Deer Valley® Music Festival

History of the Music

History of the Music

Utah Festival Opera

By Jeff Counts

Symphony No. 70 in D Major

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Duration: 18 minutes in four movements

Haydn wrote his unnamed Symphony No. 70 in 1779, immediately following the great November fire that ravaged the estate of his employer Nicholas Esterházy. Among the buildings that were a total loss was the opera house, which was very near the ballroom stoves that started the blaze. This came as a dramatic shock for everyone at Esterháza and Haydn was personally aggrieved over the destruction of his harpsichord and several important manuscripts. Undaunted, the Prince announced the construction of a new (much grander) opera house before the end of the year and Haydn, equal to the enthusiasm of the gesture, presented his freshly minted Symphony No. 70 at the ceremony. We know the exact date of the building dedication (December 18, 1779) so we also know the premiere date of the piece, a very rare thing for a Haydn symphony. With respect to its place in Haydn's instrumental oeuvre, No. 70 represented an important return to form for the composer after his previous few symphonies had been heavily scrutinized and often dismissed as lacking. It included several novel elements to mark its important occasion like the addition of trumpets and timpani, a fugue and a clever juxtaposition of major and minor modes, just to name a few. Unlike many of Haydn's more famous symphonies, No. 70 has no nickname and should not be confused with No. 59. That much earlier work was called (by others) the "Fire" but it had nothing to do with the real-life conflagration that inspired Haydn to get serious about symphony writing again.

Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major for Violin and Orchestra

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1792)

Duration: 20 minutes in three movements

Mozart was either 17 years old in 1773 or 19 in 1775 when his 1st Violin Concerto was composed. History recalls Mozart so fondly as a pianist that we often forget he was also a suburb violinist. He began his string studies at the age of six and performed a concerto just one year later for the Archbishop of Salzburg. It clearly must have been his precocious violin playing (rather than his keyboard skills) that earned him employment as concertmaster in the court of a later Salzburg Archbishop, one Count Hieronymus Colloredo. Theirs was not an easy relationship, but Mozart was able to stay productive as a composer despite it, and the five violin concerti Mozart wrote during that tough period (four of them, at least, within a single year) show none of the professional discomfort he endured. We are, however, left to assume that the end of his job in the Salzburg court occasioned the end of his association with the violin as a professional performer, since he left the genre untouched after No. 5. Records of his possessions at the time of his death show that he no longer even owned a violin. We can't definitively place Concerto No. 1 in 1775 with the others, but the evidence that it was written two years prior is just as unreliable. For example, an anecdote that recalls Mozart borrowing a violin to perform the concerto in 1773 when his organ recital was put off due to technical problems is intriguing, but ultimately inconclusive. Less spurious perhaps is the K. 269 Rondo in B-flat that was reportedly written to replace the finale of the concerto, but most performers choose to present the score as originally written.

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major

Franz Schubert (1797–1828)

Duration: 27 minutes in four movements.

It is sobering to look back on the life of a 19-year-old with the knowledge that his years on Earth were more than half complete. The terminology most historians use to define a compositional career do not accurately apply in the case of such a man and, in a timeframe as compressed as Schubert's, descriptive phrases like "early period" and "late period" mean almost nothing. Though technically still a teen in 1816, Schubert was beginning to grow weary of his assistant-level position at this father's school and the friction between his ambition and his reality resulted in a frenzy of productivity. He wrote almost 200 pieces that year, which included a little bit of everything from sonatas to songs to string quartets to symphonies. With his "Tragic" Symphony (No. 4), Schubert was attempting to embrace the romanticism he felt growing around him by writing a piece that was unapologetically Beethovian in design. Even at 19, though, Schubert was mature enough to realize that he had stepped too soon toward the avant garde. He seemed to realize that he was not yet ready to fully absorb (let alone match) Beethoven's growing legacy and that he first needed to explore his own voice more conscientiously. In that particular year, this meant looking backwards. His next symphony, No. 5 (also written in 1816), was constructed on the safer Haydn/Mozart model. Highly refined rather than stormy like No. 4, No. 5 is a sparklingly clean piece of chamber music by comparison, with a high-stepping optimism that makes a listener wonder how the previous symphony, completed only four months earlier, could possibly have come from the same person.

Classical 89