Brussels Philharmonic | the magic that is Mozart

the magic that is Mozart

During his brief life, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) produced an astonishing catalogue of more than 600 compositions – each and every one an elegant, sparkling masterpiece. A “God-given miracle is what his father, Leopold, called him. Conductor Kazushi Ono has put together a remarkable selection of Mozart’s voluminous work: after the lively overture to La Clemenza di Tito – a work that is still rarely performed – comes the jubilant Exsultate, jubilate, a motet that steers a middle way between a religious work and an operatic spectacle. The concert closes with Mozart’s Linz Symphony, a milestone of his symphonic repertoire.

A motet with operatic flourishes

“Wolfgang composed only the first aria for the ‘primo uomo’, but it is of inexpressible beauty, and he sings it like an angel.”

We hear from Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father. The latter had promised the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810) one of the principal roles in his next opera, after having heard him sing in the autumn of 1767 at the Vienna court. His father was not very impressed by the castrato at the time, but had to change his opinion after the première of Mozart’s drama Lucio Silla on 26 December 1773 in Milan. Wolfgang was so enchanted by his voice that he composed the Exsultate, jubilate K.165 for him the same year. A year after its première, Rauzzini moved to Great Britain, where he would have a flourishing career as an opera singer, composer and teacher.

Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate is a motet with a Latin text. The religious solo cantata consists normally of two arias and recitatives, followed by a closing Hallelujah. Although the work was intended for performance in church, it would not have been out of place at an opera house. Mozart used techniques and effects from music theatre in this work, including an acrobatic coloratura part that was tailor-made for Rauzzini. There are several versions of this work: one Milanese – the oldest and most often performed – and two from Salzburg. The major differences lines in the orchestration – in the Salzburg version, the two oboes are replaced by two flutes – and in the text, that was adjusted in order to make it possible to perform the motet on other occasions as well.

Linz Symphony

In late eighteenth-century Vienna, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was known as the father of the symphony. The genre took its origins in the overture, or ‘sinfonia’, from Italian opera, but along the way it found its way into the concert hall. Under Haydn, the symphony developed into an independent orchestral work thanks to countless changes, such as the use of complex internal structures and harmonic shifts and an expansion of the instrumentation. The symphonies of Mozart also underwent considerable evolution during his short lifetime. While initially he used the same tripartite structure as the ‘sinfonia’, with rapid outer movements and a slow middle movement, Mozart soon added a fourth movement: a ‘Menuetto’, positioned between the slow middle and the last movements. In addition, the symphonies grew in scale; he grouped the winds in the later symphonies by twos, and he added a new tonal colour by using the clarinet – one of his favourite instruments.

Mozart’s Symphony No 36 in C Major, KV 425, also known as the ‘Linz Symphony’, is one of his late symphonies. Mozart composed the work in 1783, during a return trip from Salzburg to Vienna. He had been to visit his father and introduce his bride, Konstanz Weber, to him. The couple had married the summer before, but without the consent of his father, Leopold. Mozart felt storm clouds gathering over him and kept postponing the visit. In the end, he and Konstanze arrived in the middle of the summer of 1783 and stayed until October. On the way back, they stopped over in Linz, where the couple spent around three weeks with Count Johann Joseph von Thun-Hohenstein, a faithful friend of the Mozart family. In a short letter to his father on 31 October 1783, Mozart wrote: “I cannot describe how the family showered us with hospitability. On Tuesday, 4 November, I gave a concert at the theatre here, and because I did not have a symphony with me, I wrote a new one at lightning speed, that had to be ready for the occasion.”

In just four days – between 31 October and 4 November 1783 – Mozart composed that new symphony. It seems to have been scribbled down out of the blue in great haste. It is an original and large-scale work that can be considered a milestone in his symphonic work. A remarkable feature is the addition of a slow introduction prior to the first movement. Mozart wrote the symphony in the optimistic key of C Major, whose grandiosity is further reinforced by the addition of trumpets and timpani to the orchestration. Later, Beethoven would also use trumpets and percussion in his First Symphony, in combination with the same key.

La Clemenza di Tito, overture

In the final year of his life, Mozart composed at least three operas and a Requiem. When he received a commission in the summer of 1791 to write a serious but festive opera for the coronation of the Austrian emperor Leopold II, he was very busy. The score was ready just in time, the day before the première.

It was to be a princely opera, and so the story was imposed on Mozart: the old libretto by Metastasio, La Clemenza di Tito, was dusted off and reworked by Mazzolà. It depicts a merciful emperor who renounced love for the sake of the public good and even forgave his murderers. The première of La Clemenza da Tito was not a success, however, either among the members of the royal family or with the public. The emperor’s wife even referred to it as “German garbage”. Mozart’s wife, by contrast, considered it one of his best works, and continued to promote it after his death. Yet both the opera and the overture are rarely performed today.

Text by Aurélie Walschaert