Mozart’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro, had an underwhelming opening run in Vienna of just nine performances. It fared better that winter in Prague, where the Italian singer and impresario Pasquale Bondini launched a wildly popular production. Bondini promptly commissioned Mozart to create a new opera for his troupe, and they enlisted Figaro librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Their subject was the Spanish legend of the womanizer Don Juan, or Don Giovanni in Italian; written versions of the tale existed as early as 1630, but the most recent model was a one-act opera that had debuted in Venice early in 1787. Mozart received Da Ponte’s libretto that summer and he began composing the opera in Vienna, finishing it in Prague the day before an already postponed premiere.
The version of Don Giovanni heard here is an arrangement made by Josef Triebensee, an oboist and composer active in Vienna during and after Mozart’s time there. Triebensee played in the Emperor’s Harmonie, a popular style of woodwind ensemble that was perfect for entertaining crowds, whether indoors or outside. These groups were the cover bands of their days, playing instrumental versions of hit theater tunes along with other celebratory fare.
Don Giovanni eventually takes a dark turn when its protagonist gets his comeuppance from a vengeful ghost, but the many deceits, jealousies, mistaken identities and bungled romances make this fundamentally a work of comedy—a “dramma giocoso” as Da Ponte called it, or an “opera buffa” according to Mozart’s entry in his catalog. This suite samples comic and romantic highlights from the opera, starting with “Notte e giorno faticar,” in which Don Giovanni’s manservant Leporello gripes about slaving away night and day on lookout duty while his master enjoys his seductions. The next aria, “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto,” comes from the lips of one of those intended conquests, Zerlina, who swears her innocence but still invites her fiancé Masetto to beat her. (The treatment of sexual violence in this opera is problematic to say the least, but that is a subject for another day.)
The brief duet “Eh via buffone” finds Don Giovanni paying off Leporello to quell his objections. Don Giovanni is back to his old ways in “Deh vieni alla finestra,” a serenade meant to lure Zerlina to a window, with running lines in the accompaniment that imitate his suave plucking on a mandolin. The final selection, “Non mi dir, bell’ idol mio,” is another aria of apology from one of Don Giovanni’s victims, this time the noblewoman Donna Anna, who pleads with her fiancé for patience while she mourns her father, the Commendatore, whom Don Giovanni killed in a duel.
Aaron Grad ©2017
In 1814, at the age of 17, Schubert took a full-time job as a teaching assistant at the school where his father worked. He still attended lessons with Antonio Salieri twice a week, played viola in a student orchestra, and managed to write new music at an astonishing rate. In the next two years, Schubert composed some 300 songs for one or more voices, plus four symphonies, three masses, five musical dramas, three string quartets, three violin sonatas and dozens of other works.
Schubert wrote his Second Symphony during the winter of 1814-15, followed soon after by his Third Symphony, composed between May and July of 1815. For all his efforts to improve his craft, nothing came of Schubert’s symphonic aspirations; neither this symphony nor any other received a public performance before he died at the tragically young age of 31.
As a student composer in Vienna, Schubert could not help but be engulfed by the towering achievements of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, who had by then debuted eight of his nine symphonies. Like Beethoven before him, Schubert used the instrumentation and general outline of Haydn’s final London symphonies as a point of entry for his symphonic style. In Schubert’s Third Symphony, the instrumentation, slow introduction and minuet (instead of a Beethovenian scherzo) all point to the influence of the London symphonies.
The Third Symphony begins with a strong, sustained attack on the keynote, spread across several octaves. This was actually a stock opening for a symphony, one that the French called le premier coup d’archet. Mozart went out of his way to include a version in his “Paris” Symphony (“These oxen here make such a to-do about it,” he wrote to his father), and similar gestures begin six out of the 12 London symphonies by Haydn. A sign of Schubert’s originality comes at a point when it seems the introduction could be finished; instead an abrupt key change extends the introduction so a clarinet can engage in song-like dialogue with other woodwinds. The fast body of the movement starts with the clarinet still in a solo role, adding to the sense of cohesion.
By crafting the second movement as an Allegretto instead of a typical Adagio or Andante, Schubert must have had in mind the equivalent movement in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which had debuted in Vienna less than two years earlier. For the third movement Menuetto, Schubert followed the model of Haydn, who brought coarse humor and rustic elements of the Austrian ländler dance to the refined French tradition of the minuet.
With its propulsive rhythms and wild emotional swings, the finale takes Haydn’s hunt-inspired model into a territory that seems distinctly Schubertian. Some details foreshadow a seminal song composed later in 1815, Erlkönig, a supernatural ballad that was published as Schubert’s long overdue Opus 1 in 1821.
Aaron Grad ©2017
About This Program
Tickets are FREE for West Side Residents and families of West Side school students. If you are a West Side resident, just enter your zip code in the “Promotional Code” field before selecting your desired number of seats to order free tickets. West Side school families can call our Ticket Office at 651.291.1144 to order free tickets.
This concert is approximately one hour long and will be performed without intermission. Everyone age 6 and older is welcome. If you have children under age six, please check out the SPCO's Start the Music! programming in November.