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Mozart's works continue to speak in a profound way

January 22, 2004|by Elizabeth Schulze

This weekend's pair of MasterWorks Series concerts will present a generous sampling of the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The three works on the program represent the composer at distinct creative and personal periods in his life: from the years of musical "serfdom" in Salzburg, to the heights of popularity in Vienna, and finally, to the last years of disappointment and hardship.

Opening our program is Mozart's Symphony in D Major, which consists of three symphonic movements the composer extracted from his seven-movement Serenade in D Major, also known as the "Posthorn Serenade." While the serenade was written for the end-of-term celebrations of students at the University of Salzburg, the extracted symphony was meant for a more formal setting and presentation. The first movement bursts with youthful energy, suitable to student revels. The second movement has a poignant expressiveness that, some scholars believe, reveals "an echo" of the recent loss of his mother. The brilliant finale is impressive and rich with invention and colorful orchestration.

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For the second work on the program, Noel Lester joins us as the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor. Lester is a distinguished member of Hood College's music faculty and a favorite of audiences in our area. A graduate of Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory of Music, Lester has performed in concerts and recitals to great acclaim throughout the world. We are honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with him this weekend.

When Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto in C Minor, he was at the height of his powers and popularity with the audiences of Vienna. During the same time he was composing this imposing work, he was putting the finishing touches on his opera "The Marriage of Figaro." It is this concerto that profoundly impressed Ludwig van Beethoven, prompting the young composer to despair to a friend of ever getting "any idea like this." Beethoven was not alone in his assessment of this unusually dark and powerful work.

Given the sublime elegance and cheerfulness in so much of Mozart's other work, it is not surprising that the manuscript of this concerto is filled with erasures and multiple revisions. The minor key of this work has prompted many a scholar and critic to remark upon its demonic, tragic and mysterious nature - at once passionate and reserved.

Too often, listeners, scholars and musicians alike are moved to explain away the mysteries and sublimities of music by referring to the composer's personal life, with all its particular joys and tragedies. In the case of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, the final work on our program, this sort of speculative interpretation sometimes has overshadowed the purely musical qualities of this true masterwork. Amazingly, this exceedingly popular symphony would have perplexed the audiences of the day. Indeed, much of its complexity and deep emotional expression would have been downright distasteful to Mozart's contemporaries. What we enjoy today as unique, original and overpowering most likely would have been met with the words of Emperor Joseph II in the movie "Amadeus": "too many notes."

As in every era, new music meets with incomprehension and resistance. We must therefore be grateful to those insightful and persistent musicians who, through the years, have kept the music of the masters before the public, so that today, Mozart's exquisite notes can speak to us profoundly.

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