MasterWorks 03: Mozart and Bizet
The concert opens with W.A. Mozart’s spirited and buoyant Symphony No. 35 “Haffner.” Then hear Lansing Symphony’s Principal Trumpet, Neil Mueller, perform the world premiere of David Biedenbender’s new Trumpet Concerto. The concert closes with a piece by French composer Georges Bizet that was not discovered and performed until nearly eighty years after it was written. Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 in C major is his only symphony and showcases his lyrical and expressive qualities while maintaining a Mozartian lightheartedness and levity.
Symphony No. 35 “Haffner”
Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Duration: Nineteen minutes
When Mozart was just nineteen, he endeared himself to the mayor of Salzburg by writing the delightful “Haffner” Serenade (K. 250) for the wedding of Haffner’s daughter Elizabeth. Several years later, after Mozart had moved to Vienna, Haffner found out that he was to be elevated to the nobility. Mozart’s father asked Wolfgang to provide a new “symphony” to mark the occasion. Mozart understood the importance of such a commission but was worried that he didn’t have the time. After all, he was getting married in just a few weeks, was in the midst of finishing his new opera (The Abduction from the Seraglio) and wasn’t on particularly good terms with his dad. He accepted reluctantly, and in less than two weeks churned out a six-movement serenade, which he called his “Haffner Symphony.”
In March of the following year, Mozart was preparing a concert of his works and needed a new symphony to fill out the program. He wrote to his father and asked him to send a copy of the Haffner Symphony. “[It] has positively amazed me,” he wrote, “for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect…” He reworked it into his Symphony No. 35―now subtitled “Haffner”―first by trimming off the opening march and the second minuet to reduce the symphony to the conventional four movements, and then reworking the orchestration to include flutes and clarinets. The result was a great success. At the premiere, the Emperor himself was in attendance. Delighted by the symphony, “[he] applauded me loudly.” Mozart’s immediate future in Vienna was secure.
No doubt owing to the occasion of its inception, the symphony has a festive character. The first movement offers a single theme that is “spun out” rather than developed. Its boisterous treatment resembles Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. In contrast, the tender second movement is elegant and dance-like. The third movement captures the spirit, elegance, and courtly grace that pervades the music of Mozart’s era. For the last movement, Mozart returns to the vigor and energy of the first movement, even indicating that it should be played “as fast as possible.”
© 2023 John P. Varineau
Trumpet Concerto (world premiere)
River of Time
David Biedenbender (1984–)
Duration: Sixteen minutes
David Biedenbender’s work is often influenced by his diverse musical experiences in rock and jazz bands as an electric bassist; in wind, jazz, and New Orleans-style brass bands as a euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba player; and by his study of Indian Carnatic music. His present creative interests include working with everyone from classically trained musicians to improvisers, composing for acoustic chamber music to large ensembles, and experimenting with interactive electronic interfaces to live brain data.
Mr. Biedenbender is Associate Professor of Composition in the College of Music at Michigan State University. He received the Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees in composition from the University of Michigan and the Bachelor of Music degree in composition and theory from Central Michigan University. He has also studied at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala, Sweden, the Aspen Music Festival and School, and in Mysore, India where he studied South Indian Carnatic music. He provides the following comments about tonight’s world premiere of his trumpet concerto:
"River of Time was commissioned by and written for my friend Neil Mueller and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. I was at a conducting workshop working with my friend Kevin Noe when I heard him use the phrase “river of time.” I found it to be an incredibly rich and interesting metaphor, and I also happened to be reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations around the same time, when this line from Book Five jumped right off the page:
Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see… (translation by Gregory Hays)
The first movement is called Becoming. I imagine a kind of primordial clock from which time flows—swirling—becoming an infinity of matter and moments. The second movement, Flowing, is a meditation on being part of the river of time—being present. Imagine a beautiful moment that you simply don’t want to end. For me, I imagine something like holding my infant son, listening to his slow, relaxed breathing as he sleeps peacefully on my chest. Of course, these moments are often shaded with just a tinge of melancholy, as my thoughts slip toward the past or the future, thinking about whether a moment just like this might ever occur again. And the third movement is called Crossing. Our perception of time is often linear, but what if it was circular or it could be bent? What if we could exist outside of it? What if we could traverse time?"
©2023 David Biedenbender; compiled by John P. Varineau
Symphony No. 1 in C major
Symphony No. 1 in C Major
George Bizet (1838–1875)
Duration: 27 minutes
Music history seems to be full of composers who started out as child prodigies, began composing at an early age, and then died tragically young. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the most famous example. The French composer Georges Bizet is another. However, Bizet wrote far fewer works than Mozart, and when he died, he was not nearly as famous.
Bizet’s parents were musicians themselves and wanted George to follow in their footsteps. His father enrolled him at the Paris Conservatory when he was just nine and, six months later, Georges won a premier prix—first prize—in sight singing. He won three more first prizes—in piano, organ, and fugue—by the time he was fifteen. He won the most coveted prize of all, the Prix de Rome, at the ripe old age of nineteen.
Bizet’s real musical love was opera: “I am not made for the symphony; I need the theatre, I can do nothing without it.” None of his operas received any real audience or critical acclaim, but perhaps Bizet’s greatest disappointment came with his final opera Carmen. The audience was shocked at its premier, and the critics were universal in their derision. One described it as “This inferno of ridiculous and uninteresting corruption.” Another wrote, “If it were possible to imagine His Satanic Majesty writing an opera, Carmen would be the sort of work he might be expected to turn out.” Exactly three months after the premier, Bizet suffered a fatal heart attack, never realizing that Carmen would become one of the most popular operas of all time.
In 1933, the French composer Reynaldo Hahn—who was a close friend of Bizet’s son—gave some of Bizet’s manuscripts to the Paris Conservatory. Hidden in the manuscripts was tonight’s Symphony in C Major that Bizet wrote when he was just seventeen. Audiences heard it for the first time eighty years after he wrote it. It shares the same sort of youthful ebullience and clarity found in the works by the young Mozart and Mendelssohn, clearly Bizet’s role models. The three fast movements, full of sparkle and lots of frenzied finger-work for the violins, frame a beautiful slow movement that contains one of the most famous of symphonic oboe solos.
©2023 John P. Varineau