Mozart Connections program notes

Mozart Connections program notes 2014-06-27T15:04:59+00:00
MOZART Quartet in D Major for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello, K. 285
Duo No. 1 in G for Violin and Viola, K. 423
SEBASTIAN CURRIER Parallel Worlds for Flute, Two Violins, Viola and Cello
VILLA-LOBOS Chorôs No. 2 for Flute and Clarinet
JOAN TOWER A Little Gift for Flute and Clarinet
MOZART Quintet in A Major for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola and Cello , K. 581

Notes on the program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Quartet in D Major for Flute, Violin, Viola, and Cello, K. 285


Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg

Died December 5, 1791, Vienna

Composed in 1777.

During his stay in Mannheim at the end of 1777, Mozart met “a gentleman of means and a lover of all the sciences,” one Willem Britten de Jong, who numbered among his accomplishments a certain ability on the flute. De Jong had heard of the 21-year-old musician’s extraordinary talent for composition from a mutual friend, Johann Baptist Wendling, the flutist with the Mannheim orchestra, and he commissioned Mozart to write three concertos and at least three quartets with strings for his instrument. Since he was, as always, short of money, Mozart accepted the proposal to help finance the swing he was then making through Germany and France in search of a permanent position. The next leg of the journey was to lead from Mannheim to Paris, and these flute pieces would help to pay the bills.

Though Mozart professed a distaste of writing for solo flute, he managed to finish three of the quartets (K. 285, 285a, and 285b) and two of the concertos (the second one is actually just a transposition of the Oboe Concerto from the preceding year) by the time he left Mannheim. He settled with De Jong for just less than half of the original fee, and let it go at that. Despite his disparagement of the instrument, Mozart’s compositions for flute occupy one of the most delightful niches of his incomparable musical legacy — noted German musicologist Rudolf Gerber characterized them as combining “the perfect image of the spirit and feeling of the rococo age with German sentiment.”

The D major Quartet (K. 285) opens with a crystalline sonata-form movement which the flute initiates with the presentation of the dashing principal melody. By the time the music has arrived at the second theme, a rising scalar configuration in triplet rhythms, it is clear that Mozart has endowed the flute with concerto-like prominence in this movement — only in the central development section does it relinquish its leadership in favor of some more democratic motivic discussion with its companions. The Adagio, in the expressive key of B minor, is a nocturnal cantilena for the flute couched upon a delicate cushion of plucked string sonorities. In his biography of the composer, Alfred Einstein wrote that this movement, suffused with “the sweetest melancholy, [is] perhaps the most beautiful accompanied flute solo that has even been written.”

Duo No. 1 in G Major for Violin and Viola, K. 423


Composed in 1783.

During a visit to his hometown of Salzburg in 1782, Mozart planned to renew acquaintance with old friends, including Michael Haydn, director of the orchestra and composer in the archiepiscopal household, and the younger brother of Joseph Haydn of Esterháza. Upon his arrival in Salzburg, Mozart was distressed to find that Haydn had fallen ill, especially since the Archbishop had ordered a set of six duos for violin and viola from him and was threatening to dock Haydn’s salary if the deadline for their delivery was not met. Haydn had been able to finish only four of the pieces, so Mozart completed the assignment for him by composing the remaining pair (K. 423 and K. 424). All six duos were written out in fair copy, inscribed with the name of Michael Haydn, and sent to the Archbishop with a flowery dedication. This nice story (first recorded by two of Haydn’s students and repeated in the biography of Mozart by Georg Nissen, Constanze Mozart’s second husband) has, however, been called into question by some scholars, including Alfred Einstein, since it does not explain why Mozart twice asked his father to return the duos to him in December if he intended to pass them off as the work of another composer. Perhaps, after all, he wrote them simply because he was intrigued by the novelty of Haydn’s duos, and wanted to try his own hand at the genre. They were announced for publication under their true author’s name in 1788, but did not appear in print until 1792, a year after Mozart’s death.

The opening movement of the G major Duo is one of the composer’s characteristically crystalline sonata forms. The sparkling main theme is a scalar configuration entrusted largely to the violin, while the complementary melody, initiated by the violin over a flowing accompaniment from the viola, is more lyrical and ingratiating. The development section is begun by a series of double-stopped chords, a remarkable acoustical sleight-of-hand that seems to draw some unseen phantom player briefly into the musical argument. The recapitulation balances, to the tiniest musical atom, the form of the movement. The Adagio is a song of the most pleasing and gracious emotions, virtually a wordless operatic love duet, that is embroidered with precisely the correct quotient of melodic embellishment. The closing movement is a felicitous rondo enfolding two contrasting episodes.

Parallel Worlds for Flute, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello



Born March 16, 1959, Huntingdon, PA

Composed in 2013; co-commissioned by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Premièred on March 20, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona by flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, violinists Arnaud Sussmann and Ani Kavafian, violist Yura Lee, and cellist Mihai Marica.

Sebastian Currier’s music has been performed at major venues worldwide by acclaimed artists and orchestras. Spanning both chamber and orchestral genres, Currier’s works have been performed by ensembles including the New World Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and the Cassatt, Ying, and Kronos string quartets. Currier’s Deep-Sky Objects, 15 Minutes, Quanta, Flow, Links, and Ringtone Variations all received world premières during the 2012–13 season. Highlights of the 2013–14 season include the premières of Cadence, Fugue, Fade by the American Brass Quintet and Artificial Memory by the Dresher Ensemble. His violin concerto Time Machines, commissioned by Anne-Sophie Mutter, was premièred by the New York Philharmonic in June 2011, and a recording of the performance was released by Deutsche Grammophon the following September.

Currier has received many awards including the Grawemeyer Award (for the chamber piece Static), Berlin Prize, Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has held residencies at the MacDowell and Yaddo colonies. He received a DMA from The Juilliard School; and from 1999–2007 he taught at Columbia University. He is artist-in-residence at the Institute for Advanced Study and is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Currier writes: “The idea for Parallel Worlds started with the instrumental ensemble itself, flute and string quartet. The string quartet has remained, over centuries, one of the most written for and appreciated chamber ensembles. Though the reasons for this are various, I’m sure that one of them is the natural balance between the instruments: on the one hand it’s a very unified sound, but on the other, it also allows for the independence of the individual string instruments. Add a flute to the mix and this all changes. When thinking about how to incorporate flute within the context of a string quartet I was struck by just how different a flute is then a string instrument. I mean this beyond the obvious facts of construction and sound production. Both instrument groups are designed to play similar material, articulate in analogous ways, even express similar things, yet they seem to occupy different worlds. Parallel worlds. This made me think of transcription: when transferring material between two instruments is a literal note-for-note correspondence the closest relation or do other less literal transformations better capture the essence of a passage on one instrument transcribed to another? I’m sure there are many valid answers to this question, but for my piece the answer was that to try to have literal correspondence was to lose some of the essence. In Parallel Worlds, therefore, the string quartet and the flute make music in different ways, parallel ways. The piece is in four movements. In each of them this parallel-but-different relation is approached in a variety of ways. In the third movement the strings present sustained chords while the flute intones elaborate figurations. Both groups are in their element: a group of strings slowly drawing their bows can give the impression of continuous sound; while the flute can not do that, its inherent agility allows it to execute elaborate figuration with flexibility and grace. And what makes the two groups not just different, but parallel is that while they unfold in their own way, they both are expressions of the same underlying harmonies.”

Chôros No. 2 for Flute and Clarinet


Born March 5, 1887, Rio de Janeiro

Died December 17, 1959, Rio de Janeiro

Composed in 1924.

Premièred on June 1, 1925 in Buenos Aires.

The Chôros No. 2 is from a series of 16 works by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos that are scored for a varied instrumentation ranging from solo guitar to full orchestra combined with mixed chorus. The term derived from the popular bands of Rio de Janeiro that originated in the mid-19th century which freely mixed winds, guitars and simple percussion instruments. Their repertory at first comprised polkas, waltzes, and other European imports, but later came to be associated with such characteristic Brazilian dances as the maxixe, tango brasileiro, and samba. Villa-Lobos believed that these bands epitomized Brazilian native music, and he attempted to capture their essence in his series of Chôros. “The Chôros,” he wrote, “represents a new form of musical composition in which are synthesized the different modalities of Brazilian, Indian, and popular music, having for principal elements Rhythm, and any typical Melody of popular character.”

The Chôros No. 2 for Flute and Clarinet of 1924, one of the first works to fully reveal Villa-Lobos’ distinctive musical language, not only uses two of the favored instruments of Brazilian bands but also borrows its rhythms and gestures from the country’s popular music. It was greeted warmly at the première in Buenos Aires on June 1, 1925, and helped to establish Villa-Lobos’ international reputation when he included it on his concert at the Salle Gaveau in Paris on October 24, 1927.

A Little Gift for Flute and Clarinet


Born September 6, 1938, New Rochelle, New York

Composed in 2006.

Premièred on July 10, 2006 in Portland, Oregon by flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and clarinetist David Shifrin.

During a career spanning more than 50 years, Joan Tower has made lasting contributions to musical life in the United States as composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, including the Emerson, Tokyo, and Muir quartets; soloists Evelyn Glennie, Carol Wincenc, David Shifrin, and John Browning; and the orchestras of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC. She was the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission of 65 orchestras. Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony recorded Made in America in 2008 (along with Tambor and Concerto for Orchestra). The album collected three Grammy awards: Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance. In 1990 she became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Silver Ladders, a piece she wrote for the St. Louis Symphony. Other residencies with orchestras include a residency with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (1997-2007) and the Pittsburgh Symphony (2010-11). Tower studied piano and composition at Bennington College and Columbia University. Her earliest works were serial in concept, but her music soon developed the lyricism, rhythmic drive, and colorful orchestration that characterize her subsequent works. She co-founded the Da Capo Chamber Players in 1969 as pianist—its accolades included the 1973 Naumburg Chamber Music Award—but also wrote several well-received pieces for the ensemble. She is currently Asher Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College, where she has taught since 1972.

Tower writes: “A Little Gift, a short duet for flute and clarinet of about three minutes duration, began in 2006 as a special birthday present commissioned by a music lover in Portland, Oregon for his sister. It is based on the [Rodgers & Hart] tune My Funny Valentine, which I happen to love and in fact used it when I was trying to learn how to improvise. The movement served as the seed for the four-movement A Gift for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano, premièred by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2007.”

Quintet in A Major for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello, K. 581


Composed in 1789.

Premièred on December 22, 1789 in Vienna, with Anton Stadler as clarinetist and the composer playing viola.

Mozart arrived home in Vienna on June 4, 1789 from a trip to Berlin during which he received a commission for six string quartets and a half-dozen piano sonatas from the Prussian King, Frederick William II, nephew and successor of the immensely cultured Frederick the Great and an avid music lover and cellist of more than modest accomplishment. Mozart immediately set to work on the order, and sometime in July he completed the Quartet in D major (K. 575) and one of the piano sonatas (K. 576), but then suddenly stopped. (He finished only two more of the quartets for Frederick — K. 589 in May 1790 and K. 590 a month later.) His health was poor that summer, his finances worse, and his worry about Constanze, pregnant for the fifth time in seven years, acute. (In a sad letter written on July 12, 1789 to his fellow Freemason Michael Puchberg, he complained about “my unfortunate illness … my wretched condition … my poor sick wife.”) Most of what energy he could muster was channeled into preparing the revival of Figaro ordered by Emperor Joseph II for the end of August. That production was successful enough to inspire the commission for another opera from the Emperor, a musical tale whose libretto Lorenzo da Ponte based on a delicious wife-swapping scandal that had recently amused the Viennese, but before becoming immersed in the composition of Così fan tutte, Mozart undertook a chamber work for the Christmas concert that the Vienna Society of Musicians held every year to benefit the widows and orphans of its deceased members. Anton Stadler, principal clarinetist of the Imperial Court Orchestra and a friend and fellow Mason of the composer, was enlisted for the event, so Mozart decided to write a quintet for clarinet and strings. The work was completed on September 29th, and then put aside until the Society’s concert at the Hoftheater on December 22nd, when it was performed by Stadler, Mozart (as violist), and three Society members between the two parts of Vinzenz Righini’s cantata Apollo’s Birthday Festival. Mozart and Stadler played the piece again on April 9, 1790 at the Vienna residence of Count Johann Karl Hadik, Councilor to the Hungarian Exchequer and a gifted amateur painter, at which time the composer referred to it as “Stadler’s Quintet.”

The quintet opens with a theme that is almost chaste in its purity and yet is, somehow, deeply introspective and immediately touching. As its initial punctuating arpeggios indicate, the clarinet’s role in the piece is not so much one of soloist in a miniature concerto (as is the wind instrument in the Horn Quintet, K. 407) as that of an equal partner with the string ensemble. The second theme, a limpid, sweetly chromatic melody such as could have been conceived by no other musician of the time, not even Joseph Haydn, is given first by the violin and then by the clarinet above a delicate syncopated string accompaniment. A reference to the suave main theme closes the exposition and serves as the gateway to the development section, which is largely concerned with permutations of the arpeggiated figures with which the clarinet made its entry in the opening measures. The recapitulation provides exquisite closure of the movement’s formal structure and emotional progression. The Larghetto achieves a state of exalted sublimity that makes it the instrumental equivalent of Sarastro’s arias in The Magic Flute, which George Bernard Shaw once said were the only music fit to issue from the mouth of God. The Menuetto is fitted with two trios: the first, a somber minor-mode essay for strings alone, is perfectly balanced by the clarinet’s lilting, Ländler-like strains in the second. The variations-form finale is more subdued and pensive than virtuosic and flamboyant, and serves as a fitting conclusion to one of the most precious treasures in Mozart’s peerless musical legacy.

Mozart and Villa-Lobos notes ©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda