Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reading Mozart's 35th

Another gem from Mozart's early maturity is his D Major Symphony No. 35, nicknamed the "Haffner" symphony. Written in Vienna in 1782, it began life as a serenade commissioned by the prominent Salzburg family of Sigmund Haffner. (This serenade is not to be confused with the "Haffner Serenade" of 1776.) Mozart wrote the six-movement serenade in great haste during a busy summer, and posted it piecemeal to his father Leopold, who was handling the commission at the Salzburg end.

Later in the year, the younger Mozart reworked the serenade into a symphony by adding a few instruments, taking away a couple of movements, and removing the repeat signs at the end of the first movement's exposition. With a few other minor alterations, the erstwhile serenade was first performed as a symphony in Vienna in the spring of 1783, with a lot of other music stuck between its third and fourth movements, a then-typical programme for a symphonic concert.

Movement I is a sonata marked Allegro con spirito. It opens with one of Mozart's strongest and most memorable themes, presented by the full orchestra in unison. Combining leaping octaves, a descending scale, dotted rhythms, and a trill, this theme dominates the entire movement almost to the exclusion of any other. It is a theme that creates a character in the mind's eye: huge, assertive, given to explosions of jolly laughter. An upside-down version of this theme is the first thing we hear after the transition to the dominant key of A, giving us reason to expect this to be a monothematic movement like many of Haydn's sonatas. But Mozart is merely toying with our expectations, we find when he actually does introduce a contrasting second theme in bar 48, over a dominant (E) pedal in the key of A. This leads directly to a long codetta in which the first theme undergoes some further development, beginning in the original tonic key of D and finally coming to rest in A.

The development begins in bar 95, briefly subjecting the first theme to a variety of moods and keys, overlapping with itself and with other ideas, such as the yearning countersubject in the woodwinds during the transition back to D. The recap takes us back to the opening unison statement, departing surprisingly early from the expo's transition material so as to make way for the second theme, appearing now over a dominant (A) pedal in D major. Is this a theme at all, one may wonder, seeing as it's always combined with first-theme material? Well, that first theme never seems to be absent, but the hearer is apt to welcome this tune back as the second theme anyway. When the codetta returns, this time it begins in G and works its way back to D, complete with the same extra development of the first theme, some remarkable late-in-the-game chromaticism, and the concluding scales and chords solidly reasserting D major.

Movement II is another sonata, but a fairly slow one (Andante) in G major, scored for oboes, bassoons, horns, and strings. It isn't that Mozart omitted the flutes and clarinets; rather, he simply didn't bother to add them, as he did in the outer movements, when he adapted the serenade as a symphony. This movement seems to be one continuous outpouring of melody, with curious effects like when the oboes and bassoons imitate the distant howling of wolves. Nevertheless it follows a compact, efficient sonata plan, with the second theme in D hanging under a dominant (A) pedal in the first violins. The development section, all of 14 measures long, uses a simple chord progression, and perhaps the tiniest amount of thematic material, to change the new D major tonic at the end of the expo into the dominant of good ole G major for the recap. In the latter, the first group returns virtually unchanged from the expo, including the transition to D; only now, the second theme appears in G, hanging below a D pedal in the first violins. An altered version of the codetta finishes the movement firmly in its home key of G.

Movement III is the Menuetto, one of two originally included in the serenade. I have never heard the one Mozart didn't choose to keep in the symphony, so I can't say why he chose this one particularly. After hearing many, many, many, many symphonic Minuets, I find it hard to get awfully excited about one of them. Nevertheless, one can see Mozart making an effort to infuse this very brief, simple dance form with as much rhythmic and tonal variety as possible. Scored for the same forces as the slow movement, with the addition of trumpets and timpani, the third movement consists of a brisk Minuet in D surrounding a gentle Trio in A. And that's all I have to say about it.

The Presto finale opens with the strings in unison describing a descending D-major triad, stuttering a bit over the fifth. Repeat with an added chromatic neighbor-tone, and add some bustling figuration leading to a dominant cadence, and you have the first theme. The full orchestra joins for an ecstatic passage repeating the descending-D-triad idea and effecting a transition to A major. The second theme, appearing in bar 38, sounds like someone running on tiptoe, at first hesitantly, then with comical haste. After a repeat of this theme, the bustling strings build up to a quick, exciting codetta, ending the expo in A major -- again, without a repeat sign.

The development begins with a chromatically-colored transition back to D and what initially seems to be a literal repeat of the expo section, through the initial strings-only statement of the first theme. (This is a characteristic of the hybrid form called "sonata-rondo.") Two bars into the tutti repeat, however, it veers into new territory. Sudden hushed phrases set up a new axis of contrast, from loud to soft. Ascending triads in the lower strings suggest an inversion of the main theme. As these loud-soft and upside-down ideas play back and forth, the music evolves through the keys of E and F-sharp major. The second theme appears in a new guise (B minor), complete with its repeat, and the codetta follows, modulating to A and using that key as a springboard back into D for the recap.

Thematically, a recap seems hardly necessary after viewing the development's "bizarro" version of the entire expo section; but tonally, it is vital to restore our confidence in the key of D. To this end, Mozart includes not only the expo's transition to A, but a new transition back to D for the long-awaited tonic-key version of the second theme. Then he adds a coda to make our assurance doubly sure. Or rather, to make it unsure again, by means of some chromatic horseplay, before bringing back the first group one more time, with the transition passage converted into an extended dominant-tonic cadence.

In the following video, Karl Böhm conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the first movement of this symphony. He, at least, seems to know what he's doing, as opposed to Frans Brüggen, who can be seen conducting all 4 movements in a Youtube playlist -- or rather, failing to conduct it with an ineptitude rarely captured on video.IMAGES: Views along the Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse in Salzburg, Austria.

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