performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, or below by the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim under Jirí Malát
(cover image by Arash Asghari)
We should consider it one of the great luxuries of living as humans that Mozart wrote as much as he did, and I have up to now only really addressed the most famous large-scale forms, and not even touched a single of his operas. So in this little stretch of posts and a few clumps of articles in the not-too-distant future, we’re going to do a bit of exceptionally delightful housekeeping.
The last time we saw Mozart was in his K. 413 piano concerto of 1782, which creates a problem for me. What is that?
There is a lot of catching up to do with Mozart’s output. We’re not even halfway through his piano concertos, or the sonatas, or his string quartets, and haven’t even started on the violin sonatas or concertos (of which there are only five), and there are these things called ‘divertimento,’ and ‘cassation’ (which sounds like a cringeworthy medical procedure), and so on. So what exactly is a cassation? Well, according to Merriam-Webster, it is:
an 18th century instrumental composition in several short movements that is similar in style to the serenade and often performed outdoors
That’s not nearly as formal or churchy as I expected it to be. Or medical. Additionally, Naxos tells us:
The word Cassation is generally applied to compositions otherwise known as serenades or divertimenti, works in a lighter style in a series of short movements. Mozart himself uses the word to describe the compositions K. 63 and K. 99, as well as the March, K. 62, supposedly part of the K. 100 Serenata.
The piece dates from is in eight movements, as follows, with a duration of around 24 minutes:
- Menuetto – Trio
- Menuetto – Trio
- Menuetto – Trio
The complement of strings called for in this work does not call for cellos, because this music was apparently not only to be played outdoors, but standing. Along those lines, the aforementioned march was apparently actually meant to be used to march into/onto the performance venue, and I hadn’t intended to address it, but… think of a march by a young Mozart with kettle drums to be dramatic, something regal and with a bit of dynamic contrast, and a tasteful minor-key section, and you have the basics. So now we don’t have to cover it separately.
As you can see, there’s something of a pattern in the work, with minuets separating alternating fast and slow movements, culminating in a final allegro. We’ll blaze through this really quickly because honestly… I think this music is meant to be listened to and enjoyed more than talked about.
The opening movement, after the prefatory remark of the march, which is more stately than exciting, is like an overture, sort of, in that it’s brilliant and energetic, much lighter and swifter than a march, obviously. It comes with its two themes, and is just… delightful. This is music for entertainment purposes, where rich people may or may not have been eating during the performance. I don’t know; I’m not a historian. Regardless, my point is that it’s more focused on pleasure than plumbing the depths of the human experience.
The second movement (I won’t count the march as an actual movement in the order of this work) is our first slow movement, and it’s here that we get a little something else to pay attention to. You may know that at this time, there wasn’t much in the way of winds in the ensemble. Oboes (usually doubled flute) and horns or clarinets, bassoons, whoever, would often double something in the strings and that was that. Here in the second movement, we get oboe and horn solos, and they feature prominently enough that if you were to take segments out of the piece, they may sound like a concerto featuring this soloist. It’s more intimate, but also sounds pastoral, as if it were written to be played out in the open air.
The third movement is the first of three minuets, and it’s kind of interesting how different things are interwoven into this piece. The soloists from the previous movement return for the trio of this movement, while the minuet is left for strings only. The minuet here is in D, with the trio in G, and these two keys appear throughout the work.
The subsequent allegro is not as exciting as the first or last, and anyone who’s written a five-paragraph essay knows that you always put your weakest of three main points in the middle. I don’t mean to say it’s weak, but he saves his biggest bangs for the beginning and end, as he should. Our two wind soloists appear again. Remember that the winds carry better outdoors, where I still assume this was played.
The fifth movement is our second of three minuets, and the roles are reversed. The winds play here, but in the minuet, not the trio (which gets the strings-only treatment this time), and they don’t act as soloists but are blended in with the strings for a fuller ensemble. Following that is an andante in which I yet again hear potential precursors to his later Voi che sapete. Do you? It’s sweet, featuring flute, and sounds like an afternoon nap.
We have our third and final minuet, the most exciting of them all, and it’s dramatic and buoyant, with a shadowy trio, and plenty of contrast, but this all leads up to the final allegro, the grandest (but certainly not longest) movement, which closes this little set of entertainment pieces. This is the kind of thing we’re going to be seeing from Mozart for a little while, so stay tuned for some lighter stuff, and thanks so much for reading.