performed by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Joseph Keilberth, or below by the Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach Orchestra under Hartmut Haenchen
(cover image by Brooke Lark)
Among the juvenilia we are discussing this week, there are some significant firsts, if you use that term a little bit loosely. This is the first of Mozart’s divertimenti, yes, but this piece is also, as James Reel tells us, the first time that Mozart uses clarinets. It may not seem like a terribly exciting thing, but they weren’t standard in any ensemble during this period. What period is this?
The piece dates from 1771, and actually has two versions. There’s one with clarinets, horns, and strings, and another for oboes, English horns and bassoons, as you do. The magnificently named Dwight Blazin tells us that this version is “not self-sufficient and must therefore be an emendation to the full score.” Incidentally, I was exactly today years old when I saw the word ’emendation’ for the first time and learned what it meant. See, it is useful to write about these pieces.
The extremely small work is in four movements and has a playing time of 11-13 minutes, depending on interpretation and stuff. It is in four movements, as follows:
What’s amazing to me is how the young composer (really young), is able to pack all of these standard forms into such a small package. In the Keilberth recording, this first and longest movement lasts not even two and a half minutes, and yet the young Wolfie is able to cram the two subjects of a traditional sonata form and all the fixings (without a coda or anything, I guess) into this movement. Reel says it’s “something of a jumble of solo instruments” and says that it’s “a perky, slightly caffeine-jittery piece in a compact sonata-allegro format.” I feel Keilberth’s take could be a bit brisker, but it’s refreshing and clean and has the spirit of a symphony; the second subject is also very easily recognizable.
Each of the central movements is right at two minutes in length. The andante shows that Mozart is making good use of the luxury of having a clarinet, but overall, this movement is even more bare-bones than the first. Is it a variation on the same theme, or a new theme? Who knows? It’s an obligatory slow movement, and matters of pedantry aside, it’s got its charms, but probably wouldn’t if it went on for much longer.
The third movement, obviously, is the minuet, and it’s quite bold, at least in Keilberth’s reading. It’s got daintier statements, chirps from clarinet backed by horn. The minor-key trio, all 30 seconds of it or whatever, is over just in time to squeeze in the return of the minuet in exactly two minutes. Elaborate? Epic? Inventive? Certainly not. Charming? Sure.
The finale, the shortest movement of the four, is, as it should be, a rondo, albeit a minuscule one. It begins with a three-note chirp answered by excited strings, and the rondo is off. Listen for each section as they blow past us in under two minutes.
This is really like the outline, the basic layout of a fuller, larger symphony, but at this point, it seems he (or Leopold) thought this was enough. I don’t mean at all to denigrate or belittle the work, as the young boy is doing better than I ever will, but this is sort of the musical version of the small, very simple cup that a child makes for their parent. The young composer has the proportions right, has the right idea, but he’ll go on to do much bigger, better things. For now, here’s something pretty we can look back on and see what he might have been thinking at the time.
That’s all for today, folks, but fret not. There is much more Mozart to come all week, so please stay tuned for that and thanks so much for reading.