Spring Concert Series Program Notes


Friday, April 1, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, April 3, 2022, 2:00 p.m.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Quartet in F major

On November 5, 1780, Mozart boarded a coach to Munich from his home city of Salzburg. After extensive travels in 1777-78, he had reluctantly come back for two years, writing music of a depth he had never previously achieved for a provincial audience that was paying it little attention. Then he had received the commission for the opera Idomeneo from the court at Munich, where the music-loving ruler Carl Theodor had consolidated much of the famous Mannheim orchestra with the musical establishment already there to create the finest orchestra Europe had yet seen. As it would prove, Mozart was going into the world on his own; he would return to Salzburg only once, for a visit in 1783.

Though Mozart’s main concern during his four months in Munich was the staging of his first great opera, the situation inspired other compositions as well. Among his Munich friends was the oboist Friedrich Ramm, whom he had met in Mannheim in 1777, and for whom he composed this quartet in January or February 1781. Ramm was considered one of the best oboists in Europe, and the quartet was clearly written for a superb player.

The first movement shows Mozart hovering between his youthful style and the more disciplined approach to composition he would take in his maturity. The opening theme gives most of the interest to the oboe, but thereafter the four instruments share the spotlight more than they generally do in Mozart’s earlier chamber music. Instead of providing a contrasting second theme, Mozart reworks the opening theme as Haydn might have, putting the melody in the violin and giving the oboe a descant above it. In the development Mozart goes back to an older habit of introducing new material rather than working out the themes already presented. On the other hand, in the recapitulation, instead of mechanically restating the material heard earlier in the movement, Mozart recomposes it. The opening theme now features the violin imitating the oboe melody two measures later, and the remainder of the section is condensed.

The Adagio opens with the strings; the oboe enters above them with a long-held note that takes advantage of its penetrating tone. Its D minor tonality shows off the plangent quality of the oboe’s sound. The Rondo brings the quartet to a cheerful ending.
Franz Schubert

Octet in F major

Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, op. 20, of 1799 inspired a number of works over the next few decades by composers including Conradin Kreutzer, Louis Spohr, and Franz Berwald. Schubert’s Octet of 1824, begun in February and finished on March 1, is the best-known of the emulations of Beethoven’s work and in fact is generally regarded as the greater accomplishment. It is more imposing both in scoring (it adds a second violin to the Beethoven combination of clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, violoncello, and double bass) and in length, retaining very nearly the same scheme of movement types and also of keys (though moved one step higher). The Octet has other connections with Beethoven as well. Reportedly it was commissioned by Count Ferdinand Troyer, an official in the household of Beethoven’s pupil and patron Archduke Rudolph; the Count played clarinet in the first performance, which took place in his house. The public premiere in April, 1827, just after Beethoven’s death, was given by an ensemble that included the Schuppanzigh Quartet, the group that premiered the last string quartets of both Beethoven and Schubert. The work did not become widely known until much later, however; the first edition, as Schubert’s op. 166, appeared in the 1850s without the fourth and fifth movements. The octet appeared in complete form only in 1898.

After the Adagio introduction, the main body of the first movement gets underway with a vigorous, ascending march theme played by the whole ensemble in octaves. The next important idea appears first in the clarinet, but Schubert then passes it to the horn, perhaps the least likely member of the ensemble to get a melody (since this piece was written before the invention of valves), showing his ability to make full use of the instrumental colors available to him. The second movement, the most serious section of the Octet, is less ambitious in texture, emphasizing melodies in the clarinet and first violin with the other instruments providing accompaniment and punctuation. Schubert changes Beethoven’s scheme by putting a vigorous scherzo in third place; Beethoven had placed his minuet third and and his scherzo in the fifth position. The fourth movement is a set of variations on a theme from Schubert’s opera Die Freunde von Salamanka (composed in 1815 but not performed in Schubert’s lifetime) that gives the composer another chance to try a wide variety of instrumental colors. The minuet features important melodic solos for all three wind instruments. Like Beethoven, Schubert begins his finale with a mock-solemn minor-key introduction, but the main body of the movement is lighthearted.