Blog Header
Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

Mozart Meets Beethoven

We greet the New Year in style in the company of the immortal composers Mozart and Beethoven, with music written at the very end of the 18th century. Our concert title of “Mozart Meets Beethoven” is very apt. Beethoven visited Vienna in early January 1787 for a few weeks when he was just sixteen and Mozart would just be turning thirty-one.

It’s conceivable although undocumented, and hence unproven, that the two actually met at that time, but allegedly Beethoven heard Mozart perform, and Mozart’s music certainly did influence Beethoven greatly. Interestingly, the three works on our programme by these two composers were written in 1796, 1797-1798, and 1799, which I didn’t plan intentionally!

Beethoven met Joseph Haydn in 1790 and again in 1792, one year Mozart’s death.

One of Beethoven’s patrons, Count Waldstein, wrote to him as follows, as the young composer was about to leave for Vienna to study with Haydn:

You are going to Vienna in fulfilment of your long-frustrated wishes…With the help of assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.

Indeed, in the few years that followed, Beethoven realized that he was already regarded as Mozart’s successor, and accordingly composed in a rather Mozartean-flavoured style for a while.

Our performers, all members of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, are no strangers to Consortium. Violinist Katie Stevens, violist/composer Patrick Horn, and cellist Peter Cosbey are our regular string players. They are joined by clarinettist E-Chen Hsu, whom we welcome back. It is our pleasure to highlight the clarinet once again, especially since Mozart was a champion of this relatively new instrument.

Our concert programme includes a little-known but worth-discovering work by Mozart, one of three arranged for clarinet and three strings and brought to light in 1799 after Mozart’s death by composer and music publisher Johann Anton André, the first important Mozart researcher.

Beethoven’s playful Duet with two Obligato Eyeglasses follows, and was written to be played with an aristocratic cellist friend who, like his partner Beethoven, needed glasses to read music. Next we have one of Beethoven’s five lovely string trios.

We move a tad beyond our normal boundary, as we jump centuries and change the mood, to conclude the concert with two tangos, one written by our own Patrick Horn and one by the legendary Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), regarded as the Tango King. Both tangos are arranged by Patrick for the ensemble at hand. This programme should make for a most enjoyable evening!

At this point I pass over the writing of this blog to Patrick Horn, who knows this repertoire better than I do. I extend my very best wishes to all of you for 2024, and hope to see you at the next concert that will follow, as I will be returning to perform in our crowd-pleasing “Viva Vivaldi!” concert. It will be held on Saturday, March 16, 2024, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at St. Paul’s United Church. The three string players in the “Mozart Meets Beethoven” concert will be amongst those playing in March. We will include Vivaldi concertos for flute, bassoon, and cello soloists. Please check our website for more particulars.

And now, here’s Patrick!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a passionate Freemason for the last seven years of his life, was inducted into the Masonic fraternity in 1784 at the age of 28. He belonged to the rationalist and enlightenment-inspired illuminati who held humanist views connected with those of the French philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot. According to L.F. Lenz, Masonic music should “inculcate feelings of humanity, wisdom and patience, virtue and honesty, loyalty to friends, and finally an understanding of freedom.” Musical symbols of this faith include three repeated chords representing the Masonic knock on the door and the key of E-flat major. Both are heard at the beginning of Mozart’s Clarinet Quartet in E flat, Op. 79, No. 2.

This work is an arrangement of Mozart’s three-movement Violin Sonata K.380, written in 1781. It is still unclear whether this arrangement came from the hand of Mozart himself or that of his close friend, composer, and publisher Johann Anton André. In any case, Mr. André purchased the bulk of Mozart’s manuscripts from his widow Constanze, and published this piece in 1799 as Op. 79, No. 2. It begins with an Allegro maestoso, continues with a slower Andante movement, and concludes with an Allegretto which romps cheerfully to the end, with cascading notes in the clarinet part enroute.

Ludwig Van Beethoven wrote his Duet for viola and cello “with two obligatory eyeglasses” around 1796. It is an incomplete work written for his friend and cellist, Nikolaus Zmeskall, whose eyesight was just as poor as Beethoven’s. Beethoven would later dedicate his String Quartet in F minor Op. 95 to Zmeskall. These two both participated in music sight-reading sessions every Sunday at the Hungarian Court Chancellery in Vienna, where this work was premiered with Beethoven on viola.

Beethoven’s three string trios of Op. 9 were written in 1797-98 and published in 1799, the same year the Mozart clarinet quartet was published. The trios are dedicated to his patron, Count Johann Georg von Brown. I chose this first trio because it gives a glimpse into Beethoven’s future. This work stretches the limits of the trio form as he would do later on with his string quartets and symphonies.

The first movement opens with a slow introduction before launching into an exuberant first theme with epic melodic leaps. The second theme shows the opposite introverted side. The two together demand a huge spectrum from the performer both in terms of range and expression. A new motive is heard towards the end of the exposition that will return as the main theme to his very first string quartet, Op.18, No.1. The other movements continue to explore this range, with the final movement showing the lighter, almost jester-like side of Beethoven in its effortless (easier said than done) virtuosity.

Tunisian Tango was written for the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra musicians’ service auction during my first season here in 2001-02. I decided to write this piece for that occasion. It is slightly scaled back for our current performance, as I removed the second violin from the ensemble. But that makes us all a bit busier! The title was a fun alliteration reflecting the Arab influence in the florid melodic ornamentation and the scale that I used. In the raucous second section, the violin employs a standard tango percussion technique of bowing behind the bridge to imitate the guiro. This technique is called “chicharra”, which translates to cicada.

Astor Piazzolla was a performer and composer who had one foot in the classical world and the other in the popular music world. His compositions and recordings came to define the tango genre today. Oblivion is a gem that I arranged for this ensemble featuring the clarinet, which is the closest orchestral instrument to the bandoneon in sound, and cello. It was first heard in the Italian film “Henry IV” (1984), directed by Marco Bellocchio. The intense feelings of melancholy and nostalgia are best summed up by these lyrics of David McNeil to Piazzolla’s adaptation of Oblivion into the song “J’oublie”:

Heavy, suddenly they seem heavy
the linen and velvets of your bed
when our love passes to oblivion

Heavy, suddenly they seem heavy
your arms embracing me
formerly in the night

My boat parts, it’s going somewhere
people get separated,
I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting

Later, at some other place in a mahogany bar
the violins playing again for us
our song, but I’m forgetting

Later, it splits off to a cheek to cheek
everything becomes blurred and
I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting

Brief, the times seem brief
the countdown of a night
when our love passes to oblivion

Brief, the times seem brief
your fingers running all over
my lifeline.

Without a glance
people are straying off
on a train platform,
I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting.

Posted in: Blog Post