performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, or as below by The Smithsonian Chamber Players under Jaap Schröder
(cover image by Alex Block)
So we’ve talked about a lot of Mozart lately, right?
I’ll be honest: I couldn’t listen to a movement of one of the serenades or divertimenti we’ve discussed recently and say which piece it comes from, with a very few exceptions. It’s just a lot of music, and if I were going to commit to learning that kind of musical party trick, I’d certainly rather do it with the (late) symphonies or concertos rather than this ‘entertainment’ music.
With this spate of Mozart posts, he has soundly surpassed Beethoven for the most featured composer on the website, but part of the reason for that is… well, he really just wrote a whole lot of music. Is it all inspired masterpieces? Certainly not. In fact, today’s piece, dating from 1775, is very similar to another one we discussed recently, which came the year before, the fourth serenade.
In case either of my readers don’t remember, that’s the one where the young composer basically sort of hybridized a subordinate clause of a violin concerto and diminutive symphony and wrapped it all up in the same piece of music. That one was in eight movements, with the second of three minuets being the only one that didn’t make the cut into one of those fun little subsets of sub-pieces.
Well, friends, Mozart did it again. This piece was also composed for ceremonies at the University of Salzburg, and is scored for the same ensemble of “two oboes (doubling flutes), bassoon, two horns, two trumpets and strings.” Instead of eight movements, though, with three minuets, we have seven movements and only two minuets, as follows:
- Allegro assai
- Andante moderato
- Menuetto & Trio
- Menuetto & Trio
- Andantino Grazioso
The work has a duration approaching 40 minutes, which is quite something, I think. These pieces for ceremonies are, understandably, much longer than some of the really short little dainty pieces just for background music or ‘fun,’ if that had been invented.
If you think there’s already a ton written about Mozart’s music, try doing research on some of these earlier ‘entertainment’ forms and you’ll find that there’s a surprising paucity of information. Well, it’s only surprising if you assume everything Mozart touched was gold and that everything was a masterpiece. This view tends more toward his later works, but we can do our best to get through this one too.
Honestly, I find it very charming. The opening movement has its two clear subjects that complement each other nicely, and it may sound a bit too adulatory to call it ‘chiaroscuro,’ but there is this beautiful vibrance of color and phrasing, even if it’s more the scale of a postcard-sized canvas. The first movement is the longest of the seven, unsurprisingly. Listen for the start of the development, after getting the introductory material (the exposition) twice. It’s pretty clear in these early works that something has changed, usually by stepping over into a minor key or something, and it doesn’t last long, so it’s easy to pick out.
I’d be interested to know what kind of structure these ceremonies had, because be it a serenade, a symphony, or an essay, you want to begin and end strong, and these works do that. The first movement is very charming, but I do wonder about the progression of the central movements, if they follow some kind of intentional programmatic form. Also be aware that even though this first movement is the longest, at more than eight minutes in Marriner’s recording, there’s a lot of repeating going on, as we’ve come to see, where the development and recapitulation are repeated verbatim just like the exposition. Worth noting.
Remember that dependent violin concerto that didn’t really have its own first movement? We get that here, too. It sounds perfectly like the slow movement of a concerto. It’s in 3/4 and the dominant key, A major. It’s the second longest movement of the piece, and you almost forget you’re not in a violin concerto. There is some beautiful writing for those flautists who are playing oboe elsewhere. It underlines the delicacy and tenderness of this much more intimate movement.
Next is an allegro, what feels like it would have been the first movement of the concerto in any other setting. We get an orchestral introduction that seems textbook for a concerto: the ensemble introduces the material, then the soloist picks it up. This movement is shorter yet, and doesn’t go terribly far in its five minutes, but it’s still charming. It would make for an adorable little concerto, and I think it also carries quite a bit more charm when you consider that the composer likely played the solo part himself.
How are we rounding out our mini-concerto? With a mini-minuet. It’s actually not all that min, all things considered. Some of these minuet movements have been no more than a minute or so, but this one, while still the shortest of the entire piece, comes in at three minutes. If you’ve got that general feel for Mozart, or concertos of the time, musical structure, whatever, then having never heard this piece before in your life, I feel quite sure you could still pinpoint, give a small cue to the imaginary soloist right when the he or she enters (in this case, he: Kenneth Sillito). This is a quieter, more reserved movement for a finale, and is in the typical minuet-and-trio form rather than a minuet-like rondo that serves both purposes, but it’s got some bounce to it.
The next three movements are the second, third and fourth of the ‘serenade symphony’ that Mozart drew from this work, obviously beginning with the first movement. This slow movement is memorable for the writing for woodwinds, and the minuet is a little bolder, with a call-and-answer opening that’s stately but playful. There’s more flute in this trio, and it’s still beautiful.
The andantino finale feels like it’s a bit of a tease, just on the cusp of wanting to be prestissimo, a runaway gallop to finish the piece, but I suppose there were people marching offstage or doing processionary things, so we don’t get the unbridled excitement and tricks that we may have had this just been a symphony, but that’s fine. The flautist who was busy doing fluty things earlier now has a solo on the oboe. Besides being a little more reserved than I’d like for it to be, this could just as easily be the finale to a symphony. One thing to notice is that Wikipedia tells us that the andantino portion is in 2/4, while the allegro is in 3/8, so you can listen for the change in meter.
And that’s about it. How did this get so long? Stay tuned for more Mozart and thanks so much for reading.