Masterworks 2: Mozart's Influence
Scott Seaton | Conductor
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Tchaikovsky called Mozart the greatest of all composers, and this program highlights Mozart’s 40th and most iconic symphony. Violinist Timothy Chooi, described as “the miracle” by Montreal’s La Presse, is regarded as one of Canada’s most exciting young artists. He will perform the thrilling sounds of Tchaikovsky’s powerful violin concerto. The MTAC-Butte Youth Orchestra and the Shasta College Chamber Strings join the NSS in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture.
Philadelphia-based violinist, Timothy Chooi has been described as “the miracle” (Montreal Lapresse).
Regarded as one of the most promising and exciting young artists in the world today, he was recently the Bronze Medal Winner of the 2015 Michael Hill International Violin Competition, completed an extensive recital tour with Jeunesses Musicales Canada, performed with Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, recorded his debut album, and was featured at Ravinia Festival in Chicago. He is also a winner of the 2013 Vadim Repin International Scholarship, a recipient of the, Milka Violin Award from the Curtis Institute of Music, Sylva Gelber Award, Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank and was the Grand Prize Winner of the Montreal Symphony Manulife Competition.
Timothy has performed with major orchestras across the world and highlights of past seasons include Timothy making his debut as Soloist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony, Orchestra of the Americas, to name a few, and his Carnegie Hall Debut. Timothy regularly appears with his brother, Nikki in the violin duo the Chooi Brothers where they perform theme-based programs which have proven to be successful across audiences around the world.
Timothy looks to expand the classical music audience by increasing its appeal to the young generation via all available social media platforms. In particular, his series of self made online videos in non-traditional locations is broadening the reach of classical music through videography. He is currently at the Master's program at the Juilliard School, and had received his previously attended the Curtis Institute of Music. He previously studied with Pinchas Zukerman, Ida Kavafian, and Patinka Kopec.
Timothy currently resides in Philadelphia where he is an active member of Astral Artists. He has a huge passion and commitment to bringing classical music to communities across America, Canada and demographics around the world who may not have access to.
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Beethoven's Overture for Coriolan was composed in 1807, inspired by a five-act tragedy by Heinrich Joachim von Collin. The play ran in Vienna from 1802 to 1805 accompanied by music borrowed from Mozart’s Idomeneo. Historians disagree as to why Beethoven chose this play. Collin was a friend of his, serving in the Court of Prince Lobkowitz, and Beethoven likely wrote the overture for an actual performance of the drama, but some historians argue that the reason may be simply that the play inspired him and that that the work was more abstract, and intended as a “concert” overture. The Overture was written in the same time-frame as his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5, and shares some obvious characteristics from both. The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings. The premiere was heard in March of 1807 along with his Symphony No. 4 at a private concert in the home of Prince Lobkowitz. Regardless of Beethoven’s motivation, the Prince, who directed the Imperial Theater, had a vision to unite the Overture and the play. The music survived, but Collin’s drama did not.
The Overture appears to be a programmatic depiction of Coriolan. The drama depicts the hero, Coriolanus, after he has been driven from Rome. He joins the enemy and leads his forces against the city, when his wife and his mother succeed in pleading with him to spare them. He withdraws his forces, but believes he has betrayed his promise to the troops as their leader, so like a true hero, he takes his own life in remorse. Interestingly, Collin’s ending is different from the much better-known Coriolanus by William Shakespeare, in which he is murdered.
Unmistakable tragedy and heroic resolve permeate intense musical eruptions against beautifully lyrical themes. The opening chords are sobering, like three wind-up punches and a few powerful jabs. The first four notes are reminiscent of the opening of the fifth symphony with its characteristic staccato. Beethoven tightens up the tension of his dramatic key, C minor, by stressing the weakest beat of the measure. The conflicted first theme representing Coriolanus recurs throughout the piece, and also ends it as he dies. His wife and his mother are represented by contrasting lyrical melodies in the relative major key. These two themes interplay and conflict until Coriolanus has given in with the gradual diminution of his motif. Coriolanus’ mother’s theme is the only part of the exposition that is recapitulated. Finally, the heroic theme returns only now fragmented, and the overture ends with a theatrical use of silence, as four somber pianissimo pizzicatos pulse the last moments.
Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 is widely recognized as a masterpiece of the classical era, but it also served to chart the course of orchestral music forward toward the Romantic style. Few works from the 18th century were as unconventional as this one. Although it retains classical sensibilities, of which Mozart was a master, it has extraordinary intensity and chromaticism. Berlioz described it as having "grace, delicacy, melodic charm, and fineness of workmanship," and Wagner called it “pivotal to the romantic world,” and described the finale as "exuberant with rapture and audacity." Completed in 1778, No. 40 was among his last three symphonies, all written at about the same time. The modest orchestra includes a flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings. A later version added the pair of clarinets.
Mozart wrote only two symphonies in a minor key; the other is No. 25, both are full of tragedy and angst. Minor keys usually signaled stress and anxiety, but in this symphony Mozart’s ramps it up even further with short motivic fragments similar to those of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, along with a healthy dose of dissonance, constant modulations and chromaticism generate a nagging uneasiness. Three of the four movements are in G minor, and remain there for much of their length. There is no happy ending. Some historians question if the Symphony was ever performed during his lifetime. Mozart’s fortunes had seriously declined in his later years. During the summer of 1788, his wife was stricken with illness and the failure of his latest opera, Don Giovanni, further stressed him. The family moved to a cheaper residence as he struggled to find more money and support. Even though Emperor Joseph II appointed him as “Chamber Composer” to the Court the year before, his fame was fading and public performances had declined.
The first movement Molto Allegro is emotive and somewhat agitated, although gentle graceful moments still peek through the darkness. The symphony opens with a quiet accompaniment figure in the violas. The soft opening is an unusual feature for a classical symphony, as was the minor tonality. The rhythm is insistent as a flowing lyrical second theme from divided strings and woodwinds provides relief. The development focuses on the now iconic first theme with audacious harmonic progressions and his trademark melodic finesse. The Andante offers a soft, delicate melody of repeated notes in the violas that are followed by the violins in successively higher pitches, as woodwinds then gently crest the wave. The rhythmic patterns of even, repeated notes from the opening and a rapid, two-note motif pervades the movement. The third movement Minuet and Trio contrasts the dark and light. The Minuet is atypically grim and not in the style typical of the courtly ballrooms of Mozart's age. In traditional classical form, a third movement minuet usually provided light escape from other movements. Mozart’s syncopation and rhythmic ambiguity, high energy, and dark quality made poor dance music. However, in contrast, the Trio section is in the major mode. and offers a nice respite from the turmoil that saturates the symphony. Some of the most amped-up music that Mozart ever produced is in the Finale. Its drama is generated by melodic fragments that spin about with constant contrasts of dynamics, instrumentation, and unstable harmonies. A bouncing triadic theme opens the movement, then a second theme arises from violins and winds offering lyric balance, but the commotion soon overtakes it. The intense chromaticism of the first movement is taken to new heights. The famous passage at the beginning of the development section upsets both the rhythm and the tonality. A brief pause leads to the recapitulation and Mozart ends it as it began.
Tchaikovsky composed his Violin Concerto in 1878 at Clarens on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Adolf Brodsky was the soloist when Hans Richter conducted the first performance in Vienna in 1881. The concerto form was not considered the composer’s forte, and while musicologists and arm-chair psychologists may conjure the reasons why, his extensive musical corpus contains only one successful piano concerto and one concerto for violin.
The Concerto was written during the period immediately after his calamitous marriage at age 37 to his student, Antonina Milyukova. He and Antonina lived together for only nine weeks, at which point Tchaikovsky bolted with the help of a mysterious patroness Nadezhda von Meck, his confidante for many years. He remained out of Russia for several months intensively composing, and completed the Fourth Symphony, the opera Eugene Onegin and the Violin Concerto. His escape had taken him to France, Italy, and Switzerland, where he hung out with his old friend, violinist Joseph Kotek. The sketches for the Concerto were completed in only eleven days, and the scoring was completed only two weeks later. Although Kotek advised him on the solo part, the work was dedicated to the famous violinist Leopold Auer. When it came to performing the piece however, both Kotek and Auer refused to perform it, claiming that the barrage of double stops, glissandi, trills, leaps, and dissonances were impossible to play. Thus, a disappointing delay occurred until the winter of 1881, when violinist Adolf Brodsky shopped it around and was able to secure a performance with the Vienna Philharmonic. Auer told reporters writing from Saint Petersburg that his “first feeling was one of gratitude for this proof of his sympathy toward me, which honored me as an artist. On closer acquaintance with the composition, I regretted that the great composer had not shown it to me before committing it to print. Much unpleasantness might then have been spared us both.” Tchaikovsky regretted it too, he wrote that the experience “had the effect of casting this unfortunate child of my imagination into the limbo of the hopelessly forgotten.”
The premiere was famously awful. The orchestra of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings was unrehearsed and errors riddled the written parts. Aside from the performance quality, the concerto itself was unorthodox, for example, the opening melody is presented as if it is the principal theme, although it is never heard again. The critics were vicious. Eduard Hanslick’s review of the Vienna performance stated that “vulgarity gains the upper hand and dominates until the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played; it is tugged about, torn, beaten black and blue…a composition whose stink one can hear.” Brodsky had somewhat better success in London, and he won open admiration for the work in Moscow.
The melody suggests Russian folk music so typical of Tchaikovsky’s sound. The second theme of the first movement has often been cited as an example of Tchaikovsky at his lyric best. Both themes are explored further in the extended written-out cadenza composed by the master himself. The virtuosity is based on melodic embellishments rather than purely technical expositions. The transitional passages provide the fireworks. After the first hearing, Tchaikovsky replaced the slow movement with the lovely Canzonetta we hear today. In the lively finale, the influence of folksong is most strongly heard, both in the harmonies and in melodies built upon cascading fourths. Tchaikovsky forced performers to expand their technique and along with it their concept of what is possible and what is “good.” Virtuosity overcomes the impossible as history has often demonstrated.
Notes by Theodore Bell