Wednesday, March 15, 2017

WHAT DID MOZART LOOK LIKE?

A Review of Mozart Iconography
Vincent P. de Luise, M.D.


Wolfgang Amade' Mozart (1756 - 1791)
by his brother-in-law, Johann Joseph Lange


It has often been said that to discover the real Mozart, one need simply listen to his ineffable music. Yet, questions still arise: What did Mozart look like? Which are the true portraits that were made of him during his life? Can an artist capture genius in a painting? 

Of the hundreds of images of Wolfgang Amade' Mozart, only about a dozen have been attested. The early 20th century biographer Arthur Schurig crystallized this apparent Mozartean paradox: "Mozart has been the subject of more portraits that have no connection with his actual appearance than any other famous man; and there is no famous person of whom a more worshipful posterity has had a more incorrect physical appearance than is generally the case with Mozart." (1) 

One reason that has been offered for the paucity of vetted depictions of Mozart is that he was not painted by the most famous artists of his time, as had been J.S. Bach, Handel, Haydn and Beethoven. No Haussmann (Bach), Hudson (Handel), or Hoppner (Haydn) portrayed Mozart for posterity. 

Mozart's sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) captured an aspect of him: "... My brother was a rather pretty child." Later, she added that he was "small, thin, and pale in color, and lacking in any pretensions as to physiognomy and bodily appearance." The composer Johann Adolph Hasse wrote that "the boy Mozart is handsome, graceful and full of good manners."  Michael Kelly, the tenor who sang the roles of Don Basilio and Don Curzio in the premiere of Le Nozze di Figaro, famously reminisced about Mozart in 1826: "He was a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine hair, of which he was rather vain...."   

Roland Tenschert published an initial series of Mozart portraits in 1931. (2) The musicologist and historian Otto Eric Deutsch codified Mozart iconography in a seminal article in the 1956 bicentennial volume, The Mozart Companion (3), and further detailed his findings in a 1961 book.(4) Deutsch identified twelve portraits that have the provenance to be considered authentic.

Since then, there have been a few discoveries which purport to represent Mozart: the portrait from the estate of Johann Lorenz Hagenauer ("The Man in the Red Coat"), the Edlinger portrait, the Albi Rosenthal sketch, the Fruhstorfer portrait of a boy with a toy soldier, the rediscovery of the J.B. Delahaye portrait, the portrait by Leopold Bode, the Zoffany portrait of a boy with a bird's nest, and the Greuze portrait. The Hagenauer, Edlinger, Fruhstorfer, Delahaye, and Greuze have undergone biometric analysis. The Edlinger has been proven to be a monk and not Mozart. None of these portraits resembles the vetted portraits of Mozart. (These recent portraits and links to the biometrics are included in the Addendum). 

A small enamel of a young man, putatively of Mozart, was sold at auction at Sotheby's in 2014. The enamel was supposedly given by Wolfgang to his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart ("Basle"), in 1777. (5)

In 1947, a bronze "death mask," putatively of Mozart, was found in an antique shop in Vienna. Legend has it that a gypsum plaster death mask was made "shortly after Mozart died," either by Josef Deym von Stritetz or Taddeus Ribola. Upon the death of the craftsman, the mask went to his widow, and when she died, around 1821, the mask vanished. Mozart's widow Constanze Mozart Nissen wrote that she had been given "a replica" of the death mask, presumably also in plaster, but had "clumsily broken it" at some point in time. Most scholars do not accept the bronze death mask as authentic. (6,7)

The following are the canonical portraits of Mozart. A few of the portraits derive from the others, so the number of uniquely identifiable Mozart portraits is eleven:

1.The Boy Mozart, oil painting, attributed to Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni, 1763 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg). The Lorenzoni is contested. The head has been spliced into a stock painting of the clothing.

Wolfgang Mozart in 1763 at age 7.
Attributed to  Pietro Lorenzoni.





2. Leopold Mozart with Wolfgang and Maria Anna ("Nannerl"), watercolor by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle, November 1763 (Musée Condé, Chantilly). Three variants (Musée Carnavalet, Paris; British Museum, London; Castle Howard, York), an engraving by Delafosse in 1764 after Carmontelle's painting (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris) and several other copies are known to exist. If the youth at the keyboard is Wolfgang, he looks nothing like the Wolfgang of the Lorenzoni or the Verona portraits.
Leopold, Wolfgang and Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart 
by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle



3. The Tea Party at Prince Louis-François de Conti's, in the 'Temple', oil painting by Michel Barthélemy Ollivier, 1766 (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The head of the person playing the harpsichord is so small that the painting, per O.E. Deutsch, is "iconographically worthless." In addition, the individual playing the harpsichord looks to be about 50 and not ten years of age, and cannot be seen clearly. Unless Mozart had progeria, which he did not, this is not him.

The Tea Party in "The Temple"
by Michel Barthelmey Ollivier 1766




4. Wolfgang at 14 years of age at the piano. This oil is the so-called "Verona portrait," attributed to Saverio dalla Rosa, or his maternal uncle, Giambettino Cignaroli, or the artists may have collaborated. 1770 (Private Collection). 


Mozart at the keyboard, 1770
The so-called "Verona Portrait"
by Saverio dalla Rosa or Giambettino Cignaroli



5. Miniature on ivory, attributed to Martin Knoller, 1773 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg). The portrait is contested.
The 1773 miniature on ivory
attributed to Martin Knoller




6. The anonymous portrait in enamel, 1777, presumably of Wolfgang, that he may have given to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla (the "Basle"), auctiuoned at Sotheby's in 2014. (5)
The 1777 enamel miniature that Wolfgang
may have given to his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart (the "Basle")



7. The 1777 copy of Mozart as Knight of the Golden Spur, anonymous oil painting, (Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica di Bologna). The 1770 original oil has been lost. Leopold wrote that Wolfgang was ill when this was painted.

The 1777 copy of the lost 1770 oil
Mozart with the Order of the Golden Spur



8. The Family Portrait, an oil painting attributed to Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780-1781 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg). Anna (Ana) Maria Walburga Pertl Mozart (Wolfgang's and Nannerl's mother, and Leopold's spouse) is seen on the wall in the portrait. She died in Paris in 1778. In 1829, when Mary and Vincent Novello met with and interviewed Constanze Mozart Nissen, she stated that the image of Wolfgang in this painting was "one of the best likenesses" of him. (8)

The Mozart Family Portrait 1780-1781
attributed to Johann Nepomuk della Croce


9. Oil painting by Johann Joseph Lange, 1782-1783 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg). Sometimes entitled "Mozart at the Piano." At some later time, the head of this portrait was affixed to a larger canvas, presumably with the intention of depicting Mozart seated at the piano, but this larger painting was unfinished; it is the one below that we see today at the Wohnhaus across from the Mozarteum. The portrait itself is on a side wall, in shadow, behind. If you scrutinize it very carefully in oblique and specular light,you can almost perceive irregularities around the head. 
In 1829, in an interview with the Novellos, Constanze Mozart Nissen stated that this Lange portrait and the della Croce painting were the best likenesses of her brother Wolfgang. The Novellos went on to write that, "..... by far the best likeness of him (Mozart), in Mrs. Constanze Nissen's opinion, is the painting in oils done by the Husband of Madame Lange (the eldest sister of Mrs. Nissen)....." who is the very same Joseph Lange who painted this portrait.(8)
Michael Lorenz has researched the Lange portrait in the context of Lange's other paintings. His conclusion is that "the Mozart portrait by Joseph Lange is not an unfinished painting of "Mozart at the Piano," but an unfinished enlargement of an original miniature of Mozart's head." (9) 
Mozart, by his brother-in-law, Joseph Lange.



10. Silhouette, engraved by Hieronymous Löschenkohl, 1785, for his Musik- und Theater-Almanach of 1786 (one copy in the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien). The silhouette is contested. Löschenkohl correctly uses Mozart's middle name, Amade'.

The Silhouette of 1784/1785 
by Johann Hieronymus Loschenkohl




11. Medallion in red wax, by Leonard Posch, 1788 (formerly Mozart-Museum, Salzburg: missing since 1945); Deutsch lists three other variants. Grosspietsch describes six variants in detail. 

The 1788 medallion in red wax by Leonard Posch.



12. The silverpoint drawing by Dorothea (Doris) Stock, 1789 (Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg). This tiny and meticulously rendered portrait of Mozart, about four inches by three inches in greatest dimension, is at the Wohnhaus under glass with a convex lens over it.


The 1789 silverpoint by Doris Stock



13. The posthumous Barbara Kraft portrait of 1819 in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna. Nannerl Mozart lent Kraft the della Croce painting and the Lange portrait, on which she based this painting.
The 1819 posthumous oil by Barbara Kraft.


An introductory article with excellent images can be found here (10). There is an extensive website of images of authenticated, inauthentic, and controversial Mozart portraits (11).  Christoph Grosspietsch has written a treatise on Mozart iconography. (12) 

Mozart scholar Cliff Eisen has offered an eloquent summary on the function of Mozart portraiture:

"Very few images of Mozart are universally agreed to be authentic. Yet the acceptance of these portraits - as well as more recently discovered portraits purporting to be Mozart - is less the result of provenance or connoisseurship than the fact that they are shrines at which Mozart scholars and Mozart lovers uncritically worship. They are representations of how we would like Mozart to look - in short they satisfy our visual biographical fancy. This is true above all of the unfinished portrait by Joseph Lange. The musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon described it as the most intimate, most profound, of all the mature  Mozart portraits - the only one, really, to catch the ambivalent nature of Mozart's mercurial mind and to show the profoundly pessimistic side of his many-sided genius." (13)


@ 2017 Vincent P. de Luise, M.D.

References 

1. Schurig, A., Wolfgang Mozart: Sein Leben und sein Werk Insel-Verlag, Leipzig 1913.
2. Tenschert, R., Mozart: Ein Kunstlerleben in Bildern und Doumenten, 1931.
3. Deutsch, O.E., Mozart Iconography, in The Mozart Companion, Robbins-Landon, H.C and Mitchell, D, eds.,  Oxford University Press 1956.
4. Deutsch, O.E., Mozart und seine Welt in zeit gemossischen Bildern. M. Zenger, ed. Verlag - Kassel, 1961.
5. http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/lot.178.html/2014/music-continental-books-manuscripts-l14406
6. https://edwardianpiano.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/count-josef-deyms-art-collection-and-mozarts-death-mask/
7. Karhausen,L., The Bleeding of Mozart, XLibris  2011 .
8. Novello, V. and Novello, M.   "A Mozart Pilgrimage- Being the Travel Diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello in the year 1829, N. de Medici di Marignano and Robert Hughes, London, 1955, reprinted 1975.  
9. http://michaelorenz.blogspot.com/2012/09/joseph-langes-mozart-portrait.html
10.http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/09/what-mozart-really-looked-like-14-portraits-of-the-composer-photos-music.html
11. www.mozartportraits.com
12. Grosspietsch, C., Mozart-Bilder / Bilder Mozarts  Verlag Anton Pustet, Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum 2013 https://www.amazon.de/Mozart-Bilder-Bilder-Mozarts-zwischen-Wirklichkeit/dp/3702506993
13. Eisen, C., https://www.apollo-magazine.com/features/5569418/a-new-portrait-of-mozart.thtml  

Addendum


The Fruhstorfer Portrait of a young boy with a toy soldier



The Delahaye Portrait  c.1772



The Johann Georg Edlinger Portrait   1789-1790
This portrait has been proven to be a monk and not Mozart




The Portrait in the Hagenauer Estate
("The Man in the Red Coat") 1789-1790





The anonymous Albi Rosenthal silverpoint drawing c. 1790



The Bode portrait. This portrait was executed by Leopold Bode in 1859, 68 years after Mozart died. Bode wrote that he had used the 1770 Verona portrait as a template.
Portrait of a young man by Leopold Bode 1859


For decades, a c. 1770 painting by Franz Thaddeus Heibling in the Stiftung Internationale Mozarteum was thought to be Mozart. It has been proven that the individual in the painting is not Mozart, but rather, Carl Graf Firmian.

Young man at the piano by Franz Thaddeus Heibling, c. 1770



A portrait known as the "Boy with a Bird's Nest" had at one time been attributed to the prominent British painter John Zoffany (1733-1810, and the individual depicted had been thought to represent Mozart. 
This portrait is not at all as finely rendered as the many superb portraits of children that Zoffany painted. The Mozarteum has firmly rejected the painting as being Mozart. The Zoffany scholar Martin Postle does not consider the portrait to have been painted by Zoffany, writing that "it has been stated, incorrectly, that a painting of a young boy holding a birds nest.... is a portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by John Zoffany." So, here we have a "cautionary tale," as Dexter Edge has articulated in a detailed analysis.(7) This painting is neither of Mozart nor by Zoffany.
Boy with a Bird's Nest.


A portrait of a young man, dated 1763/1764 and attributed to Jean-Baptiste Greuze, at the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, had at one time been said to be Mozart. Scholars have not accepted this attestation. On the label next to the portrait is written the following: " Attributed to Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). Signed "BJG." Yale University, New Haven Connecticut, acquired 1960. Exhibitions: Mozarteum Salzburg, Austria 1910. The identification of the sitter as Mozart has never been confirmed and should be treated with skepticism."





@ 2017 Vincent P. de Luise M.D.

1. http://www.neuroscience-of-music.se/ormen/Edlinger%20Mozart-2.htm

2. http://www.neuroscience-of-music.se/ormen/Fruhstorfer%20Mozart.htm


3. http://www.neuroscience-of-music.se/ormen/Delahaye_Mozart_Braun.htm


4. http://www.neuroscience-of-music.se/ormen/Greuze_Mozart_Braun.htm


5. http://www.neuroscience-of-music.se/ormen/Hagenauer%20Mozart.htm


6. Robbins-Landon, The Mozart Compendium, New York, Schirmer Books, 1990, pp. 112-113

7. Edge, Dexter, Not Mozart, Not Zoffany: A Cautionary Tale http://www.academia.edu/7646630/Not_Mozart_Not_Zoffany_A_Cautionary_Tale_


Monday, March 13, 2017

MOZART'S SUMMER OF MAGICAL THINKING

Vincent P. de Luise M.D.


W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) in 1782
Portrait by his brother-in-law Joseph Lange


Wolfgang Amade' Mozart was one of the greatest symphonists in history. Over the course of thirty years of composing, he crafted 54 symphonies and sinfonias; forty-one are canonical compositions and the last three are among the finest ever written. 
Mozart composed his 38th symphony, the D Major K.V. 504 ("Prague") in December 1786 and it premiered in that great city on January 19, 1787.  A year and a half would pass before Mozart returned to the symphonic genre. Then, seemingly without a specific reason, over the course of six weeks in that "magical" summer of 1788, Mozart composed not just one, but three magisterial symphonies, his last and greatest in the genre. 
For what purpose were they written? For what commission or special event? Why did Mozart decide to write three large-scale and intricate works, masterpieces which stood on the shoulders of Haydn's creations, compositions that opened the door to a new world for the symphonic form?
Mozart very rarely wrote music without a specific purpose, just "for the heck of it." The quaint trope of the starving artist living in a garret and composing out of "divine" inspiration is a romantic and Byronic conceit, yet one that, curiously, is still held onto by some Mozart admirers. 
That myth was not Mozart's reality. Mozart was not a starving artist, certainly not by 1788. He was earning the modern equivalent of at least $ U.S. 100,000 in each of the last three years of his life, compensation that put him in the upper middle class of Viennese society. (1) To be sure, his creative output ebbed and flowed in 1787 and 1788, but by then, he had secured some level of financial security with his three operatic Da Ponte collaborations (Nozze, Don Giovanni and Cosi'), piano concerti, and had given several Akademies (subscription concerts where he kept the profits), and had a number of talented and wealthy keyboard pupils under his wing (among whom were Barbara Ployer, Josepha von Auernhammer, Thomas Attwod, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who would become his patron and then, curiously, a legal adversary in an unpaid debt); Mozart was beginning to to see the financial light at the end of the tunnel. 
As Mozart scholar and Cornell Professor Neal Zaslaw entitled one of his essays, Mozart was  a "working stiff." He needed to make a living, he had a spouse and two young children, a large apartment, expensive clothes, a valet and a coach, and a desire to live as an equal to the aristocrats who patronized his concerts. Mozart was one of history's first "freelance" artists (i.e. not fully employed church or having a munificent aristocratic patron, as had Handel and Haydn); he was on his own to earn an income.(2)
Yet, there is no record that the symphonies known today as the 39th (Eb major K.V. 543), 40th (g minor K.V. 550) and 41st (C major K.V. 551, nicknamed "Jupiter" by Haydn's employer Johann Peter Salomon in London in the 1790s) were commissioned. There is no record of any purpose for which they were composed, and there is no concrete evidence that they were ever performed during Mozart's lifetime. Some musicologists believe that Mozart wrote the symphonies as a whole, for publication purposes, but again, with no proof of performance.
An intriguing statement in one of Mozart's letters implies that he had intended to perform these symphonies at a new casino in Vienna's Spiegelgasse (owned by his friend Philip Otto), and a letter to another colleague, a comment about tickets for a series of concerts at that venue, supports the notion of a planned performance.
A July 10, 1802 letter by the musician Johann Wenzel to the Leipzig publisher Ambrosius Kuhnel, Wenzel refers to a performance of the g minor symphony (the 40th) at the home of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, but it was so poorly performed that Mozart had to leave the room! (3)  Concert programs exist from performances in Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt and Vienna in 1789 and 1790 that refer to Mozart "symphonies," however without date or key signature. 
Mozart made a revision of the g minor (40th) symphony a few months after he composed it, to include clarinets and to give new parts for the flutes. Could this revision have been for a performance in a different location in Vienna or elsewhere in Europe? Ever the pragmatist, it is unlikely that Mozart would have rescored the symphony if he had not intended to perform it in a different venue. 
On April 16 and 17, 1791, the Tonkunstler Societat presented a program of music which included works by Mozart: an aria was sung by his sister-in-law Aloysia Weber Lange, and a "Grand Symphony" was performed; the specific symphony is not mentioned by Colin Lawson. (5)  Julian Rushton suggests that the Symphony may have been the revised version of the g minor (KV 550) with the inclusion of parts for the clarinets.
But that's it. 
There are no ticket receipts, no written recollections by concert-goers, no reviews in the Viennese newspapers or journals (and new compositions by any of the several excellent composers in Vienna - instrumental or operatic - were often talked about), and no mention of a performance of any of the last three symphonies in any correspondence by Mozart to his friends, or to Constanze or his sister Maria Anna (Nannerl). 
Which is all very odd. 
Over 800 letters exist from Mozart to and from his family, colleagues and friends, one of the largest troves of correspondence by any composer. In these letters, Mozart mentions in detail not only his musical triumphs but also the quotidian events in his life, such as purchasing a pet starling, or eating pork cutlets, con gusto, on October 6, 1791, eight weeks before he died. Given this extraordinarily detailed chronicle of a life, it is unlikely that Mozart or one of his addressees would not have made a reference to one of these symphonies.
Yet nothing. 

Haydn may have channeled motifs from Mozart's 41st symphony (Jupiter) in his 98th symphony of 1792. Could Haydn have heard a performance of it sometime between 1788 and 1792? We do not know.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the prolific Early Music conductor, has offered the possibility that Mozart crafted his last three symphonies as an integral whole, as a final statement on the symphonic genre, that Mozart composed them without commission, perhaps as instrumental music underpinning a grand oratorio, which Harnoncourt calls Mozart's "Instrumental Oratorium." 
Harnoncourt considers the first movement of the 39th symphony the "Prelude" of this putative oratorio, and the last movement of the 41st symphony, the "Finale." He argues that the 39th has no ending, the 40th has no true beginning, and the 41st has a magisterial coda. There is no proof that these three masterpieces were conceived as part of a larger whole, but it is an intriguing thesis.(4)

Harnoncourt and the Concentus Music Wien have performed Mozart's last three symphonies chronologically in one concert, and it is fascinating to hear them this way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pShalO-Ajgc

What is evident is the remarkable quality of these three symphonies, their assuredness and complexity, their modulation and chromatics, their "knocking on the door" of Romanticism seventeen years before Beethoven would break open that door, in April 1805 with his Eroica Symphony.
With regards to the 41st symphony (Jupiter), there are melodic antecedents. The last movement motif  is found not only in Mozart's own first symphony (Eb major, KV 16 of 1764), his Missa Brevis in F (KV 192 of 1774), and his 33rd symphony (KV 319 of 1779), it can be heard as far back as the Missa Pange Lingua of 1515 of Josquin de Prez. 
Mozart had seen the autograph of the Symphony in C major (no. 27) of his friend, Michael Haydn, which was written four years earlier than Mozart's Jupiter, and which has the same finale motif. In those days, before copyright laws, imitating another composer's melodies or motifs was not only not considered plagiarism, it was a compliment.
The finale of Mozart's Jupiter is an astonishing burst of creativity: the coda is comprised of five separate and intertwined fugal motifs. Johann Sebastian Bach would have been proud:


The fugal coda of Mozart's Symphony no. 41 in C major, 
KV 551 "Jupiter," with its five separate, intertwined motifs.

Mozart's creative process is as mysterious and wondrous as the genius underlying his ineffable compositions. In what would be his last three symphonies, Mozart demonstrated that he had mastered this genre as well.

Ars longa !

@ 2017 Vincent P. de Luise M.D. 


References 

 1. Baumol, William and Baumol, Hilda, On the economics of musical composition in Mozart's Vienna, in, On Mozart,  James Morris, ed. Woodrow Wilson center and Cambridge University Press, 1994.

2. Zaslaw, Neal, Mozart as a working stiff, in On Mozart, James Morris ed., Woodrow Wilson Center and Cambridge University Press, 1994 


3. Milada Jonasova: Eine Auffuhrung der g-moll-Sinfonie KV 550 bei Baron van Swieten im Beisein Mozarts", in: Mozart Studien 20, Tutzing 2011, pp. 253-268. An abridged English translation was published in the Newsletter of the Mozart Society of America 16:1 (2012)

4.https://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Symphonies-Nos-39-40/dp/B00IROIE1I

5. Lawson, C. Mozart: Clarinet Concerto, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1996, pg. 27.

5. Rushton, J.  Mozart, Oxford. Oxford University Press, 2009, pg. 210.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

BRAHMS and BEETHOVEN in NEW YORK CITY

I was given the privilege and honor again of writing the program notes for tonight's (March 4, 2017) performance by the Weill Cornell Medical College Music and Medicine Orchestra performance of the Brahms violin concerto and Beethoven's fifth symphony at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Juilliard, in New York City. Music performed at this level of excellence and sheer musicality gives me great hope for the future of humanity.

Notes on the Program
Vincent P. de Luise M.D. ‘77
Assistant Clinical Professor, Ophthalmology, Yale University                            
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Weill Cornell Medical College

Two masterworks comprise tonight’s program, “warhorses” of the classical music repertoire. How fitting that we will hear Brahms’ violin concerto along with Beethoven’s fifth symphony, as Brahms was proclaimed, by Robert Schumann and subsequently an adoring Viennese public, the successor to Beethoven’s legacy.

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D, Op. 77

Johannes Brahms (May 7, 1833 April 3, 1897)

I. Allegro non troppo II. Adagio III. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace - Poco piu’ presto
Scored for solo violin, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, four horns, timpani and strings

It is a commonplace today for music to be a collaborative endeavor. Composers work with lyricists and producers to create songs and smash-hit musicals. Though these relationships were less frequent in the 19th 
century, Johannes Brahms in particular relied on his virtuosi musical friends, in his violin, cello, and clarinet masterpieces, who served as inspirational muses and editors. 

The Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) was one such advisor. When the two first met in 1853, Joachim, though only two years older, was already widely known as a brilliant musician and composer. Brahms, a newcomer to the musical scene, often sought out the violinist's opinion regarding his compositions. It was Joachim who introduced Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann, in Dusseldorf in 1853; the rest is history, with Robert anointing Brahms as the next big thing,” and Brahms and Clara remaining intimate musical and personal friends throughout their lives. 


Johannes Brahms at 52,  in 1885
The violin concerto could not have had a more sublime environ for its genesis. Brahms began composing it during a relatively happy period in his life, the summer of 1878, in the Austrian village of Portschach. He had heard so many melodies walking the streets of the town that he once quipped, “one had to be careful not to step on them!” However, Brahms was a pianist, and needed the advice of Joachim the violinist to craft the concerto, writing to him, "You should correct it, not sparing the quality of the composition.... I shall be satisfied if you mark those parts that are difficult, awkward, or impossible to play." In fact, many of its arpeggios were considered “unviolinistic,” which is to say, more pianistic than for a violinist’s technique. 

Joachim contributed greatly to the concerto, scrutinizing every note, offering ideas, revising whole sections with multiple mail exchanges, ensuring that the work was “playable and idiomatic.”

The concerto was premiered at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig (which had earlier been Mendelssohn’s home base) on January 1st 1879, with Joachim as soloist and Brahms himself conducting. Perhaps to cement the relationship between two of von Bulow’s iconic “Three B’s of Music,” (the other "B" being Johann Sebastian Bach), the concert opened with the Beethoven concerto and closed with the Brahms.

Joachim famously stated that, "the Germans have four concertos: the greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven's; Brahms' concerto vies with it in seriousness; the richest, the most seductive was written by Bruch; but the heart's jewel is that by Mendelssohn."  Indeed, Brahmsconcerto melds the nobility and gravitas of Beethoven’s with the lyricism of the Mendelssohn, along with Hungarian folk melodies which had informed Brahms in his halcyon days touring Europe with the violinist Edward Remenyi. Thankfully, Brahms and Joachim were on good terms throughout the composition of the concerto. They later had a falling out over Joachim’s relationship with his (Joachim’s) spouse, but Brahms ultimately patched things up in 1887, writing the double concerto for violin and cello, Op 102.

Brahms’ concerto, like Beethoven’s, is in the violin-friendly key of D major. They also share a top-heavy first movement and, unusually, a timpani accompaniment to the violin’s first entry. The work presents formidable technical challenges for any violinist: wide interval jumps, broken chords, double and triple stops, even quadruple stops, mandating that the violinist play multiple notes simultaneously and rapidly. Though conductor Joseph Hellmesberger (who led the Vienna premiere before a rapturous Viennese audience) acidly described it as not a concerto for, but rather, as against the violin,and Wieniawski stated it was “unplayable,” the inherent beauty, elegance and compositional mastery that the concerto displays belie these grumblings.

The musicologist Bernard Jacobsen reminds us that a concerto is, at its essence, a human drama, with contrasting forces from soloist and orchestra. In classical idiom, it uses the musical device of the Baroque ritornello (literally, “a little return”), “.... the orchestra presents the basic material and then the solo instrument comes in and establishes its primacy by varying the orchestral ideas, introducing new ones of its own, and extending the music’s tonal range.” The first movement is heralded by the orchestra’s tonic and dominant chords, combining classical formalism with the richness and warmth that is idiomatic of Brahmsian style. The violin enters with breathtaking virtuosity, stakes its claim, and the forces collide. Of the many cadenzas that have been composed for the first movement (Auer, Busoni, Kreisler, Heifetz, inter alias), the original and most famous one, written by Joachim himself, will be heard this evening. The Adagio, in F major and ternary (ABA) form, begins with one of classical music’s most ravishing melodies: a solo oboe on high, floating a sublime melody, an achingly beautiful theme gently supported by a lovely woodwind choir, which is then taken up and developed by the violin. An unsettled mid-section ebbs and returns to the pastoral theme. The third movement is a sprightly rondo highlighted by ungarischgypsy motifs, ending with a dynamic coda.


Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op 67

Ludwig van Beethoven (December 17, 1770 March 26, 1827)
I. Allegro con brio II. Andante con moto III. Scherzo: Allegro IV. Allegro
Scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, piccolo, contrabassoon, two trumpets, three trombones, four horns, timpani, and strings

Can you imagine being seated in Vienna’s majestic Theater an der Wien on the evening of December 22, 1808, one of the first ever to hear those eight earth-shattering notes:



What did that motif sound like to early nineteenth century ears? Two groups of four notes, each three short and one long, a descending fourth in cut time (2/4), with the half notes held, unmeasured. It certainly wasn’t a melody, but rather some type of pronouncement. An outcry. What an extraordinary experience it must have been! 

The lengthy and under-rehearsed concert was an Akademie subscription event for Beethoven’s own benefit, and he himself conducted it. It was to be the most remarkable night of his life. The concert lasted almost four hours, and included five premieres. Two symphonies were on the program: the Sixth (“Pastoral) began the concert, and the Fifth was performed in the second half, along with a large swath of the C major Mass. The concert aria, Ah ! Perfido,and the fourth piano concerto (with Beethoven himself as soloist) also had their maiden voyages that evening. The marathon concluded with the sublime Choral Fantasia (a brilliant finaleBeethoven called it), a fascinating work for piano, chorus and orchestra that prefigured the last movement of Beethoven’s magisterial ninth symphony. Some grumbled about the length of the concert and the freezing cold in the unheated hall, yet virtually no one left early.


Beethoven at 45, in 1815
Extant sketches confirm that Beethoven began working on the fifth symphony as early as 1802, diving deeply into it by 1804, yet frequently interrupting its creation as he switched gears to compose the fourth piano concerto and the Pastoral symphony, and to deal with personal anguish and ailments. He had written his courageous Heiligenstadt Testament to his brothers Carl and Johann, (a letter, like his letters to die unsterbliche Geliebte,the Immortal Beloved,that he never sent), in which he admitted, in heartbreaking detail, that he was slowly going deaf. 

In the summer of 1808 he was nursing a nasty finger infection, affecting his piano playing, while the world around him was equally challenging, with Europe enmeshed in the Napoleonic Wars and Vienna in political turmoil. The symphony was commissioned by Count Franz von Oppersdorff, but Beethoven dedicated it to two other aristocrats: Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz and Count Andreas Kirillovich Razumovsky.

Debussy famously wrote that “music is the silence between the notes,” a fitting comment with respect to Beethoven’s Fifth, which boldly begins not with sound, but with silence: an eighth note rest ! Silence creates musical tension. That tension leads to expectations that trigger the brain’s neural network emotional response, those musical frissons (chills down the spine) that music gives to the listener, catalyzing receptors in the midbrain and forebrain pleasure centers. If we are to believe Beethoven’s amanuensis Anton Schindler (who was prone to hyperbole in re his master’s works), Beethoven himself provided the key to the motif, expressing its essential idea as, "Thus Fate knocks at the door!

The structure of the first movement is a Manichean struggle between darkness and light, chaos and form, represented in music by the dialectic between minor (c minor) and major (Eb major). Given composition theory within the common-practice era, the keys are related: the symphony’s tonic of c minor (3 flats) is the relative minor of Eb major (also 3 flats). Dynamics, contrasting tempos and harmonies contribute scaffolding and shading. The opening motif is heard repeatedly, incessantly, at times overlapping, modulated to Eb major (the relative major), reprised in ascending and descending forms, even as it also serves as a rhythmic foundation for the other three movements.



The second movement is as soft as the first movement is stormy. In ABAC form, it begins with a syncopated theme from low strings in Ab major (four flats). Woodwinds introduce the second motif, followed by a third theme from violas and cellosThe movement ends with a unison fortissimo, which Donald Francis Tovey likened to smiling through tears in the minor mode.” 

The third movement is in ternary form: a scherzo and trio. Its brooding, drum-thumping ending proceeds directly into the magisterial fourth movement without a pause, a revolutionary technique for its time. The triumphant finale (with trombones!, another first!) explodes not with the traditional return to the tonic of c minor that began the symphony, but rather in the sunlight of C major. Beethoven, as one might imagine, defended his choice, stating that Many people say that every minor piece must end in the minor. I disagree! .... Joy must follow sorrow, just as sunshine from rain.

The first movement’s “dah-dah dah-DAH” rhythm came to represent the letter “V” in Morse code, explaining why the Allies in World War II nicknamed the Fifth, the “Victory” Symphony. As one of the most groundbreaking and transformative compositions in the western canon, it comes as no surprise that the Fifth Symphony is now hurtling forward into interstellar space. Its first movement is one of several compositions embedded into a gold-plated copper disc Golden Record containing music, images, and languages of Earth, sent into space in 1977 with each of the two unmanned Voyager probes; music that is, literally, out of this world ! 

Ars longa!