|Masterworks III: “Compassion”|
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart|
Overture to La clemenza di Tito, K. 621
Mozart composed La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) just three months before his death, on order of the Austrian court, for the celebration in Prague of Emperor Leopold II’s coronation on September 6, 1791 as King of Bohemia. Despite his many years in Vienna, Mozart had never been popular at the Imperial Court. In fact, he was compelled to write the opera on very short notice after Antonio Salieri turned it down. Mozart had contributed the most significant innovations to opera since its inception, but now he was required to compose La clemenza di Tito in the outdated form of the early eighteenth-century opera seria, which consisted of static arias and recitatives with little or no stage action. To get the commission in on time, he had to interrupt his work on his final opera, The Magic Flute; and while its formal structure is passé, the music of La clemenza di Tito frequently reminds us of this masterpiece.
Although the opera was quite successful at its premiere and for a few years afterwards, it quickly faded into obscurity in part because of its old-fashioned form and the complex plot of love, betrayal and forgiveness. Contemporary revivals fall into the category of “historical productions.”
Mozart penned the overture in classic sonata-allegro form the day before the premiere. It opens with a brassy fanfare leading into the principal subject, followed by the conventionally delicate second subject.
|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart|
Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425, “Linz”
In March of 1781, Mozart left forever his native Salzburg where he had squirmed under the watchful eye of his father Leopold and the strict demands of his employer, the Prince Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. Eager to try his hand at an appointment at the Imperial Court in Vienna, he was also making his first stab at independence. In May he took up residence with a widow Maria Cäcilia Weber, mother of three eligible daughters, flirted with them all, moved out again to avoid gossip, and gradually set the stage in a spate of letters to his father for his marriage to Constanze Weber – although he had originally set his cap for her older sister Aloysia, a talented soprano.
Leopold was not amused. While raising the understandable parental objection to the marriage based on his son’s lack of regular gainful employment, it is clear that Leopold had a hidden agenda as well. Marriage and a family would permanently remove his son from his influence and a source of income. Angry letters, the silent treatment, a fat commission for the “Haffner” Symphony and other forms of manipulation were to no avail. Wolfgang and Constanze were married on August 4, 1782, and for a while father and son maintained a chilly professional civility from a distance.
In July 1783 Wolfgang finally made a return visit to Salzburg to introduce Constanze to his family, leaving their brand-new baby son in Vienna. But the trip was too little too late, and, to add insult to injury, Mozart had christened the child Raimund Leopold with a lame excuse for not having named Leopold the godfather. Although the young couple attempted to make peace, Mozart’s father and sister behaved ungraciously, especially to Constanze, precipitating a major family rift. Tragically – as if Leopold had played the evil fairy Carabosse at the Princess Aurora’s christening – little Raimund died while his parents were away.
At the end of October the Mozarts set out to return to Vienna via Linz, Austria’s third-largest city, where they arrived on the 30th. What followed is best described in Mozart’s own words in a letter to his father: “When we arrived at the gates, we found a servant waiting there to drive us to old Count Thun’s [an old family friend], at whose house we are now staying. I really cannot tell you what kindness the family is showering on us. On Tuesday, the 4th of November I am giving a concert in the theater here, and since I do not have a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at break-neck speed…” Even a Mozart would have been hard pressed to write a 25-minute symphony, have the parts copied and musicians rehearsed in four days. He must have had the symphony in his head, or perhaps even some sketches on paper. In spite of the phenomenal speed of composition, no trace of hasty writing can be found in the work.
Symphony No. 36 is something of an orphan; there was simply not that much call for the genre in Vienna. A year and a half had passed since the “Haffner,” K. 385 and another three years would pass until Mozart composed No. 38, K. 504 for Prague in 1786. During the intervening years, Mozart concentrated on chamber music, composed primarily for publication rather than performance, and the piano concerto, a genre he virtually invented.
For the first time in his symphonies, Mozart opens the “Linz” with a slow introduction. The absence of introductions in his symphonies is one of the factors that differentiates them from those of Franz Josef Haydn, who nearly always made use of this device. In No. 36, Mozart follows his older contemporary’s lead in creating considerable suspense before the “surprise” of a festive first theme in the Allegro. On only one subsequent occasion did he employ a slow introduction: Symphony No. 39, composed eight years later. The Allegro is a pretty standard sonata form, its first theme followed by a long transition into a second theme that starts surprisingly in the minor, turning major at the last moment. Another peculiarity of the first movement is the development section. After rolling out a smorgasbord of melodies, Mozart decides to concentrate on a modest little progression of interlocking thirds that leads back to a repeat of the exposition and later to the development.
The second movement, marked Poco adagio, is a traditional ternary (ABA) form. Mozart’s slow movements usually consist of a long A section with one multifaceted melody. Here the middle section relates thematically to the beginning although on other occasions the composer will come up with completely new musical material. The repeat of the first section is subtly varied and embellished.
Other features of this Symphony where Mozart draws on the influence of Haydn is in the Minuet and Trio. Normally, Mozart’s minuets are usually flowing and elegant while here he follows Haydn’s tendency to draw them with heavier strokes, recalling the peasant Ländler. The more lyrical Trio, however, illustrates the distinction in the styles of the two composers.
The final movement is another sonata allegro. Once again, Symphony No. 39 comes to mind because in both works Mozart uses the same theme to open the movement and close it. &
The use of the timpani in all the movements creates a more celebratory air; in the parlance of today’s parents, Mozart definitely uses his “outside voice.”
|Nigel Westlake |
In collaboration with singer-songwriter Lior Attar
Composed in 2013, Compassion is a seven-movement symphony of songs to old Hebrew and Arabic texts on the theme of wisdom and compassion. It was commissioned by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and its Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Vladimir Ashkenazy.
The tragic genesis of Compassion was the murder of Westlake’s 21-year-old son, Eli, by an enraged woman with whom the victim had had a minor argument. In their grief, the Westlake family established a foundation in his memory. At the inauguration of a fundraising concert, featuring the Israeli-born singer/songwriter Lior, the idea was born for a commemorative song cycle.
Anger is a principal driver of violence on both the micro and macro level. Anger precludes the possibility of a rational resolution of conflict, whether it be between individuals or ethnic groups. The seven songs in this cycle alternate between Hebrew and Arabic, symbolizing the idea that a seemingly unresolvable ethnic hatred can be resolved through mutual compassion. Transforming an act of senseless violence into a universal message through music offers an even greater gift than fundraising. The fact that it is difficult to find the personal history that inspired this work confirms its larger purpose.
Westlake generally establishes a dialogue between singer and orchestra and suggests the musical style of both traditional Hebrew and Arabic music. Like Schubert, he precedes each of the songs with an instrumental introduction that sets the mood before the singer enters. This material serves also as a ritornello, as in a Baroque concerto. The orchestration for each movement is unique.
The seven movements are:
1.Sim Shalom (“Grant Peace”): This text comes at the end of the Kaddish, the prayer in remembrance of the dead. Westlake writes in the traditional Hebrew folk idiom. Nigel Westlake is a versatile composer and clarinetist, best known for his award-winning film music. Born in Perth, Western Australia, he studied at the Sydney Conservatory, then switched to the Australian Film and Television School, becoming a freelance composer and performer.
2. Eize Hu Chacham? (“Who is Wise?”): The text for this song derives from three different sources, compilations of rabbinical wisdom: Pirkei avot (Ethics of the Fathers) and Avot d’Rabbi Natan, a minor tracts of the Talmudic literature. The rhythmic ostinato of this song reflects elements common to both Arabic and North African Jewish traditions.
3. La Yu’minu (“Until You Love Your Brother”): This song blends two verses from the Hadith, the reported sayings and actions of the prophet Mohammed. The singer is accompanied by solo harp, perhaps meant to imitate the sound of the oud, the Middle Eastern ancestor of the European lute.
4. Inna Rifqa (“The Beauty Within”): Another Hadith. The sound is mysterious, the singer’s slow drawn-out text over an ostinato of tremolo strings.
5. Al Takshu L’vavchem (“Don’t Harden Your Hearts”): This song consists of verses from Psalm 95 and Psalm 90, in addition to a chapter from Leviticus. The vocal line mirrors the percussive introduction.
6. Ma Wadani Ahadun (“Until the End of Time”): A poem written by a cousin of the prophet Muhammad. This introduction is the most romantic of the piece, featuring solo clarinet and a long vocalise. The tempo and rhythm become more traditionally Arabic.
7. Avinu Malkeinu (“Our Father our King”): Traditionally sung during the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar, a time of repentance and forgiveness. The music is traditional.
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2019|