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Friday, January 2, 2009

Concert Preview: Mozart in Memphis

For my readers in the Memphis Tennessee metropolitan area, I have a concert recommendation.

On January 30th, 2009 Memphis Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Susanna Perry Gilmore is joined by MSO Principal Violist Jennifer Puckett in a concert featuring Mozart.

The two will be soloists in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364 (320d).

Mozart composed his Sinfonia Concertante 230 years ago this year. It is scored for solo violin, solo viola, two oboes, two horns, and strings. His work was a grand experiment in the sense that he blurred the formal distinctions between symphony and concerto. The three movement piece can be thought of as a cross-over between these two popular Classical-era forms, which combine and incorporate the structured thematic development of the symphony with elements of musical virtuosity generally found in a concerto. Having in this case two soloists, the interplay and thematic dynamics between solo instruments and orchestra will be necessarily more complex.

A number of late 18th and early 19th century composers attempted to write works in the his new form. The genre began as a primarily Parisian obsession as practiced by Gossec, Pleyel and Cambini. From there it spread to other musical centers: J. C. Bach (London), Wagenseil, Vanhal and Dittersdorf (Vienna), and Boccherini (Italy).

Mozart was probably influenced by the Mannheim composers who used this form, notably Cannabich and Carl Stamitz.

Joseph Haydn composed three works in the sinfonia concertante genre, but these adhere more closely to the Baroque treatment of the form. Many of these works used multiple soloists. For example Haydn's sinfonia concertante from 1792 utilizes oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello as soloists.

Mozart’s attempt to the introduce the sinfonia concertante into the brain trust of the classical age as a brand new and revitalized form was the perhaps the most successful of these efforts.

However, since 1830 the sinfonia concertante has fallen into disuse as a musical form. Beethoven’s Triple concerto and Berlioz’ Harold in Italy combine the symphonic form which feature soloists in an ingenious way, but these works are generally not regarded as continuing the Baroque or Classical sinfonia concertante traditions, although some 20th century composers have on occasion revisited the form.

An interesting note about Mozart’s piece… When the Sinfonia Concertante is performed with original instruments, a tuning technique known as scordatura is utilized in the viola part. The piece is written in Eb major, but the viola is tuned up a half-step and written out in the key of D major. This produces a brighter sonority on the instrument. However, scordatura is rarely employed with modern instruments in the concert hall setting.

The MSO program also features Stravinsky's Eight Instrumental Miniatures and Octet in addition to Mozart's Symphony No. 33 in B-flat Major, K. 319.

It should be a great concert. I wish I could be there in person.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, soloist Jennifer Puckett is my cousin).

When: Friday, 30 January 2009 at 8 p.m.
Where: Buckman Performing and Fine Arts Center, Memphis Tennessee
Box Office phone (901) 537-2525