Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mozart's Jupiter: The Reality Behind the Art

This weekend - Saturday at 8:00 and Sunday at 3:00 at the Forum - the Harrisburg Symphony, conducted by Stuart Malina, will perform one of the great symphonies of the classical repertoire, the final symphony Mozart composed. It has always been called "The Jupiter" Symphony but that lofty title - more applicable to the Roman god than the vast planet named after him - might seem a contradiction to the time of Mozart's life when it was composed.

(You can check out two different performances of the complete symphony on this post.)

If Gustav Holst’s Jupiter (in his orchestral suite, The Planets) was “The Bringer of Jollity,” Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ could be the Expression of Exuberance. The finale by itself is one of the most joyous musical encounters a concert-goer could experience.

When Johann Peter Salomon, the impresario who brought Haydn to London, first called this symphony “The Jupiter” not long after Mozart died, he was thinking more of the lofty quality both of its classical construction as well as its spirit – but mostly because one half-minute-long passage just before the ending is so incredibly complex and yet so thoroughly natural sounding, only a genius could have pulled it off. (You can take a tour through the "Jupiter" Symphony's last movement as part of this earlier post.)

a page from the original manuscript of the 'Jupiter' Symphony

Salomon may have had something to do with the genesis of this symphony. Born in Bonn and a violinist and composer pursuing a career in London, he had branched out into the “presenter” business in an age when public concerts were still a fairly new idea. In the late-1780s, he appeared in Vienna with the intent of taking Mozart off to London for a series of concerts with performances of his piano concertos, symphonies, operas and chamber music. Unfortunately, at the time, Mozart was bogged down with work and unwilling to leave his wife Constanze (who was frequently in ill health) and the children behind. So instead, Salomon asked Haydn.

The idea was that Mozart, who was in his early-30s, would be around to ask for some later time when his schedule could be better planned. Certainly, the income he would’ve received from this venture would have been immensely helpful, considering Mozart’s constant financial issues during these years of his life.

This was not the first time a trip to London had been considered. Friends of his invited him to give concerts there in 1787 but nothing came of it. I can find no specific date attached to Salomon’s invitation to Mozart but the London Impresario made several trips to Vienna before Haydn accepted his offer.

Haydn, meanwhile was in his late-50s and though “middle-aged” by today’s standards, he was essentially looking at his eventual retirement. In fact, this London burst was to cap his symphonic career and inspire the last phase of his creative life which produced two great oratorios influenced by the works of George Frederic Handel, who was unknown in Vienna at the time but a mainstay of England’s choral life.

Haydn’s first season proved so successful, he was invited to return for a second season a few years later – and as a result, we have a dozen symphonies known collectively as “The London Symphonies.”

When Haydn left for London in December, 1790, Mozart told his friend tearfully he was afraid this was the last time they would see each other. The assumption was Haydn, given his age, might not survive the long trip across Europe.

Unfortunately, a year later while Haydn was still in England, Mozart died at the age of 35.

Imagine – in that eternally wistful game of “What If…?” – if Mozart had gone to London that first time instead and written a dozen symphonies, perhaps another opera or two and a few more concertos for the English audiences?

After Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781 with dreams of conquering the musical world as a pianist and opera composer, he wrote few symphonies. Most of the earlier symphonies he’d composed were expansions of the old three-part opera overture, not the lofty forms we think of following the ones by Beethoven or Brahms we hear so frequently today. In fact, most of Haydn’s symphonies are more than what the general Viennese public would’ve been interested in: too intellectual and, perhaps, a problem for people interested in entertainment who had what we might call “short attention spans.” Haydn wrote many symphonies only because his patron, Prince Esterhazy, enjoyed them and liked showing off his court composer for his guests. If Haydn had been a free-lancer in Vienna like Mozart was, he probably would’ve written symphonies only for foreign tours or visiting dignitaries.

We don’t know why Mozart wrote his last three symphonies, each one a masterpiece and collectively the finest symphonies (if not the greatest works) he ever composed.

In the summer of 1788, during what seemed like a creative lull from his other commissions, Mozart sat down and wrote these three symphonies with no apparent immediate chance of their being performed. In fact, only one of them was performed in his lifetime – the G Minor, No. 40 – and it’s very likely no one heard the “Jupiter” until after Mozart died in 1791.

Consider this: he finished the E-flat Symphony (No. 39) on June 26th, the G Minor Symphony (No. 40) on July 25th and the C Major Symphony (No. 41, the “Jupiter”) on August 10th, sixteen days later!

Could this incredible masterpiece have been written in only 16 days or was he working on it while writing the other two, that they all came out more or less simultaneously during a two-month period?

Consider also what else he was writing that same summer:

Piano Trio in E, K.542 (completed June 22, 1788)
Symphony in E-flat, K.543 (June 26)
March in D, K.544
Piano Sonata in C, K.545 (a popular piece for students, famously known as the “Facile”)
Adagio & Fugue in C Minor for String Quartet, K.546
Violin Sonata in F, K.547
Piano Trio in C, K.548 (July 14)
Canzonetta for 2 Sopranos & Bass, K.549
Symphony in G Minor, K.550 (July 25)
Symphony in C Major, K.551 (August 10, later dubbed the “Jupiter”)
Divertimento in E-flat for String Trio, K.563 (September 27)

It must have caused Mozart considerable anguish to have to turn down a lucrative opportunity like a season of London concerts. In the fall of 1790, another London agent (“closely associated with the Prince of Wales”) offered Mozart 2,400 florins to present concerts and new works in London – ironically, he would have been there at the same time Haydn was!

According to what Maynard Solomon reports in his biography, Mozart’s income in 1786, the year of The Marriage of Figaro and a successful series of benefit concerts (known as “academies”), was between 2,604 and 3,704 florins. The following year, when Don Giovanni was premiered in Prague, he earned at least 3,321 florins.

But in 1788, after Don Giovanni flopped in Vienna, he earned only 1,385 florins with the possibility of at least another 675 florins (a total of 2,060).

Clearly, if Salomon could offer him anything close to what Mozart was offered two years later, it would’ve been more than his complete annual income!

Reading his biography, it seems Mozart spent his whole life trying to find a reasonable court position, his father Leopold starting to take him around as a child of 6 hoping to impress some aristocrat to take notice of the boy. Knowing what we know of Mozart’s music now, it seems incredible that no one would have offered him a job when most of those composers who had those jobs – like his father or, more importantly, like Salieri – are today considered non-entities and rarely appear on concert programs and then, probably, only in some Mozart-oriented context.

In 1788, then, the Emperor offered him what we would consider a pittance to compose nothing more than dance music – not symphonies, not concertos, not operas, not string quartets, but strings of delightful dances for the winter season balls.

Letter to Puchberg, June 27, 1788
Thinking of budgets and life-style changes in today’s economy, Mozart, never very good at handling money (his father had always done that for him and, truth be told, kept the profits from all those childhood tours for himself), was forced to economize. Enjoying a lifestyle conducive to aristocratic Vienna, Mozart had considerable difficulties living within his means and he began writing a series of letters which make pitiful reading, especially to Michael Puchberg (whom he probably met at the masonic lodge), begging for loans. Starting in the summer of 1788, Puchberg loaned him 1,450 florins over the next three years, 1,000 of which were still outstanding when Mozart died.

In December, 1787, the Mozarts moved into a more economical apartment. Their fourth child, a daughter, Theresia, was born a few days after Christmas. But in June of 1788, a month after Don Giovanni failed to attract much attention in its Viennese premiere, Theresia died 12 days after they’d moved to a cheaper neighborhood in the suburb of Alsergrund (now part of central Vienna) which, curiously, is where Schubert would be born in 1797 and where Beethoven would die in 1827.

So, if we add the reality of Mozart’s Life to the list of works he composed that summer:

May 7: Don Giovanni opens in Vienna (though it plays for 15 performances, it is basically a flop)
June 17: Mozart moves to a cheaper apartment in the Alsergrund suburb
June 17: Mozart writes a letter to Puchberg asking for a loan of 1- or 2,000 florins (Puchberg sends him 200 florins, barely enough to cover the back-rent)
June 26: Mozart completes the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K.543
June 27: Mozart writes another, more insistent letter to Puchberg (see photograph, above), asking for a more substantial sum on a longer-term loan
June 29: daughter Theresia dies at the age of 6 months
Early July: Mozart visits a pawnbroker
July 25: Mozart completes the Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K.550
Late July: last of this summer’s series of letters to Puchberg – at least, no others have survived 
Aug 10: Mozart complete the Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K.551, the “Jupiter”

It seems Mozart was planning a series of concerts that fall at a Viennese casino – there being no actual concert halls open to the public as we think of concert venues today – and perhaps these three symphonies were intended for them. He even sent Puchberg two tickets for the series. The concerts brought in 450 florins but the symphonies, so far as we can tell, were not performed there. Some sources indicate the concerts themselves did not take place (or were not successful) for lack of interest – in other words, poor ticket sales.

It is important to realize that, considering the few opportunities concert artists had to earn money from performing in public then, after this summer of 1788 Mozart presented no more public concerts of his own music in Vienna and wrote no more symphonies or piano concertos until the last piano concerto was premiered in 1791 at another musician’s benefit concert.

If only he had gone to London with Salomon…

- Dick Strawser

No comments:

Post a Comment