Prepared by Ken Meltzer
Sinfonia Veneziana (ca. 1786)
Antonio Salieri was born in Legnano, Italy, on August 18, 1750, and died in Vienna, Austria, on May 7, 1825.
Approximate performance time is ten minutes.
The name Antonio Salieri inevitably conjures images of Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play, Amadeus, and its 1984 cinematic adaptation by Miloš Forman. Both the play and movie use the rumor that a jealous Salieri plotted the demise of his rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as the basis for immensely entertaining theater. Shaffer’s drama makes the Salieri-Mozart rivalry the foundation for an allegory—the chasm between workmanlike competence, and divine inspiration.
To the extent Amadeus is accepted as historically accurate, however, it does both Salieri and Mozart a great disservice. Modern scholarship is unanimous that Salieri had nothing to do with Mozart’s tragic, untimely death. We also know that on several occasions, Salieri was happy to conduct Mozart’s works. Further, if Salieri was not Mozart’s equal as a composer (who was?), he was highly talented, accomplished, and respected, holding numerous important positions in Vienna (Beethoven was among his pupils). It should also be mentioned that while Mozart did have a very playful side (and an impish love for ribaldry and scatology), he was far from the clownish figure suggested in Amadeus.
The Sinfonia Veneziana combines two works by Salieri to create the three-movement (fast—slow—fast) structure popular at the time. The first movement (Allegro assai) is the Overture to Salieri’s opera, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School for Jealousy). The final two movements, played without pause (Andantino grazioso—Presto), originated as the Overture to the intermezzo, La partenza inaspettata (The Unexpected Departure).
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra No. 1 in G Major, K. 313 (285c) (1778)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna, Austria, on December 5, 1791.
Approximate performance time is twenty-five minutes.
In September of 1777, Mozart left his home in Salzburg to begin an 18-month journey throughout Europe. Mozart, who felt his talents were not appreciated in his native city, hoped to find steady employment elsewhere. Mozart’s journey took him to Munich, Augsburg, Mannheim, and finally, to Paris.
While in Mannheim, Mozart made the acquaintance of a Dutch visitor to the German city, a surgeon and amateur flutist by the name of Ferdinand Dejean. Dejean commissioned Mozart to compose “three short easy concertos and a pair of flute quartets.”
Mozart did not have great affection for the flute, at least as a solo instrument. In his memoirs, Viennese physician Joseph Frank recalled: “Once when we were speaking about instruments Mozart said that he loathed the flute and the harp.” That opinion is reflected in a letter of February 14, 1778 Mozart wrote to his father, Leopold. In the letter, Mozart commented on his slow progress in completing Dejean’s commission: “you know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear.”
In light of Mozart’s opinions expressed, above, this quote from a letter he wrote to Leopold in December of the same year bears repeating: “Ah, if only we had clarinets too! You cannot imagine the glorious effect of a symphony with flutes, oboes and clarinets.”
Mozart ultimately fulfilled Dejean’s commission, which included the composer’s two Flute Concertos— in G Major, K. 313, and in D Major, K. 314 (the latter, an adaptation of the composer’s Oboe Concerto in C Major). Despite Mozart’s protestations, the Concertos are beautiful, eloquent works, beloved by flutists and their audiences.
The Concerto is in three movements. In the first (Allegro maestoso), the orchestra introduces the principal themes, before the soloist enters with a more elaborate restatement. The traditional development and recapitulation of the themes are capped bythe flute’s solo cadenza and the emphatic closing bars. A heartfelt slow movement (Adagio ma non troppo) leads to the finale (Rondo. Tempo di Menuetto). A minuet, an elegant court dance in triple meter, serves as the recurring principal theme.
Overture to Guillaume Tell (1829)
Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy, on February 29, 1792, and died in Passy, France, on November 13, 1868. T
he first performance of Guillaume Tell took place at the Opéra in Paris, France, on August 3, 1829.
Approximate performance time is twelve minutes.
Gioachino Rossini’s final opera, Guillaume Tell, is based upon Friedrich Schiller’s play, Wilhelm Tell. Guillaume Tell takes place in 14th-century Switzerland, and relates the story of the Swiss victory over their Habsburg oppressors. With its epic length, spectacle, and ballet, Guillaume Tell is in the tradition of French Grand Opera. Rossini provided music of extraordinary power and eloquence, departing from the early 19th-century bel canto practices that had often featured vocal display at the expense of drama.
In fact, Guillaume Tell earned the praise of such demanding and revolutionary musical dramatists as Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner. Berlioz deemed Guillaume Tell “seriously thought out, considered at leisure, and conscientiously executed from beginning to end.” Wagner particularly admired the title character’s eloquent third-act aria, “Sois immobile.” During an 1860 meeting, Wagner told Rossini the aria “reached the highest summits of lyric expression.” Rossini replied: “So I made music of the future without knowing it.” To which Wagner responded: “There, Maestro, you made music for all times, and that is the best.”
Guillaume Tell premiered at the Paris Opéra on August 3, 1829. Rossini was thirty-seven and would live another thirty-nine years. Yet, he composed no operas after Guillaume Tell. Between 1812 and 1829, Rossini composed thirty-nine operas, and the years of hard labor had taken a tremendous toll on his physical and emotional health. Rossini spent the remainder of his life enjoying the company of friends, and composing many salon pieces he affectionately referred to as “Sins of My Old Age.” In an 1866 letter to composer Giovanni Pacini, Rossini expressed no regrets about his abrupt retirement from opera: “such a presentiment is not given to everyone; God granted it to me and I bless him for it every hour.”
The Overture to Guillaume Tell begins with an extended slow introduction (Andante) that features a magical combination of five solo cellos. The rustlings of the strings and winds (Allegro) are prelude to a storm sequence of tremendous power. After the storm abates, the English horn, in tandem with the flute, offers a ranz des vaches, the traditional call of the Swiss herdsman to his cattle (Andante). Trumpet fanfares launch the triumphant final section (Allegro vivace). The music, known (perhaps all too well) for its association with the 1950s television series The Lone Ranger, still generates tremendous excitement on its own terms.
Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93 (1812)
Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna, Austria, on March 26, 1827.
The first performance of the Eighth Symphony took place at the Redoutensaal in Vienna on February 27, 1814.
Approximate performance time is twenty-six minutes.
Beethoven began work on both his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies in 1811. After finishing the Seventh Symphony in June of 1812, Beethoven turned his full attention to the Eighth, completing that score on October 12. The premiere of the Eighth Symphony took place as part of a February 27, 1814 concert at the Redoutensaal in Vienna. The program also contained the Seventh Symphony—which had received its premiere the previous December 13—and the (then) wildly popular Wellington’s Victory.
Beethoven’s Eighth is the Symphony that most emphatically reflects the composer’s humorous side. The Eighth also bears a kinship with another comic jewel—Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera, Falstaff (1893). In both works, the composers—at the height of their maturity and powers—employ techniques previously used for the composition of “serious” music to fashion masterpieces overflowing with playful humor. And, if the Eighth Symphony presages the future, it also pays tribute to the past. The work’s high spirits and economy of expression recall the greatest symphonic humorist of them all—Beethoven’s teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn.
The Symphony No. 8 is in four movements. The first (Allegro vivace e con brio) immediately establishes the energy and high spirits that predominate throughout. In place of the traditional slow-tempo second movement, Beethoven substitutes a playful Allegretto scherzando. The third movement is a minuet (Tempo di Menuetto) a court dance in triple meter. The horns (to playful triplet cello accompaniment) introduce a lovely interlude that serves as minuet’s trio section. The third movement closes with a reprise of the minuet. The finale (Allegro vivace) begins with a device found in many Haydn symphonies. The strings play a scurrying, pianissimo figure that suddenly—and without warning—explodes with tremendous force. The finale, a beehive of activity from start to finish, concludes with an extended, and decidedly emphatic, series of chords.