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January 25-29, 2017

GYROWETZ Symphony Op. 6, No. 3
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 “Turkish”
HAYDN Symphony No. 91

By Bruce Lamott

Gyrowetz, Symphony in F major, Op. 6 No. 3

Adalbert Gyrowetz

Adalbert Gyrowetz (or in his native Czech, Vojtěch Jírovec) was born in the year when seven-year-old Mozart was entertaining the courts of Europe (1763), and died in the year when Wagner’s Lohengrin premiered (1850). Protégé of Mozart, promoter of Haydn, pallbearer for Beethoven, acquaintance of Chopin, and chosen orator of the Mozart commemoration of 1841, he was a veritable Zelig of music history. His misfortune was outliving his musical style: his prolific oeuvre of 40 symphonies, 50 string quartets, 30 operas, 40 ballets, and 19 masses drifted into obscurity even in his own lifetime.

Born in Budweis, Bohemia, Gyrowetz gravitated to Vienna when he was eighteen years old and there entered the circle of Mozart, Haydn, Dittersdorf, and Beethoven’s teacher Albrechtsberger. He made musical connections with leading composers and nobility in Naples, Rome, Paris, and London, and his fluency in German, Czech, Italian, French, and English coupled with a congenial and modest personality won him friendships with a “Who’s Who?” of noted musicians. Mozart performed one of his symphonies in a subscription concert in Vienna; nine-year-old Chopin made his debut playing one of his piano concertos in Warsaw. The longest tenure of Gyrowetz’s career was as Second Kapellmeister of the Court Theatre in Vienna from 1804 to 1831, where his contract required him to create one opera and one ballet annually.

His F Major Symphony was one of six modeled on Joseph Haydn, written in 1783 when he was twenty. The symphonies were commissioned by Count Franz von Fünfkirchen who, in addition to promoting his musical career, employed him as his secretary in Brno, Moravia. The young composer’s assimilation of the elder composer’s style was so convincing that an English publisher later passed off one of his symphonies under the name of Haydn. And, having settled in London after fleeing the French Revolution, Gyrowetz introduced Haydn to English society, who in turn introduced him to English audiences by including one of his symphonies in the famous Salomon Concerts in Hanover Square.

Scored for two oboes, bassoon, two horns, and strings, tonight’s symphony opens with a breezy waltz. The distribution of orchestral forces is typical of the early Classical Era, with the melody concentrated in the first violins, the violas doubling the cello and bass an octave higher, and the sustained winds filling out the harmonies. The development section of this sonata form has a few Haydn-esque surprises: startling key changes, a few descents into minor Sturm und Drang (storm and stress), and Haydn’s signature grand pauses. The cadence theme includes a chirpy Lombard rhythm (short-long, aka “Scottish snap”), and the serene ending jolts to attention with the final two chords.

The Andante second movement, in D minor, is bolder and more profound. An emphatic unison statement alternates with a harmonically unstable subsequent phrase. Interspersed with a cantabile [singing] melody, staccato triplets and turbulence create a rising scene of almost operatic intensity.

The jaunty Minuet indulges in some rhythmically disrupting hemiolas [the displacement of accents from 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 to 1 2 1 | 2 1 2] reinforced by the woodwinds and basses. A grand pause follows after eight measures, as if to recalibrate the meter and put the accents back in order. The Trio features the oboe doubling the first violins in a tune so simple that we could sing along on the repeat.

This guileless quality continues into the Rondo finale, where paired horns and a sustained drone in the bass add a bucolic element with the sounds of the hunt and the drone of the shepherd’s bagpipe. The comic timing of Haydn is invoked once more with dead-end pauses articulating the sections of the rondo form.

As late as 1846, Gyrowetz wore a wig to hear Jenny Lind in concert. His musical fashion was similarly out of date as the tempests of Romanticism swept away his elegant Classical style. He would outlive Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Mendelssohn. Forgotten and no longer performed, he wrote his autobiography saying, “What a peculiar feeling it is to remain alive and yet realize that one is already spiritually dead.”

Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (“Turkish”)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Although Mozart wrote twenty piano concertos throughout his life, his five concertos for solo violin and orchestra were all written in his early career in his birthplace of Salzburg, a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire ruled by prince-archbishops who employed Wolfgang’s father Leopold as a violinist in their court orchestra. The “Turkish” concerto was written in 1777, with the 21-year-old composer’s clever wit evident throughout. The opening theme begins quite unremarkably with a “Mannheim rocket” arpeggio rising out of shimmering strings. Convention then dictates that the solo violin should either announce itself with a flourish or by restating the opening theme. But in this concerto the soloist enters with a plaintive adagio riff only vaguely reminiscent of the theme to the accompaniment of undulating violins in the style of Mozart’s operatic breezes. It sounds as if they are playing the wrong movement! However, order is soon restored, the soloist capitulates to a soloistic version of the orchestra’s original rocket theme, and the movement proceeds appropriately.

Murmuring undulations similar to those heard in the opening Adagio accompany the cantabile melody of the second movement. The accompaniment also underscores the melodic line with the rhetorical figure called suspirans [breathing] in which the melody is broken into gentle two-note offbeat sighs alternating with the steady pulse of the bass line.

The courtly minuet had been the signature dance of European nobility since the reign of the French King Louis XIV (1647-1715), but although it is standard issue as the penultimate movement in a four-movement Classical symphony, it is unusual in a concerto finale. Mozart is setting us up with this archetypical minuet, with its sighing “feminine cadences” [a term from less gender-sensitive times for phrases ending on weak beats], and delicate grace-notes. The wispy A major ending in 3/4 time is jolted into an “exotic” Allegro in A minor, first with an episode in the improvisatory style of Gypsy violinists, then with a harmonically static, percussive march (in 2/4) with strongly accented downbeats. Absent the Turkish percussion instruments of bass drum, cymbals, and triangle, the cellos and basses play col legno [with the wood], beating out the accents with the wood of their bows. This Turkish-Hungarian episode [D] is framed by the minuet [A] in the overall form of the rondo: A-B-A-C-A |D |A-B-A, but it is so disproportionately long and discrete that the return to the minuet gives the overall impression of hearing a minuet-and-trio rather than a mere episode in a rondo.

The nickname “Turkish” for this concerto comes from this brash interruption of an otherwise genteel minuet. By the time Mozart composed this concerto, nearly a century had passed since Ottoman Turks besieged the city of Vienna in 1683, and “turkism” had become a fashion statement, not a mortal threat. Recent scholarship suggests that this alla turca concerto might just as well be described as alla ongarese [Hungarian-Gypsy], as the two styles are often indistinguishable. Bence Szabolcsi identifies the source of the Viennese alla turca style in a wedding dance, the törkörös, danced by Hungarian villagers dressed in pseudo-Turkish costumes to musical parodies of Turkish melodies. Rather than imitating the elite Janissary bands of the Ottoman military as previously thought, Mozart may likely have been writing a parody of a parody.

Haydn, Symphony No. 91 in E-flat Major

Joseph Haydn

It is hard to imagine that Haydn’s congenial Symphony No. 91 was first performed in the Salle des Gardes of the Tuileries Palace just months before the Revolution forced King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their children to leave Versailles and take up residence there under house arrest in October 1789. Though Haydn was still in service to the noble Esterházy family in Vienna, his reputation had become international. A handsome young military officer, Claude-François-Marie Rigolet, comte d’Ogny, had previously commissioned seven symphonies from Haydn (Nos. 82-89) on behalf of the Concerts de la Loge Olympique in Paris, and asked for three more (Nos. 90-92) in 1788-89. The 65-piece orchestra of this elite Masonic society was larger than Haydn’s own orchestra at Esterháza (and Philharmonia, for that matter), and included some of France’s best musicians as well as talented amateurs. As an almanac from 1786 notes, “The meetings [of the Loge] strike one by their éclat and brilliance. They are remarkable above all for the tone of grandeur, decency, and politeness that reigns there.”

While decency and politeness certainly characterize Symphony No. 91, it runs a little short on grandeur, for although they were available to him in the Loge’s orchestra, it is the last of Haydn’s 104 symphonies without trumpets and timpani. The symphony germinates from the simplest of musical materials: the interval of a third (do-mi, or any three adjacent white notes on the piano, for example). These thirds can be stacked atop one another, as heard in the introductory Largo, or filled in with the two or three chromatic notes in between them, creating the smooth rising or falling chromatic lines which follow after the brief prelude. The opening of the Allegro assai is a demonstration of “contrary motion” in two parts: the violins rise by half-steps while the violas, cellos, and basses descend, widening the gap between them. Then the parts switch places (called “invertible counterpoint”) drawing the two lines back together again in two concise, symmetrical phrases. This Jacob’s ladder of rising and falling chromatic lines continues throughout the movement, relieved at times by a staccato clockwork of unison lines and the flurry of triplets that end each section.

French court dances went international during the eighteenth century, and Haydn’s Parisian audience would have recognized a gavotte, with its two short upbeats, in the theme of the second movement, Andante. The cleanly divided symmetrical phrases further enhance the dancelike quality of the melody, which becomes the theme for a brief set of variations. A sudden momentary disruption of the key adds irony to the theme, which ends with Haydn’s penchant for juxtaposing the softest phrase (pianissimo) with the loudest (fortissimo). A bassoon solo carries the first variation, accompanied by a filigree of violins and a hint of imitation in the bass line. Though the second variation is in minor, it lacks pathos and ends with a delicate trio for flute and the two violin sections. The blustering final variation pits the simple theme against vigorous activity in the cellos and basses. Most surprising is the whimsical skipping passage in the violins (reminiscent of Dvorak’s “Humoresque”) before the movement evaporates.

The Minuet is a sturdy affair, with violins leaping in chords (triple stops) alternating with cascading triplets. The trio is an Austrian Ländler, a rustic precursor to the waltz, with plucked strings (pizzicato) providing the “oom-pahs” while the bassoon doubles the naïve violin melody.

The vivacious Finale is “decency and politeness” itself, a memorable tune with a minimum of interference or complexity. Haydn gets a lot of mileage out of the six notes of the first phrase, crafting a whole development section out of the interplay of the two-note idea that ends it. Though he gives the opening phrase some imitative (contrapuntal) treatment, he never loses the ebullience of the movement in contrapuntal complexity. The ominous rumblings of the French Revolution and the imminent disgrace of Haydn’s onetime Austrian princess now become Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, are nowhere to be found in this charming work, written for a threatened elite society.