Mozart Flute Quartets in D major, K.285 and in C major, K.285b

In the autumn of 1777, Mozart (1756-1791) and his mother set out from Salzburg in the hopes that the young composer might secure work in Europe’s musical capitals, such as Munich and Paris. On 30 October they reached Mannheim, which boasted one of the finest orchestras of the day and a thriving chamber music establishment under the patron Elector Karl Theodor. The Prince Elector made it clear that there were no appointments available to Mozart. Yet, they remained in Mannheim, as travel was expensive and difficult in the approaching winter months. Mozart scraped together a living by teaching and playing some, and thoroughly enjoyed an active life with the musicians he met. Through his close friendship with the flautist, J.B. Wendling, he met Ferdinand Dejean, a surgeon with the Dutch East India Company and an amateur flautist. Mozart wrote to his father, “An Indian [commissioned] three short simple concertos and a couple of quartets for the flute” for which he was to receive two hundred Gulden.

He completed the Quartet in D major on 25 December 1777, and then seemed to lose impetus. Instead of fulfilling his patron’s command, and gain some much needed money, Mozart’s interests were diverted by the presence of Aloysia Weber, the elder sister of his future wife, Constanze. Free of his father’s watchful eye and constant advice, he probably enjoyed his new surroundings with youthful flair and independence. He procrastinated in completing the commission, explaining in a subsequent letter to Leopold that he became “quite powerless” when he was “obliged to write for an instrument which [he] cannot bear.” In this instance Mozart’s rebellion seems all the more charming, as it belies the clear idiomatic understanding he had for the flute, the instrument that was to be the central character in his penultimate opera. The slow movement of the Quartet in D major, K.285 alone is a feat of melancholic beauty in the key of B minor, a rarity for Mozart. The pathos of the flute is underlined by the pizzicato of the strings, and marks a departure point from the gallant style with which wind music of this period was often associated. Two smaller quartets, in G major and C major dating from around 14 February 1788, are smaller in scope and a return of sorts to the Johann Christian Bach model of writing. Needless to say, he never received full payment from his Dutch sponsor.

Galuppi Concerto a Quattro, No.1 in g minor

In the development of opera buffa, Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785) was a crucial figure, a sort of steppingstone to the works of the same genre by Mozart. Born in Burano, near Venice, Galuppi studied as an adolescent with Antonio Lotti. The intrepid travelling musicologist of the 18th century, Charles Burney, hailed this “agile little cricket” in 1770 as one of the most gifted composers of the day. Mozart and his father heard his works earlier when they visited England in 1765, and were likewise impressed.

In 1741-43, Galuppi was based at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, and remained one of London’s most popular composers. (Robert Browning even penned a poem entitled A Toccata of Galuppi in 1855.) In 1765 he was hired as Kapellmeister as far a-field as Catherine the Great’s court in St Petersburg. Here his Italian roots in musical style and counterpoint made lasting influences on the Russian musical landscape, especially in the Orthodox Church music. Some music historians believe his authority remained a force until Glinka arrived on the scene. A slight mystery surrounds the manuscript’s title page of the six concerti à Quattro, which are housed in Modena. Galuppi’s name is written over that of a bleached-out Corelli. Also, the word Concerti was crossed out with Quartetti, and further down someone wrote sul gusto di Corelli. The publisher may have been persuaded that Corelli’s famed instrumental works would appeal more quickly to subscribers, and in this dubious manner gain more money and notoriety. “Il Burano,” as Galuppi was known, achieved a popular, accessible approach to composing, bound in the early classical mode: phrases are symmetrical, short in length and the harmony remains diatonic. Moments of chromaticism embellish and accentuate the emotional effect, but pale in comparison to Mozart’s effortless mastery of musical tension and release.

Mozart Arrangements of Arias from Die Zauberflöte

In his final year, Mozart’s poor health and depleted finances were countered with an enthusiasm and vitality during the period in which he composed and performed his “German opera,” Die Zauberflöte. Commissioned by Schikaneder for his theatre Auf der Wieden, the role of Tamino was written for the Czech flautist and tenor Benedict Schack. The first performances of The Magic Flute took place on 30 September 1791. Mozart conducted from the clavier, Schikaneder played the role of Papageno and Josefa Hofer, née Weber (Constanze’s oldest sister), was the Queen of the Night.

The opera was an immediate success, and numerous arias became instant hits. Mozart wrote to his wife during the first week of Zauberflöte’s performances: “As usual, the duet Mann und Weib and Papageno’s glockenspiel in Act I had to be repeated.” He was also pleased with Salieri’s reaction in his own loge at the opera, where many a delightful “bravo!” and “bello!” were uttered regularly.

The most popular arias are included in the present arrangement for flute, violin and cello, published sometime in the 1820’s by George and Manby, Fleet Street in London. It is literally one of hundreds such transcriptions for small ensembles and four-hand piano, which were so prevalent in the nineteenth century. They were the only means by which the larger public, unable to attend the concerts, had the chance to hear or sample a given composer’s oeuvre.

J.C. Bach Quintet in D major, Op. 11 No.6

The youngest son of Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena Bach, Johann Christian (1732-1782) enjoyed great popularity with the public and fellow composers alike during his lifetime. The entire Mozart family regarded him very highly; Leopold especially believed J.C. Bach was a model composer, who wrote in a practical, accessible style. He urged his son to do the same: “Good composition, sound construction — these distinguish the master from the bungler – even in trifles.”

J.C. Bach converted to Catholicism in 1757, and was hired as organist of Milan’s cathedral in 1760. He surrounded himself in the Italian operatic tradition, and gained great credentials in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo a year later. Called to England in 1762 for a year’s sabbatical, he remained there for the rest of his life. Upon his death in 1782, Mozart remarked it was a sombre day in the world of music.

Also known as the “English” Bach, his six quintets for flute, oboe, violin, viola and bass were composed in London in 1776, a time when he was music director to the Queen. Dedicated to the Prince Elector Karl Theodor in Mannheim, the same aristocrat who had shown little interest in the young Mozart, they are a highlight of J.C. Bach’s chamber music output. Alternating between the colours of winds and strings, the melodies are endowed with a supple grace. The theme of the Allegro from this sixth quintet inspired Mozart for his Rondo in D major for piano, K.485.

Mozart Adagio and fugue in c minor, K.546

In mid-November 1787, Mozart was elected as Court Kammermusicus in Vienna at a salary of 800 Gulden. (Gluck, who had just passed away, received 2,000 Gulden for the same post.) Nonetheless, Mozart welcomed this appointment and the chance of gaining a credible reputation in the musical life there. The extra income, however, did little to allay his financial hardships, and it is at this juncture in his life that he turned to his friend and fellow Mason, Michael Puchberg, for monetary loans.

The Adagio and fugue in c minor, K.546 for strings was composed on 26 June 1788. The fugue is in fact an arrangement of a fugue for two pianos in the same key, K.426 from 1783. Mozart’s close examination of fugal subjects during this period was a result of his weekly Sunday visits to Baron von Swieten’s apartments, where the only music to be performed was that of J.S. Bach and Händel. He reported that when Constanze heard the fugues of these two masters: “She absolutely fell in love with them. Now she will listen to nothing but fugues.” His method of composition was similar to the arrangements he had made of Bach’s fugues for string trio for which he wrote his own preludes. Mozart confided to his sister in a letter: “The wearisome labour of writing these small notes” for the fugues took place while he was “thinking out the prelude.”

The sombre and majestic Adagio of K.546 harks back to the strong rhythmic style of French baroque ouvertures. Yet the pulsating quavers, which dominate the entire introduction, are also reminiscent of the chromatic opening Adagio from his String Quartet in C major, the Dissonance, K.465, written a few years earlier. The strength of the fugue is based on the theme’s descending diminished seventh, a notable characteristic of Bach’s theme for the Musikalisches Opfer, also in c minor. A young Beethoven was so taken with Mozart’s string version of the fugue that he studied and copied out the parts.

Salieri Concertino for Flute and Strings in G major

Spanning the era between J.S. Bach’s death to two years before Beethoven’s, Anton Salieri (1750-1825) witnessed the Mozart phenomenon first-hand. Similarly to Galuppi, Salieri studied with Lotti in his native Venice before immigrating to Vienna in 1766 to study under the tutelage of Florian Gassman. When his mentor passed away in 1774, Salieri  succeeded him as composer of Italian opera at the Imperial Court. Subsequently he was elected as Kapellmeister of the Viennese court in 1788, a post Mozart coveted but never won. Salieri easily befriended influential patrons and composers, something Leopold always wished his son could have done more effortlessly.

The so-called “rivalry” between Salieri and Mozart was the dramatic impetus for the popular film Amadeus. However, the facts we glean from letters and other primary sources paint a slightly different picture. An examination of these two highly different characters, and their approach to composition, seem to offer an explanation based on pure human nature. The older, well-established, traditional and trusted composer, Salieri, was much more acceptable in Viennese conservative musical circles and society than the vastly precocious boy wonder, Mozart, who admitted to composing an aria for his Zauberflöte when his wife was away because he “was bored.” Mozart desperately sought acceptance in Vienna; perhaps his father summed up this difficulty best: “…It is unfortunately the most capable people and those who possess outstanding genius who have the greatest obstacles to face.”

Salieri seems to have had very few obstacles to face in his musical life. He was a well-respected teacher, whose students included Beethoven, Schubert, Czerny, Hummel, Moscheles and Liszt. Despite his near fifty years of service of the Viennese court, his compositions remain firmly rooted in the Italian operatic tradition. The Concertino in G major dates from 1777 and sounds more like a cantabile serenade, with the flute’s concertante role weaving in and out of the string texture.

© Jennifer Morsches, 2006

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