When composers of Mozart’s day were asked to entertain their patrons with party music, they dashed off simple, lighthearted works—divertimentos, serenades, nocturnes and the like—that were hardly worth reusing or remembering. But Mozart being Mozart, even his light music from his late teens and early twenties has withstood the test of time. One patron he would have been especially eager to please was Countess Antonia Lodron, an avid musician herself and one of the most influential citizens of Salzburg. In 1776 he supplied her with a concerto for three pianos that she could play with her daughters, plus a Divertimento scored for a typical ensemble of two horns and strings. He followed up with another Divertimento for the same scoring in June of 1777, to help celebrate the countess’ name day.
Mozart, a strong violinist, probably led the ensemble from the first violin part, and he would have been unfazed by the melodic passages that draw the violin high into its upper range, whether in the fast first movement or during the decorative variations of the second movement. The other substantial inner movement, an Adagio, is exemplary night music, with plucked accompaniment imparting the character of an intimate lovers’ serenade. Twin minuets surround the Adagio as breezy palate cleansers, although Mozart may have pushed the boundaries a bit with a mischievous move to G minor during the first minuet’s contrasting trio. The drama of the finale is even more unexpected, with its introductory recitative that casts the lead violin as a moody soprano in a wordless opera scene.
Aaron Grad ©2018
Once Mozart’s long and lucrative run as Vienna’s favorite keyboard player fizzled out, his financial situation became increasingly dire. A small boost came at the end of 1787, when Emperor Joseph II arranged to install Mozart as Kammermusicus, a position held by Gluck until his death that year. Mozart received a modest annual salary of 800 gulden, for which he provided dances for the court ensemble to play at balls. (By comparison, he collected 559 gulden from a single concert in 1785.) It wasn’t exactly the opera commissions or publishing deals he longed for, but at least it was a paying gig.
Mozart wrote 30 short dances during his first two years in that role, including the Six German Dances (K. 571) he completed on February 21, 1789. The “Deutsche Tänze” or “German Dance,” a couple’s dance style in three beats, was a favorite of the emperor, who overlooked its risqué reputation stemming from the close embrace maintained by the couples. (The style endured and evolved into the waltz, the quintessential Viennese dance.) Mozart played into another trend when he capped this dance set with percussive, jangly music in the “Turkish” style—an approximation of the fearsome military bands from Austria’s perennial foe, the Ottoman Empire.
Aaron Grad ©2018
Just a year after his move to Vienna, Mozart was “up to his eyes in work” during the whirlwind summer of 1782, as he explained in a letter to his father. He had just prepared the opera Abduction from the Seraglio for its premiere, and he was rushing to arrange the score for winds. (“Otherwise someone will beat me to it and secure the profits instead of me,” he wrote.) He also moved houses, and he was arranging his wedding to Constanze Weber on the sly without tipping off his disapproving father quite yet.
In the midst of all this activity, Leopold asked his son to write music for the ennoblement of Sigmund Haffner, a boyhood chum of Wolfgang’s and the son of the Salzburg Burgomaster. Mozart completed a first movement within a week, and he dispatched subsequent movements as quickly as he could in the following weeks, not even making copies to keep himself. With an introductory march, an extra minuet movement and a smaller woodwind complement, the resulting work was a typical Serenade—a form of music intended as jovial background music for an evening gathering.
No evidence remains of a Salzburg performance of that Serenade (not to be confused with the other Serenade known as the “Haffner,” written for an earlier wedding in the family), but Mozart remembered the score when he was preparing music for a self-produced concert, and he asked his father to send back the manuscript. When it arrived months later, Mozart replied, “My new Haffner symphony has positively amazed me, for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect.”
To convert the serenade into a symphony, Mozart added flutes and clarinets to the outer movements and dropped the introductory March and superfluous Minuet. From the outset, with its regal leaps up an octave and resonant blasts from the brass and timpani, this symphony’s festive roots shine through. Mozart probably went too far for a Serenade in his finale, with all its boisterous humor, rude surprises and drama worthy of the operatic stage. However it landed on provincial Salzburg’s upper crust, it was a hit with the discerning crowd at Vienna’s Burgtheater.
Aaron Grad ©2018