly seek to perform noble deeds. With a crash, the Don crosses the line into a world of delusion. The solo cello presents the theme characterizing his new self-image as a mighty hero, and Sancho Panza’s earthy, humorous themes follow.

Their adventures are launched with Variation 1, the famous episode of the windmills. Quixote believes them to be evil giants and rides forward to skewer them with his lance, only to be knocked from his horse instead. In Variation 2, he charges boldly into a herd of sheep, thinking them enemy warriors. Strauss’s use of flutter-tonguing in the wind instruments to imitate the baaing of the sheep caused a furor at early performances. He called Variation 3 “Sancho’s conversations, questions, demands and proverbs, Don Quixote’s instructing, appeasings and promises.” After a furious central outburst, the Don outlines in noble tones the goodness and generosity of spirit that underlie his quest.

In Variation 4, the travelers encounter a religious procession bearing a statue of the Virgin Mary. Mistaking the icon for a maiden who is being abducted, the Don attacks, only to be knocked from his horse once again. The radiant Variation 5 shows him keeping lonely watch over his armour, with gallant devotion, on a warm, moonlit summer night.

Quixote mistakes an earthy peasant girl for Dulcinea in the playful Variation 6. Strauss then brings in a wind machine to bolster a literal depiction of the next adventure. The Don and his servant believe themselves borne aloft on a magic flying horse. In mundane reality, they never leave the ground. Variation 8 finds them boarding a boat which bears them downstream to near-disaster as they rapidly approach a mill. Sopping wet, they offer a prayer of thanks for their deliverance. Another mistaken attack follows in Variation 9. The Don routs a group of horsemen accompanying a wealthy lady’s coach. In his mind’s eye, they are enchanters bearing off a princess.

The tone shifts to tragedy in Variation 10. One of Quixote’s neighbours, concerned that the Don’s adventures will end in death, defeats him at a joust. Thus condemned by the rules of chivalry to return home and refrain from heroic pursuits for a year, the Don makes his disheartened way back, to the strains of a funeral march. With great beauty and eloquence, the finale portrays his final, once again lucid moments. His quest may have been illusory and a failure, Strauss tells us, but the sincerity that inspired it – a mark of true nobility – was utterly genuine. 

Don Quixote, Op. 35
Variation 1: The Adventure with the Windmills
Variation 2: The Battle with the Sheep
Variation 3: Dialogue Between Knight and Servant: Sancho’s Demands, Questions and Proverbs
Variation 4: The Adventure with the Procession of Penitents
Variation 5: Don Quixote’s Vigil During the Summer Night
Variation 6: Meeting with a Country Lass; Sancho Tells His Master She is Dulcinea Bewitched
Variation 7: The Flight Through the Air
Variation 8: The Adventure of the Enchanted Boat (Barcarolle)
Variation 9: The Contest with the Supposed Magician; The Attack on the Monks
Variation 10: Duel with the Knight of the White Moon; The Defeated Don Quixote Decides to Give up Fighting, Contemplates Being a Shepherd, and Goes Home
Finale: Death of Don Quixote


Programme Notes © 2018 Don Anderson

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