Deer Valley® Music Festival

History of the Music

History of the Music

Red Ledges Utah

By Jeff Counts

Divertimento for String Orchestra in F, "Salzburg Symphony No. 3"

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Duration: 10 minutes in three movements

Mozart completed the trio of divertimenti known as the "Salzburg Symphonies" in 1772 while he was in the employ of the Prince Archbishop of his native city. Mozart was only 16 then (his life almost half complete!) and nearing the end of his decade of performance tours with his father, Leopold. They made two visits to Italy near the end of this period and his musical experiences there clearly influenced these slightly uncharacteristic works. In fact, it is likely he wrote them in hopes of winning favor on a future, third trip to "the beautiful country." The three pieces in the set straddle the fence between two important compositional forms of the day—the five (or more)-movement "divertimento" and the three-movement Italian style "symphony"—but, as one might expect with Mozart, they are not rote examples of either. As with K. 136 and 137, the music of K. 138 is light, charming, and relatively simple by the standards of Mozart's genuine symphonies and much shorter than his later, grander forays into the divertimento form. With just three short movements, cast in an attractive fast-slow-faster fashion, the "Salzburg Symphonies" each dispense with the minuet, a dance form almost always present (often twice!) in Mozart's other divertimenti and de rigueur in general for the time. The four-part writing of the three 1772 divertimenti can be performed by a string quartet but there are indications in the manuscripts (a notation indicating "violas" rather than "viola," for example) that suggest Mozart fully intended the works for string orchestra.

Concerto in D Major for Oboe and Small Orchestra

Richard Strauss (1864–1949)

Duration: 26 minutes in three movements

Imagine the scene. It is May 1945, the first moments of peace in Europe, and an American GI is temporarily at loose ends in the Bavarian town of Garmisch. He, like others who left lives of music to serve their country, has heard that none other than Richard Strauss lives nearby and, through a mutual friend, pays the old master a visit. That soldier was John de Lancie, former Principal Oboe of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and eventual Director of the Curtis Institute of Music. De Lancie brought a young man's courage to that fateful meeting and suggested that Strauss consider a concerto for his instrument, given how beautifully the composer wrote for it in his tone poems and operas. Strauss said no without hesitation but was not able to shake the notion. He began sketching out a concerto within weeks and had a score ready the following September. The American premiere was, of course, offered to de Lancie but the first performance on our shores was actually given by Mitch Miller (yes, the man from Sing Along with Mitch) in 1948. De Lancie wouldn't get his chance until 1964 and, by then, he likely wondered if oboists the world over were cursing his name. They all loved the lyrical, unapologetically romantic music but also greatly feared the concerto's opening, with its 57 measures of uninterrupted playing that tested their lungs like never before. The Oboe Concerto is standard repertoire now, despite its demands, and it provides yet another post-war proof point (like Metamorphosen and the Four Last Songs) that Strauss, in his 80s, was still very much in his compositional prime.

Nocturne in B Major for String Orchestra, Op. 40

Antonin Dvořák (1841–1904)

Duration: 9 minutes

Artists who do not consign their secrets to the fire are doomed to have them resurrected by heirs or well-intentioned executors. The attic is no place for abandoned projects, it turns out, not if you are famous enough. Dvořák, ever practical, saved many of his orphans himself, but not for posterity. He wanted to be responsible for their new lives if he could and sought ways to repurpose some of them into fresh works. One such piece was an E-minor string quartet from 1870 that, for all its flaws, had a lovely slow movement that Dvořák just couldn't give up on. The quartet was never published during his lifetime, but it came to light later in 1960 (see what I mean?!). In 1875, the Andante religioso movement found a new, if temporary, home as part of the G Major String Quintet. That idea didn't stick either, however, and it wasn't until 1883 that Dvořák set aside the idea of placing this music into a muti-movement context and presented it instead as a stand-alone piece for string orchestra. The Nocturne is a hypnotic, nearly static hymn that lazily uncoils itself over the course of its brief minutes and, though clearly the effort of an idealistic young man, it is every inch a thing worth saving. Dvořák conducted the premiere in London on March 22, 1885, and subsequently arranged it for solo violin and piano, and again for piano four hands. Both are quite nice, but they can't compete with the original, full-ensemble version.

Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Duration: 25 minutes in four movements

The final three symphonies of Mozart (Nos. 39, 40, and 41) are almost always spoken of as a set. Many elements make this possible, even necessary. First is the remarkably quick succession of their completions on June 26, July 25, and August 10, 1788. Next is the desperate hoped he pinned on them to reverse his recent bad fortune. Not least, then, is the staggering innovation and profound maturity they contained, as if even Mozart knew he would not write another. But, of course, he didn't know that. He had no idea he was living his last three years on Earth. Mozart, in fact, was planning to premiere his latest symphonies at a series of concerts in a new venue called the "Casino," but the performances didn't happen for lack of sales. No wonder. War with the Ottoman Empire was sapping the strength and draining the wallets of Austria, true, but Mozart's star had fallen steadily on its own in Vienna over the previous few years. Tastes were changing and it's hard to imagine the audience enjoying the new pieces much if they had heard them that year. This was the case of a composer having simply outgrown his listeners, which is what makes it so tempting to imagine him writing Nos. 39, 40, and 41 for us, not them. The E-flat major Symphony distinguishes itself in interesting ways. It employs no oboes, a rarity in late Mozart. It begins with a slow introduction. And it has a finale built around a single theme with no coda. We don't know if Mozart heard this dramatic, dissonant symphony live before he died (it is possible, though unprovable), but we have been listening closely ever since.

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