Mahler’s Titan
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756-1791
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756-1791
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216

There is some controversy among scholars whether Mozart himself actually gave the first performance of his five known violin concertos, but there is no question that he was already a master violinist in his childhood. In fact, his father, Leopold – ever the "backstage parent" – was frequently after him to show off his skills by writing a virtuoso concerto for the instrument: “You yourself do not know how well you play the violin,” he wrote to his son. When Mozart finally did write concertos for the instrument in 1773-75, he wrote a bunch of them, his five concertos are only 12 Koechel numbers apart. At that time, Mozart was in Salzburg, in the employment of Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo for whom he both composed and served as violinist in the court orchestra. Mozart hated his employer who was a strict taskmaster and had no truck with his young musician, however talented. Although Mozart was more than seven years in the Archbishop’s employ, he spent nearly three of them on furlough – stretched to AWOL – performing around Europe and, none too diplomatically, looking for another job. By 1773 he was apparently quite negligent about his violin playing and possibly wrote the concertos for his friend, the court violinist Antonio Brunetti, whose abilities were limited and who had difficulty playing them. After 1775 Mozart occasionally performed them himself.

The violin concertos are relatively modest works by a youthful master, written at a time when the genre was somewhat neglected. After the flourishing of the Baroque violin concerto by such masters as Vivaldi and Tartini, the violin concerto went into partial hibernation until Beethoven awakened it with a new kind of virtuosic writing that was to set the stage for the great romantic concertos of Mendelssohn, Bruch and Tchaikovsky. Mozart left no cadenzas but most players either write their own or borrow one from the pen of any number of great violinists.

The Third Concerto in G, dated September 12, 1775, shows a marked progression from the first two. It is freer in form and more self-assured, employing the orchestra as a true partner to the soloist, rather than a pale accompaniment. The opening movement uses the ritornello of Aminta’s aria “Aer tranquillo” from the opera Il ré pastore that Mozart had composed earlier that year, one of the composer's few cases of self-borrowing. Example 1 It is a cheerful, rhythmic theme, and after a transition on the oboes, the soloist enters, elaborating and developing it, eventually leading to a puckish new theme. Example 2 Subsequently, nearly every time the soloist enters, he introduces new material. Example 3 & Example 4 

The slow movement is one of those ravishingly sensuous adagios that are a Mozart hallmark. It is the only movement in which the flutes participate. The single theme has two distinct sections, the first a long legato phrase, Example 5 followed by a more detached passage. Example 6 The movement is in the customary ternary form, but the middle section provides contrast only by transformation of the theme in the minor mode. Example 7

The Finale begins as a rollicking rondo with a very simple theme. Example 8 Although it is customary for the repetitions of the rondo theme to alternate with episodes of new material, Mozart takes the convention to some unusual places. He continually vacillates between G major and g minor, including a passage in which the tempo slows in combination with the shift to g minor, Mozart’s key of extreme pathos and despair. Example 9 But the dark mood does not persist and the high spirits return with a theme resembling a German folk tune Example 10 and finally to the original rondo theme. The movement ends quietly and somewhat unexpectedly with a simple repetition of the rondo theme. Mozart frequently created unity in his multi-movement works in all genres by creating subtle thematic relationships or a parallel structure between one or more movements. In this Concerto the parallels involve the pronounced shift to the minor mode in each movement.

Gustav Mahler 1860-1911
Gustav Mahler
1860-1911
Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 1 in D major

In the late 1880s Gustav Mahler was building his reputation as a symphonic and operatic conductor. As he moved from one conducting post to another, usually as the assistant conductor in opera houses, he had only limited time for composing. It took him from 1883 to 1888 to finish the First Symphony and another eleven years to have it ready for publication.

In the interval, the symphony underwent major changes. At its premiere in Budapest in 1889, Mahler called it a ”Symphonic Poem in two parts” and added an elaborate literary program which he later repudiated. In its first version, the symphony had five movements, but Mahler immediately discarded the original second movement. He also expanded the size of the orchestra and revised the orchestration drastically. The discarded second movement, an andante titled “Blumine,” resurfaced only in 1967 and is now occasionally performed with the symphony.

At the time he started the symphony, Mahler was also composing a cycle of four songs with orchestra, titled Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). The themes from two of these songs found their way into the symphony: The second song, "Ging heut Morgen übers Feld", became the main theme of the first movement, Example 18 while the fourth song, "Die zwei blauen Augen," became a variation on the main theme of the third movement. Example 19

In light of Mahler’s later symphonies, the First is relatively tame. Nevertheless, it was received with hostility and ridicule at the first performance, bewildering the audience and annoying the critics. Its originality lies in the innovative orchestration and harmonies and in the intensity of the emotions it conveys. “Of all romantics, this arch-romantic has most to give to the music of the future,” wrote Copland in 1941, before the resurgence of Mahler’s popularity.

The first movement begins with an eerie introduction, the first two notes of which later become a birdcall, as well as the first two notes of the main theme. It is punctuated by a distant fanfare and a wailing oboe cry. Example 1 The allegro section begins with the second Wayfarer Lied in the cellos, the heart and soul of the symphony that serves not only as the main theme of this movement, but also as the basis of the themes of the second and final movements. Example 2 & Example 3 The birdcall from the introduction and another call also play an important accompanying role throughout this movement. Example 4 The music of the introduction recurs in the middle of the movement. Mahler's genius was his ability to keep all his thematic balls in the air, a feat brilliantly achieved in the coda. Example 5

The second movement, the scherzo, has the rhythm of the Ländler, Example 6 an Austrian folk dance. Although it conforms to the classic minuet and trio structure, Mahler spins out the first section far beyond the standard repeat structure. The Trio recalls the birdcall theme from the first movement. Example 7

A macabre timpani ostinato accompanies a lonely double bass introducing the main theme of the third movement, a funeral march based on none other than the nursery rhyme “Frère Jacques” in the minor mode. It is a spooky parody, said to have been inspired by the popular picture by the French painter Jacques Callot of a dead hunter accompanied to his grave by the forest animals; and Mahler continues the theme with the traditional canon. Example 8 But, as evidenced in the example above, Mahler had already used this motive in the opening of the fourth Wayfarer song, "Die zwei blauen Augen." He then transforms the theme into a dance with more than a hint of Jewish folk music, Example 9 an aspect of Mahler’s heritage about which he manifested considerable ambivalence. The middle section in this movement, both hypnotic and calming, comes directly from part of the fourth Wayfarer song. Example 10In the following example, the Jewish klezmer band appears combined with the sweeping strings reminiscent of a Viennese waltz; symbolic of the two conflicting sides of Mahler's identity and sense of self? Perhaps. Example 11

The Scherzo leads directly to the stormy finale, which in the original program notes was titled Dall’ Inferno al Paradiso – from hell to heaven. It opens with one of the most threatening passages in classical music. Example 12 The theme is then taken up in the main body of the allegro. Example 13 In the Finale, Mahler ties together the previous themes, even those of the discarded "Blumine" movement as a gentle, even comforting, second theme. Example 14 The development section introduces a transformation of the theme that opens a glimpse of pathway to "Heaven" and as if coming from off-stage. Example 15 There are also reprises of material from the first movement, here combining it with the funeral march motive from the Scherzo. Example 16 The road, however, is not an easy one, with moments of intense gentleness interrupted by more than one backward glance. The final resolution comes in a coda of heroic proportions, including a triumphant, full-voiced reprise of the distant fanfare from the opening of the Symphony. Example 17
Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017