For years, Mozart sought a permanent position away from his hometown of Salzburg, where he detested working for the Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo. It was a welcome relief when, in 1780, the Elector of Bavaria invited him to compose a new opera for the carnival season in Munich, leading to the great success of Idomeneo in January 1781. Mozart lingered in Munich until March, when Archbishop Colloredo finally summoned him to Vienna. The following months with the Salzburg retinue brought back all the frustrations of home, and Mozart soon resigned, opting to try his luck as a freelancer in Vienna rather than returning to his humdrum job in Salzburg.
Mozart recognized that the most influential patron in Vienna was the Emperor Joseph II, and he was keen to get his music introduced to the imperial court; to that end, he targeted the emperor’s valet and trusted musical advisor, Johann Kilian Strack. On October 15, Mozart completed a serenade for winds, intended for performance at the home of the court painter Joseph Heckel. Mozart admitted, “The main reason for writing it was to let Herr von Strack hear something of mine (he goes there every day), and so I put a little extra care into it; as a result it was much applauded.”
The original version of the Serenade in E-flat used pairs of clarinets, horns, and bassoons. Similar ensembles flourished in Austria in the late eighteenth century, most often employing oboes instead of clarinets. Highly mobile and less costly than an orchestra, the small wind ensembles brought the festive spirit of hunting parties and field bands to outdoor parties and other aristocratic gatherings. Mozart wrote a number of wind divertimentos in Salzburg, so his first Viennese wind serenade had the benefit of that earlier practice voicing music for winds alone. He had less experience writing for the clarinet, an instrument he did not have at his disposal in Salzburg; his last major work to include clarinets was the Paris Symphony from 1778. But Mozart had an uncanny affinity for the smooth and agile clarinet, as he later demonstrated in the Clarinet Quintet (K. 581) and Clarinet Concerto (K. 622). A revised version of the Serenade No. 11, from 1782, added oboes to match the scoring of the Emperor’s house band, but even in the new octet version, clarinets have a particularly active role.
The serenade’s opening Allegro maestoso movement is broad and majestic, using suspensions and sustained tones to smooth out the dry wind textures. The predominant mood is one of balance and clarity, enriched by a touch of minor-key intrigue and bursts of energetic sixteenth notes. Framed symmetrically by jolly Minuets, the heart of the serenade is the Adagio movement. The relaxed elegance of the melodies, the charming encouragement of the accompanying figures and the exceptional clarity of instrumental colors makes this one of Mozart’s most unforgettable slow movements. The Rondo finale has the same easy grace of the rest of the piece plus a few cheeky moments, such as the chromatic smears in inner voices and a bit of mock-baroque counterpoint.
Aaron Grad ©2011
About This Program
Increasingly deaf and fiercely independent, Beethoven smashed the limits of the quartet, pushing the strings to play bigger, faster and bolder than ever before. More than two centuries later, it takes a performance like this with full string orchestra to remind us just how intense and audacious the Third “Razumovsky” Quartet remains. Crowd-pleasing compositions featuring wind instruments, including two of Mozart’s most effortless creations, highlight the stark contrast between the old and new paradigms.