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Mozart | Symphony No. 35 "Haffner"

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was born in Salzburg. A child prodigy born to an ambitious-for-his-children father, he was playing minuets from memory at three and was a good harpsichordist at six. He could also memorize a piece after a single hearing and produce a bass line after hearing a melody. At his father’s behest, he and his pianist sister, Maria Anna (Nannerl)  performed together at the court of Bavaria and in several European cities on a grueling tour. (Some scholars believe Nannerl’s talent equaled or surpassed her brother’s.) In the process he met Johann Christian Bach who became a strong influence. 

Mozart finished his first symphony in 1764 at age eight and his first completed opera at eleven (Apollo et Hyacinthus). At thirteen he and his father, a violinist and composer, spent two years performing in Italy. While there he heard Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere, wrote out that score from memory, and wrote his own fourth opera, Mitridate.

An important factor in Mozart's career was the Catholic Church. When the Mozarts returned to Austria from Italy, their benefactor Archbishop von Schrattenbach had died and was succeeded by Hieronymus von Colleredo. The new Archbishop appointed Mozart as assistant concertmaster of his orchestra, but their relationship was rocky, as was made clear when Archbishop rejected the rebellious Mozart's request for a tour and dismissed him from his employ in 1781. Mozart then moved to Vienna, where he established himself as a pianist and composer and befriended Franz Joseph Haydn who taught him much about composing symphonies and string quartets. 

Mozart wrote over 600 works, including 41 symphonies plus a catalog of concertos, operas, masses, solo works, etc. He wrote his Symphony No. 35 in D-major, Haffner in 1782 at his father’s request for a work to celebrate the coming nobility of family friend, Sigmund Haffner. (The symphony should not be confused with Mozart’s Haffner Serenade written in 1776 for the wedding of Haffner's sister.) Mozart was in Vienna at the time, buried in composition and preparing to get married, but he reluctantly agreed. The result was a festive serenade scored for strings, timpani, and pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, and trumpets. The key of D-major was chosen because a festive work calls for trumpets, and D-major was the one festive key available to the trumpets of that period. How much of the work that he managed to complete before the ceremony is uncertain. What is clear is that he later turned that serenade into his Symphony No. 35 Haffner, deleting the march and second minuet and adding flute and clarinet pairs. The symphony was premiered in 1783 at an all-Mozart concert in Vienna. The first three movements opened the concert, and the finale closed it, a common practice at the time.

The symphony opens with a grand announcement followed by a gently lilting counter-statement. The grand statement partially returns and what follows is a vigorous yet stately Allegro that makes a lot out of the first few notes of the opening even in moments of quiet reflection. The result alters bumptiousness with periods of grace. The Andante suggests the celebrants are stepping outside for tender reflection or perhaps dreaming. After a somewhat thorny middle section, the reflection and dreaming return in delicate fashion to a soft ending. Menuetto’s opening reinstates the mood of the first movement in the outer sections with the main theme now a simple major rising arpeggio. The midsection is more of a graceful minuet. The finale is a presto that bears some resemblance to the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, and Mozart wanted it played as fast as possible. This midsection is a catchy response to the vigorous outer sections. The ending is enthusiastic and triumphant.

Diamond | Rounds for String Orchestra

David Diamond (1915-2005) was born in Rochester, New York. His talent was apparent early when he started playing violin and composing tunes at age seven. When he was twelve, his family moved to Cleveland where Swiss violinist Andre de Ribaupierre enabled him to take lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music where Ribaupierre was on the faculty. Three years later Diamond enrolled at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester where he studied composition with Bernard Rogers and violin with Effie Knauss. In 1934, he received a scholarship from the New Music School and the Dalcroze Institute (both in New York City) and studied composition with Roger Sessions. That same year Diamond‘s Sinfonietta won a composition competition. In 1936, he finished his ballet, TOM, based on E.E. Cummings’s take on Uncle Tom's Cabin. Conductor Josef Krips’s Buffalo Symphony commissioned This Sacred Ground using Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as text (premiere 1963). All told, Diamond was prolific: 10 symphonies, 11 string quartets and much more chamber music, etc. 

Like many American composers, Diamond moved to Paris and took lessons with Nadia Boulanger. While in Paris, he met Albert Roussel, Darius Milhaud, and Maurice Ravel who became a powerful influence on him. (After the Frenchman’s death in 1937, Diamond wrote his Elegy in Memory of Ravel). Diamond also met Igor Stravinsky whose advice with Diamond‘s four hand piano version of Psalm for orchestra helped the work win the 1937 Juilliard Publication Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship for Diamond in 1938.

As a composer, Diamond was a classic American Neoromantic. His music is accessible, eloquent, sometimes folklike, and always colorful and dramatic. David Diamond’s music was popular through the 1940s into the 1950s. He had serious champions in Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky and Dimitri Mitropoulos, and his music was often performed by the Boston Symphony and New York Philharmonic. All that came to a close when he and most other tonal composers ran into the irresistible force of serialism, which took over musical academe and concerts while pushing tonalists like Diamond aside as old fashioned. He responded by complaining about “the present period of creativity chaos in music” adding that he “hated all that avant garde stuff. It was all wrong. They don’t write out of love.” Diamond’s comments about the decline of his music and tonality represented the composers who shared his fate. It was good that he lived until 2005–long enough to see the return of tonal music, though it had to share the stage with modernism.

Diamond’s Rounds for String Orchestra (1944), arguably his best known work, fulfilled Dimitri Mitropoulos's request for an uplifting work. “These are distressing times,” the conductor told him. “Most of the difficult music I play is distressing. Make me happy.” Diamond complied, though the piece has its serious qualities. It was performed extensively and was a favorite of Aaron Copland who “would conduct my Rounds a great deal,” Diamond said, “because he seemed to find that there was what he would write. He used to say, ‘Oh, I wish I had written that piece. It really works for the audience very well.’”

In Rounds for String Orchestra, Diamond notes, “The different string choirs enter in strict canonic fashion as an introduction to the main subject played by the violas and restated by the cellos and basses.” Robert Lintott added that Diamond played on his “Rounds” by having the rhythmic figures of the first movement [return] in the third as a counter subject. There is also plenty of syncopation. 

Allegro, molto vivace is lively, bouncy, and folklike. It begins with the “round” theme in the violins followed by its entries, one-by-one in the lower strings. The body of the movement passes the theme from the higher to lower strings, then around the orchestra; from there the theme reappears now and then. At the climax the fugal lines come together followed by a quiet ending. 

Adagio is hymnlike, mysterious, sweet in tone, before taking a serious, eerie turn at the end. As in the first movement, the theme travels from high strings to low. Another melody sounds in the cellos creating a moment of tension and a certain lushness along with a few climaxes. Like the first movement, it ends quietly, disappearing in the rising upper strings.

The canonic Allegro vigoroso evolves from a jig to a square dance. It uses two themes: one from the first movement and a new one that begins the second round. There are sections of complexity and of unison. The music comes together when this movement’s theme combines with the one from the first movement, and things proceed up from cellos to violins.

Tchaikovsky | Serenade for Strings

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia. A child prodigy, he wrote a song at around age four, and took piano lessons at five, but poor employment prospects in music induced his mother to send him to the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg. Seeing Glinka’s Life of the Tsar there made a lasting impression on him, but he attended to his studies and limited music to his social life. After graduating, he worked as a civil servant and studied music with Nikolai Zaremba and Anton Rubinstein at the Russian Musical Society (RMS) prior to enrolling at the new St. Petersburg Conservatory. After graduation, he taught at the Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 was performed successfully in 1868, though he suffered a nervous breakdown revising it. His first major work was Romeo and Juliet (1880). That and Symphony No. 2 (1872) impressed the Mighty Five, a group of nativist composers that included  Balikirev, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Cesar Cui. Three string quartets, Tempest, three operas, another symphony, Piano Concerto No 1, Swan Lake, Variations on a Rococo Theme, etc. followed.. A failed marriage caused him to flee to Switzerland and Italy where he finished Eugene Onegin, Symphony No. 4, and the Violin Concerto. After returning home, continued marital difficulties drove him to further travels of escape. His 1812 Overture commemorated Czar Alexander II’s 25th anniversary. Later works included Manfred  (1885), two more completed symphonies, Sleeping Beauty (1889), Queen of Spades and Nutcracker (1892). He was honored with a lifetime pension and the Order of St. Vladimir but died nine days after conducting the premiere of Symphony No. 6.

Tchaikovsky's relationships with women were important and difficult. The earliest were with his mother and governess Fanny Durbach. An engagement to a Belgian soprano fizzled, and marriage to Antonina Miliukova, an unbalanced former student, lasted fewer than three months. The two were never divorced, and Tchaikovsky long feared his wife would expose his homosexuality. His most important relationship was with Nadezhda von Meck, a supporter of the arts with whom Tchaikovsky maintained a fourteen-year relationship solely through letters. She was a source of comfort during his marriage and tried to pay off Miliukova to end the union. She also paid the composer a yearly stipend for thirteen years before cutting him off. He did not need her money by then, but he was so hurt by her action that he ended the friendship.

Tchaikovsky was the first truly professional composer from Russia and the first to achieve fame outside Russia. He was also a link between the Russian and the Germanic traditions that paved the way for Glazunov, Miaskovsky, Taneyev, Kallinikov, etc. Building that link was difficult because Germanic traditions were so different from Russian. Western harmony is in constant motion, changing chords and keys. Russian harmony is more static, and Russian orchestration could be blocky and raw. Western melody is linear and developmental. Russian tends to stand on its own. It is hard to develop and was generally treated by repetition, sequences, changing the line slightly, modulating, altering the harmony, modifying orchestration, etc. Western sonata form was difficult for Russians because it is dependent on development. Tchaikovsky dealt with that by employing a quasi-sonata form, using contrasting themes or harmonies in blocks that could serve as exposition, development, etc. 

Tchaikovsky wrote Serenade for Strings in 1881 between his 1812 Overture and Maid of Orleans. About it, he wrote to Nadezhda that, “The [1812 Overture] will be very loud, noisy, but I wrote it without any warm feelings of love and so it will probably be of no artistic worth. But the Serenade...I wrote from inner compulsion. It is from the heart, and it does not lack artistic worth.” The Serenade began as a symphony and was well received, though much of it is melancholy. It is playable by a chamber orchestra, but Tchaikovsky noted in the score, “The larger number of players in the string orchestra, the more this shall be in accordance with the author’s wishes.” 

Serenade for Strings bears many stylistic similarities to Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. The opening is a dramatic, downward, scale-like passage distinctly Russian in tone. The movement is marked by a lyrical, mildly thrusting figure and busy accompaniment in the cellos that later appears in the violins. Skittery Scherzo-like passages follow in fugue-like manner, and sighing phrases are prominent. The movement ends with the downward figure that opened it. The second movement is a lyrical and familiar waltz in the style of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music. Soon melody transfers from the violins to the lower strings exchanging places with the accompaniment figure. A second theme recalls the main one in the first movement. Larghetto elegiaco is melodic with a strong Russian flavor. It begins mysteriously and explores cautiously, somewhat in the fashion of the first movement. A wistful tune in the violins over pizzicato is picked up by the cellos, and the two sections work together with the cello tune insistent and the violin melody ardent until they fade away. After a dramatic pause, an eerie passage follows and wanders about, seemingly resigned, and its melancholy carries over to the Finale, which is based on the Russian tune that opens the movement.

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