Commentary: The extraordinary consequence of Mozart's love letter between violin and viola

Commentary: The extraordinary consequence of Mozart's love letter between violin and viola

9/16/2020 4:55:00 PM

Commentary: The extraordinary consequence of Mozart's love letter between violin and viola

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, a lush dialogue expressing the pleasures of likeness and difference, doesn't get performed nearly enough. Now's the time to hear it.

AdvertisementMozart had already wowed world royalty as boy-wonder on keyboard and as a composer. In his teens, he wrote symphonies, keyboard concertos, sonatas, Italian operas and religious music of remarkable fluency and flair. He mastered the Classical-era forms of his day with exceptional ease and composed at unbelievable speed. But the fact is that not until his ninth piano concerto, nicknamed “Jeunehomme” after its dedicatee, did Mozart truly stand out as more than a remarkably facile prodigy.

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For the first time, he transformed the concerto, which mostly served at the time as a vehicle for showy virtuosity, into a drama. The soloist became like a character in an opera, capable of expressing a range of feelings from tragedy to boyish joy, within the classic constraints of symmetry, reason and the like. Even so, it took Mozart another two years, and about 100 more compositions, to mature to the point where he understood the profound potential for contravening convention.

There was no precedent for this Sinfonia Concertante — which has the chronological Köchel number of 364 and is in the same E-flat major key as the “Jeunehomme” (K. 271). Double and triple concertos tended to be celebratory and gimmicky. A good way to find favor in court could be to add, say, a third, unchallenging keyboard part in a concerto for three pianos that allowed an amateur member of the royalty to join in. Even Mozart’s playful Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365, which he wrote for himself and sister around the same time as K. 364, is, for all its exuberant brilliance, a flashy work of little consequence.

The Sinfonia Concertante, on the other hand, announces its ambitions from the start, not only with that chord, but also with a flowering of melodies, one idea flowing from another, with as much irrepressible logic as invention. Harmonies are enriched by unexpected dissonances. It doesn’t take long for Mozart to use every note in the chromatic scale, and when he gets to the last one, a D-flat, he lets you know with great, unresolved emphasis.

AdvertisementThe entrance of the soloists is miraculous. The standard concerto form is the exposition of themes by the orchestra in anticipation of a curtain-raising, showy solo entrance. Here, though, the violin and viola sneakily glide in from above like a couple of trickster angels; they hold very quiet high pitches a third apart as they gradually fall into the orchestral setting. They then dart back and forth. The violin exhibits a short phrase. The viola picks it up, and the violin soon joins in. The second time the violin tries a solo trick, the viola follows with a long extension. The violin tries to match, but the viola always can say — and feel — more. Yet Mozart never lets competition or dialogue stop, for a micro-second, progress, as one character thrillingly completes the sentence of the other.

In the “Jeunehomme” Mozart wrote his first poignant concerto slow movement. The Sinfonia Concertante’s slow movement is the second, this time resembling a duet of two operatic characters exploring each other’s feelings. Mozart’s fantasy already exceeds father and son niceties anticipating, instead, the kinds of exchanges of feelings between lovers that will eventually make his operas convey some of the most revealing expressions of love in art. The third movement is Mozart, bags packed, and on his way.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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You got the name of K. 271, the 'Jenamy Concerto' wrong again. Quite embarrassing. Mozart Jenamy How Sweet

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