Program Notes, ©2013 Lori Newman

Program Notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart         Overture to The Marriage of Figaro  (1786)
(Born 1756, Salzburg, Austria; died 1791, Vienna, Austria)

The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) is the first of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy of opera mainstays, the other two being Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte.  Da Ponte’s libretto is based on the play La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro, by the French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.  The play was considered scandalous at the time due to its political commentary on the excesses of the aristocracy and its overtly sexual nature.  Da Ponte removed much of the political commentary, moderated the most risqué parts, and increased the pace of the action for Mozart’s opera.

The work premiered in 1786 at Vienna’s Burg-Theater with Mozart conducting.  It was successful in Vienna, but to a lesser degree than it was when Mozart took it to Prague in 1787.  He wrote, “the one subject of conversation here is– Figaro; nothing is played, sung or whistled but– Figaro; nobody goes to any opera but– Figaro; everlastingly Figaro!”

The overture, while containing none of the opera’s melodic themes, sets the tone and pace of the ensuing action that will follow.  The overture opens with running sixteenth notes in the strings and bassoon, setting up a frenetic clip which continues throughout the entire opera.  Even the contrasting lyrical theme in the overture has an impellent feel to it, never sitting back, but always moving forward to its joyous conclusion.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart   Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488  (1786)
(Born 1756, Salzburg, Austria; died 1791, Vienna, Austria)

Written the same year as The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 is one of his most beloved works.  Mozart had hoped to gain some commissions from Prince Fürstenberg of Donaueschingen and sent this concerto as an example of his “compositions which I keep for myself or for a small circle of music-lovers and connoisseurs (who promise not to let them out of their hands).”  The Prince bought a few of Mozart’s works, but there were no further commissions from him.

The Concerto No. 23 was written during one of Mozart’s most prolific periods as both a performer and composer.  From 1782 – 1786, Mozart wrote a whopping fifteen piano concertos, and in 1786 alone, wrote three.  He was so busy during this period that his usual habit of meticulous correspondence deteriorated, so we know very little about this work’s composition or its premiere.  It is probable that Mozart premiered the work in Vienna at one of the Lenten concerts soon after it was completed in 1786.

The concerto follows the typical three-movement concerto format of fast-slow-fast.  It is one of the first works of Mozart’s to include clarinets instead of oboes, making the concerto slightly darker in color and tone.

Felix Mendelssohn     Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” op. 56  (1829-1842)
(Born 1809, Hamburg, Germany; died 1847, Leipzig, Germany)

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 was the last of his symphonies to be completed, but of the five, it was published third.  He had begun work on his Third in 1829 during a trip to England and Scotland.  Upon visiting Scotland’s Holyrood Castle,  he wrote, “This evening in the deep twilight we went to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved…The adjacent chapel has lost its roof; grass and ivy grow thickly within; and on the broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is in ruins and ramshackle, open to the blue sky. I think I have today found the opening of my Scottish Symphony.”  He began sketches for the Third soon thereafter, but became distracted by other projects, mainly his “Italian” Symphony No. 4.

The “Scottish” was not completed until 1842, and Mendelssohn conducted its premiere in Leipzig on March 3, 1842.  The work was an unqualified success, so much so, that Queen Victoria granted permission for the work to be dedicated to her.  The dedication reads “H.M. Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland.”

The symphony is written in the typical four-movement symphony exemplar, but Mendelssohn directs that all movements be played without pause.  While no exact quotations of Scottish folk music can be identified, Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony ably captures the overall spirit and guise of the country.



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