Notes on the Program
Tonight we are performing works by four of the greatest and most famous composers of all time; and each lived and worked in Austria at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, a period when Austria was the undisputed center of the musical universe.
Our program begins in Salzburg, one of the most charming, picturesque cities in the world. The main part of the town is small enough that you could walk from one end to the other in about fifteen minutes, and it seems as if you are constantly passing one beautiful rococo church after another. These are all the churches Mozart knew so well in his childhood and early adulthood. There is a famous cemetery where his sister was buried, and right next to it is the St. Peter’s Church where his Grand Mass in C Minor was first performed. This is my favorite church in Salzburg, the interior is just a riot of rococo decoration, and yet it is a perfectly balanced and harmonious ensemble. This church, like almost all the others in Salzburg (and in Vienna for that matter, too), is small. It is about as long as Ascension, maybe a bit longer, but it is extremely narrow. The only really large church in town is the cathedral, which is immense and light-filled. If you have seen the picture in our brochure or postcard for this concert, the church facade shown is that of Salzburg Cathedral. It was for the services here that Mozart probably composed all of his pieces on the first half of tonight’s program (as well as the famous Coronation Mass.)
The Regina Coeli, KV 276 is one of three settings he composed for the cathedral and certainly the most popular. Although just about seven minutes long, it is of a large scale, appropriate for a grand festival liturgy. It is scored for a quartet of vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra (including trumpets and timpani.) Mozart alternates between joyous declamatory choral sections and more lyrical solo sections. And even though the motivic material doesn’t really change for the entire seven minutes, Mozart maintains our happy interest throughout the course of the piece.
Mozart’s well-known Vesperae solennes de Confessore, KV 339 includes two movements heard tonight. The first is certainly the most famous: the seraphic Laudate Dominum. What an extraordinarily beautiful melody he has composed for the soprano soloist! It is one of the moments where time seems to stop. The theme is later given to the choir, with the soprano joining at the end. I am truly delighted to perform this piece with an amazingly gifted young Korean soprano currently studying at The Juilliard School, Pureum Jo. Her meltingly limpid tones seem custom-made for this famous piece!
The Beatus vir also comes from the Vespers, and is quite similar in spirit to the Regina Coeli. But here there no oboes, no trumpets or timpani - just strings. Again, he alternates between choral sections and those for the soloists of the quartet. It is a vigorous work, but bestowed with an amazing lightness of melody.
During the Masses at Salzburg Cathedral, sometimes an instrumental piece was played between the Epistle and the Gospel. They were called Epistle Sonatas, or as Mozart called them, Church Sonatas. They included a small orchestral ensemble and organ. Usually the organ part was in the background. But in the Sonata in C the organ comes center stage. This is in effect a five-minute organ concerto. Since we have the wonderful organist Nancianne Parrella with us for this concert (as well as the terrific Baroque stops of The Manton Memorial Organ), it seemed a perfect occasion to include this charming work! [Observant members of the audience may notice that in this work - and all the other Mozart "Salzburg" orchestra pieces - there are no violas. It would be fun to make up some story about Mozart having a personal vendetta against some viola player, and thus eliminating any music for the instrument. But in truth it was simply a tradition in 18th century Salzburg churches.]
The smallest-scaled works in our program are two Deutsche Kirchenlieder, or German Church Songs. They are scored simply for voice and "continuo" (a keyboard instrument and a bass instrument.) Bass Kevin Deas will sing the first, and mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle the second. And I have chosen organ and cello for the accompaniment. These are lovely, sweet devotional songs, which remind me quite a bit of the collection of similar sacred songs which Bach composed in his Schemelli Gesangbuch. Perhaps Mozart was aware of those, or perhaps he was simply composing in an old traditional style. Whatever the story, it is nice to hear these pieces - they are hardly ever done - and they provide a lovely contrast to the other works in our program.
Vienna is only a couple hours away by train from Salzburg, but completely different in its atmosphere. Whereas Salzburg is a charming town, Vienna is the "big city" - the capitol, and its feel, its energy is that of a major city. When I visited there a few years ago, it seemed to me like the Paris of the German-speaking countries. It is absolutely gorgeous and filled head-to-toe with one extraordinarily palace or church after another. And, yes, you do feel the incredible sense of music history throughout this amazing city.
Both Beethoven and Schubert spent the bulk of their careers in Vienna, as did many of the greatest composers of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
Between 1804 and 1815 Beethoven lived from time to time in a house owned by Baron Johann von Pasqualati, one of his closest friends. When Pasqualati’s wife died at the tender age of 24 years, Beethoven composed his Elegischer Gesang (Elegy Song) as a memorial "to the transfigured spouse of my esteemed friend Pasqualati." The short text can be paraphrased as: "Gently as you lived, so have you died: too holy for pain! Let no eye weep for the homecoming of this heavenly spirit." The deeply moving work is in three sections, the two hymn-like outer sections enclosing a fugal section in a minor key ("let no eye weep"). Notice how this gives way to an inspired ray of hope and brightness on the word "heavenly." Truly the great moment of the piece!
Our only unaccompanied, a cappella piece of the program is the Salve Regina of Schubert. This also is hardly ever performed. But I find it possesses a special tenderness and poetry. And, of course, Schubert had no trouble writing a beautiful melody, as the principal theme here clearly shows!
South of Vienna is the town of Eisenstadt, home of the Esterhazy Palace. It was here that Haydn retired at the end of his long career. Nikolaus II, Prince Esterhazy had invited him to live out the remainder of his life here, with only one condition: that he compose one Mass each year to commemorate the name day of the Prince’s wife, Maria Theresia. Haydn ended up composing six Masses here, and they represent the absolute summit of the Austrian Classical Mass. Included in the group is the Lord Nelson Mass, and the Harmoniemesse, Haydn’s last.
The Missa in tempori belli (Mass in Time of War) was composed in 1796. It also known as the "Paukenmesse" or "Kettledrum Mass" because of the famous timpani part in the final movement. The source of the title is no mystery: as Haydn was writing this work, Austria was engaged in a disastrous war with Napoleon. So we have a conflict of musical material throughout the course of this great work: moments of brilliance and joy, and other parts that reflect aspects of war.
Haydn begins this conflict immediately at the beginning of the Kyrie. The opening ten measures provide an extraordinarily profound introduction to the Kyrie and to the Mass as a whole. The first five measures contain nothing but major harmonies and even a theme containing only the notes of a C-Major chord. And yet the feeling here is anything but a simple, happy C-Major introduction. Instead, it is a profound, multi-layer expression of sadness, regret, and wisdom of those who have gone through war. Never has a composer gotten such a nuanced atmosphere out of a simple C-Major triad. The next five measures portray the uncertainties of war more obviously as the harmonies become more solemn. But, after a long fermata, this sadness is broken completely with the glittering joy of the main portion of the Kyrie.
The Gloria continues this joy, particularly in the two outer sections. Notice the marvelous clarinet scale right near the beginning of the Gloria. This clarinet music (as well as other clarinet parts) was missing for centuries. It wasn’t until after World War II that the parts were discovered by accident and identified as authentic. The middle section of the Gloria is one of peace and deep feelings. It is scored for cello and bass vocal solos, with the chorus commenting, often in the background. At the return of the solo melody, a flute joins the cello, two octaves above. It is the only time the flute plays in the entire work. The contagious joy returns with the third section ("Quoniam"). The "Amen" is one of Haydn’s longest, with melodies passed back and forth between all the vocal and instrumental parts, resembling a party of angels.
The Credo is also in three parts. The first part has rather solid, dogmatic choral music written in a quasi-fugal style, while the violins enliven things with an almost perpetual motion accompaniment. It is brief and direct. The middle section is serious, but not, I think, because of a reference to war. Instead it is simply a depiction of the text: the profound mystery of the Incarnation, where Christ comes down from heaven and becomes a human being; the Crucifixion, death, and burial. The third section comes alive again with "Et resurrexit"(He was resurrected); and we are treated to some of the happiest music Haydn ever composed in his wonderful fugue on "Et vitam venturi"(And I believe in everlasting life!)
The Sanctus begins with peace, beauty and the majesty of God. At the "Pleni sunt coeli" we have a brief hint of the coming war-like movements, but it immediately transitions to a joyous "Osanna in excelsis". Haydn’s Benedictus is quite amazing. Scored for solo quartet and orchestra, it lays out a very nuanced contrast of a sinister foreboding and an elegant optimism. Nothing is resolved in this movement. We are simply asked to go through its subtle journey of feelings.
When the famous Agnus Dei begins, there is no doubt of his intention here. This is the sadness of war and the pleading to God for mercy. In measure 10, the timpani comes in like a military drum far in the distance. The intensity here is teaming, contained and ready to explode. And explode it does at the words "Dona nobis pacem" (Give us peace). All the winds, trumpets and timpani leap forward like a military band, and the chorus almost shouts "Give us peace," as if they are demanding it! It is one of the most inspiring moments in all of Haydn’s music.
— Dennis Keene