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x2 Program Notes – Mozart & Dvořák

Please enjoy the program notes for the online x2 Concert: Mozart & Dvořák. These program notes were created as part of Project Resonance, the Music Academy’s unique program combining writing training with public engagement. Through this initiative, both Academy fellows and young scholars from UC Santa Barbara are given the opportunity to work on program notes and other written materials for the Summer Festival. WATCH NOW WOLFGANG MOZART Divertimento No. 7 in D Major Love, drama, buffoonery, joy—these are all elements in the operas of Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (that is indeed his real name). But why discuss opera when this is a note about an instrumental work: his Divertimento No. 7? Because Mozart can’t not write opera. Like many of Mozart’s other works, this Divertimento is designed to enrapture and entertain. Written during his Salzburg Period (c. 1766-1769), this piece in particular is a compelling example of his “occasional” music, which was intended to be played at court functions and to honor noble families and could indeed be considered the ‘pop’ music of the mid-eighteenth century. Divertimento No. 7 was probably written in July of 1773, perhaps to celebrate the birthday of Maria Anna Elisabeth von Antretter, the wife of a Salzburg Court War Counsellor and county chancellor. (Mozart was also commissioned to write the “Antretter Serenade,” K.185, for the same family around the same time.)
This Divertimento tells its brief, but witty and lively story like an opera in three acts. The first movement sets the stage in the style of a French overture, with a brief slow introduction followed immediately by an Allegro that imbues the work with the energy it is to have for the rest of the piece. The final movement is the happy ending—where all of the loose ends of the comedy are tied up and all of the misunderstandings are dealt with. The dance movements, though—and especially the fact that there are two of them—underscores the piece’s origin as occasional music. As the violist in the room (or the video), I especially want to highlight the third movement: the Adagio. Rarely is the viola given as much of the stage as it has in this movement, and viola parts written in Mozart’s string quartets from this period do not typically require this specific form of musical virtuosity. I imagine it as a sort of an operatic lovers’ duet between the soprano and the tenor, each amplifying and supporting the voice of the other while taking turns with the main melody. Divertimento No. 7 is a work that is brimming with elegance and levity, in much the same way as Mozart’s comedic operas Cosi fan Tutte and The Marriage of Figaro. Its lightness and energy make it as much of a joy to listen to as it is to play. – Ariel Emily Chapman Academy fellow, viola
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK Piano Quartet No. 2 in Eb Major In 1867, the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire brought together disparate groups of peoples and ethnicities under the so-called Dual Monarchy. In theory, the creation of the Dual Monarchy was intended to unite members of Central and Eastern Europe into one great German nation. In practice, however, new reforms in education and electoral law designed to grow the ‘self-styled’ German population only bolstered nationalist sentiment amongst the non-German peoples. To the metropolitan bourgeoisie of cities like the capital, Vienna, Bohemia (the largest historical region of what is known today as Czechia) was a land of illiterate, undeveloped peasants. Czech nationalism was viewed as a threat and suddenly for a Czech composer like Antonin Dvořák, the tantalizing exoticism that delighted international audiences a decade earlier became a stain on his reputation in Austria-Hungary. Though these prejudices later evolved, Dvořák’s “exotic” Bohemian roots were at times still a hindrance to his reception in the new Vienna. Just a decade earlier, it was precisely his unique blend of classical form with elements of Slavonic music that helped first popularize Dvořák’s music in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Without quoting actual folk tunes, his use of repeated melodic figures, angular dance rhythms, and strong contrasts in dynamics and expression lend a pastoral character to what could otherwise be characterized as ‘high’ German music. Johannes Brahms––perhaps then the living epitome of ‘high’ German music––so adored Dvořák’s very Czech Moravian Duets for soprano, alto, and piano that he recommended them to his own publisher, the Berlin-based Fritz Simrock. So popular at the time was broadly Slavic/Slavonic/Bohemian/Czech-sounding music (for better or worse, these terms were all used a bit interchangeably) that Brahms wrote a set of Hungarian Dances, the success of which prompted Simrock to commission Dvořák for his own set of Slavonic Dances for piano four-hands.
Theoretically Dvořák’s music should have remained an easy sell. However, the highly politicized musical sphere of nineteenth-century Vienna eventually led Simrock to request that the composer actually subdue (if not entirely eliminate) the overtly Slavic musical elements that they once specifically requested. The resultant Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major is a large-scale chamber work full of rich lyricism, romantic sweep, and bold lines. The movements bear no Czech titles and given its rather traditional four-movement plan, perhaps Dvořák did bear Simrock’s request in mind. However, what makes this music so uniquely Dvořak is how adeptly he traverses the tightrope of appeasing Austrian critics while still embedding subtle hints of his own national identity. The opening four-note motive bears a striking resemblance to other melodies from his early Slavonic period with its absence of a rhythmic upbeat. Like the Czech language, which always places emphasis on the first syllable of the word, the melodic figure that pervades the first movement begins squarely on the downbeat with each utterance. And while some might call the gentle waltz in the outer sections of the third movement an Austrian ländler, it actually bears closer resemblance to the rhythm of a sousedská, a Bohemian country dance in a leisurely triple time. Furthermore, shimmering rhythmic figures in the piano’s highest register across the four movements hint at the cimbalom, the Hungarian cousin of the hammered dulcimer, that permeated the Bohemian folk music Dvořák grew up hearing and performing. The way Dvořák weaves these small threads of his Czech musical identity into the great Austro-German forms is what makes his music so distinctive and it’s perhaps for this very reason that his ingenious works survived nineteenth-century Vienna to be enjoyed in our twenty-first-century concert halls. – Barbara Noyes Academy fellow, collaborative piano

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