Mozart’s Paris Symphony

  • Eunice Kim

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Gabriel-Urbain Fauré

Suite from Masques et bergamasques

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Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 87

Haydn composed his symphonies nos. 82–87 between 1785 and 1786 on a commission for the Concert de la Loge Olympique, a Parisian musical society; the commission was funded by Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny, a twenty-something aristocrat who also played cello in the Olympique orchestra. Haydn was by this time Western music’s most celebrated composer, and despite his working in relative seclusion at the Esterházy court, his symphonies had enjoyed tremendous popularity among Parisian audiences since the 1770s.

The six “Paris” Symphonies were no exception. They were premiered in the 1786 concert season to great success, and subsequent editions were quickly published in London and Vienna. Jean-Jerome Imbault, the symphonies’ Parisian publisher, captured the works’ favorable reception in his sales advertisement: “These symphonies… cannot fail to be eagerly sought by those who have the good fortune to hear them, and also for those who do not know them. The name of Haydn answers for their extraordinary merit.”

Of the six, Haydn likely composed the Symphony in A Major first, despite its publication as the last of the set. Haydn biographer H.C. Robbins Landon’s recognition in these works of “a remarkable fusion of brilliance, grace, and warmth” is in evidence throughout. Among its first qualities to impress the listener’s ear is the Symphony’s sophisticated orchestration. The work is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns, and strings. The Olympique moreover offered Haydn an unusually large string complement, comprising a combined band of amateurs and professionals; the violins alone numbered 40, as compared to the twenty-five total musicians at Haydn’s disposal at Eszterháza. In spite of this, the work demonstrates an intimate, chamber music-like approach to ensemble part-writing.

Forgoing the slow introduction found in Symphonies nos. 84–86, the opening Vivace of No. 87 begins with a startling jolt of energy; a motoric eighth-note accompaniment in the bassoons and low strings propels the exuberant theme. Haydn has more shock value in store later in the movement: the start of the development section whiplashes the listener into the key of a minor; the Sturm und Drang intensifies as Haydn fragments and transfigures the exposition’s delicate thematic material towards fiery expressive ends. In contrast to the formal experimentation audible in Haydn’s symphonies of two decades earlier, here we encounter the sonata-form principle of thematic development at a supreme level of sophistication.

The heartfelt Adagio demonstrates Haydn’s refined approach to orchestral color. Here, he spotlights the flute, oboes, and bassoons, casting them in lyrical solo lines set against soft, pillowy string textures. The third movement Minuet retains that dance form’s characteristic grace, but with an unexpectedly robust muscularity (a nod, perhaps, to the Olympique orchestra); this music’s robust sonority is offset by the movement’s trio section, scaled back to intimate dimensions, making room for a whisper of an oboe solo. The Symphony concludes with a rousing Vivace.

Patrick Castillo ©2014

Camille Saint-Saëns

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra

Eunice Kim, violin
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 31, Paris

As Mozart matured from a child prodigy to an ambitious young man, he found his musical duties in Salzburg increasingly stifling. He left in the fall of 1777 on an extended job-hunting expedition, visiting Mannheim, Germany en route to Paris. Mannheim’s orchestra was considered the best in the world, famous for its intense crescendo effects, but Paris had its own crack orchestra, which performed on the Concert Spirituel series, a Paris fixture since 1725. The orchestra even had its own signature flourish, the premier coup d’archet: a unison bow-stroke at the start of a work that showed off the ensemble’s precision.

Mozart secured a commission to compose a symphony for the Concert Spirituel in 1778, one of his few successes from an otherwise dismal journey. The resulting symphony employed an unusually large orchestra, including clarinets for the first time in Mozart’s symphonic output. (Haydn, for his part, did not add clarinets to his symphonies until the last works for London, from 1794–95). While the scoring was progressive, the form of the Paris Symphony was a bit of a throwback, using the older three-movement symphonic format and skipping the minuet. The director of the concert series was for the most part pleased with the symphony, but he quibbled that the slow movement was too long, and Mozart obliged with a shorter replacement. (Most performances today use the original version.)

Mozart, eager to please his local audience and potential Parisian employers, incorporated the stereotypical coup d’archet at the start of his symphony. This was perhaps a bit cynical, considering that Mozart wrote to his father, “These oxen here make such a to-do about it! What the devil! I can see no difference—they merely begin together—much as they do elsewhere.” The opening flourish begins with a rapidly ascending octave scale, a motive that circulates throughout the movement. In the development section, that scale-figure makes the shocking “mistake” of going a half-step too far, a devilish surprise.

The Andante slow movement plays like a scene from a comedy of manners, with calm and courtly themes that pause politely to let each other speak. The Allegro finale is not so genteel; it draws the listeners in with a scurrying piano start and then blasts a forte response. The contrapuntal treatment of the second theme foreshadows the famous fugal conclusion to Mozart’s last symphony, No. 41 (Jupiter), composed a decade later.

Aaron Grad ©2012

About This Program

Approximate length 2:00