Friday, July 24, 2015

Clara Haskil & Mozart

No. 206  of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


This week, not only Mozart gets my GOAT, but in some small way, our soloist this week gets all my respect.

The Romanian pianist, Clara Haskil began, her career as a child prodigy and entered at the Bucharest Conservatory when she was 6. At age 7 she was sent to Vienna and profited from the tutelage of Richard Robert (whose memorable pupils included Rudolf Serkin and George Szell) and briefly with Ferruccio Busoni. At age 10, she was sent to Paris to continue her training with Morpain, and, at 12, entered the Paris Conservatoire, officially to study in Alfred Cortot's class, graduating in 1910, age 15, with the Prémier Prix.

The bulk of Clara Haskil's career was beset with health issues - a disease kept her in a body cast for four years. Frequent illnesses, combined with extreme stage fright that appeared in 1920, kept her from critical or financial success; most of her life was spent in poverty.

With the outbreak of World War II, Clara Haskil was trapped in occupied Paris, but was able to escape to Marseilles. There she survived a surgical procedure to remove a tumor from her optic nerve. In 1942 she sought refuge in Switzerland, smuggled to Vevey, where she settled for the rest of her days. In 1949 she became a naturalized Swiss citizen.

It was not until after World War II, during a series of concerts in Holland in 1949, that Clara Haskil began to win the acclaim she deserved. Thereafter enjoyed her greatest successes with a busy concert and recording schedule that took her around the world. She appeared as a soloist with the foremost orchestras and as a recitalist.

A celebrated interpreter of classical and early romantic repertoire, Clara Haskil was particularly noted for her performances and recordings of W.A. Mozart. Many considered her the foremost interpreter of W.A. Mozart in her time. She was also noted as a superb interpreter of Beethoven, Schubert, Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin and Scarlatti. As a pianist, her playing was marked by a purity of tone and phrasing that may have come from her skill as a violinist. Transparency and sensitive inspiration were other hallmarks of her style. With Clara Haskil, musicianship came first and technical matters were irrelevant; she had enormous hands and reputedly had an amazing memory,

One of her most prominent performances as a soloist with an orchestra is a recording of Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 24 in November 1960 with Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by Igor Markevitch (featured in our podcast); this recording features an unusually slow, pensive performance of K.466's third movement and a very subtle, highly lyrical and yet, in some way, vigorous playing of K.491's second movement. The montage is completed with a performance of the concerto no. 27.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mozart’s European Vacation

Our Summer 2015 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a ITYWLTMT Blog Post from July 29, 2011.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

This week’s instalment of Mozart Gets my GOAT is a music link post featuring three Mozart symphonies that are named after European cities. Let me spend some time on the context for each of these symphonies, which span the last quarter (or so) of his Symphonic output,
Symphony No. 31 “Paris”
On two occasions, Paris provided an important destination for Mozart's travels. On the "Great Western" trip, which Mozart's father Leopold undertook with the family in order to introduce his child prodigies to the world, the children were lavished with gifts and other selected royal favours. Years later, when Wolfgang returned as an adult, he wanted to develop as a musician and perhaps find a more stable professional position. He introduced himself to the aristocracy, performed at their salons and spent his spare time teaching composition to the daughter of the Duc de Guines. (She "plays the harp magnifique," he reported to Leopold; it was for her and her father that he composed the Concerto for Flute and Harp in C, K. 299.) During these months in Paris, Mozart wrote some other memorable works: most of his flute concertos, the ballet Les Petits Riens and this Symphony.
Symphony No. 38 “Prague”
Mozart is often said to have had a special relationship with the city of Prague and its people. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon writes of “an enthusiasm for Mozart that has passed into legend, with Prague seen as the good city that supported and understood him at a time when he had allegedly been neglected, even scorned, by Vienna.”
Mozart is claimed to have said, "Meine Prager verstehen mich" ("My Praguers understand me"), a saying which became famous in the Bohemian lands.
Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered in Vienna, was produced in late 1786 in Prague with tremendous success. The orchestra and some affiliated music lovers funded a personal visit by Mozart so he could hear the production. Mozart arrived on 11 January 1787 and was feted everywhere. On 19 January he gave an "academy" (that is, a concert for his own profit) at which the “Prague” Symphony in D major was premiered.
Symphony No. 36 “Linz”
Linz is the third-largest city of Austria and is located in the north centre of the country, approximately 30 km south of the Czech border, on both sides of the Danube.
By all accounts, a stopover in the Austrian town of Linz on his and his wife's way back home to Vienna from Salzburg in late 1783 would have been a honeymoon of sorts. They stayed for more than two weeks as gusts of Count Thun, whose daughter-in-law was one of Mozart's Viennese piano pupils. Toward the end of that sojourn Mozart, who had a talent for drawing, sketched one of the paintings in the Count's palace and presented it to Constanze with the mock-serious inscription, “Dessiné par W.A. Mozart Linz ce 13 novembre 1783; dédié à Madame Mozart son épouse.”.
Of the music he composed in Linz, and the hospitality he enjoyed there, he wrote to his father with some excitement on October 31:

How dare he pack shirts, socks and underwear and NOT a symphony!!
When we arrived at the gates of Linz, a servant was standing there to conduct us to the Old Count Thun's, where we are still living. I really cannot tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. […] I am going to give a concert in the theatre, and, as I have not a single symphony by me, I am writing away over head and ears at a new one, which must be ready by then.
The entire symphony in C major (now known as the “Linz” Symphony) was written in four days to accommodate the count's announcement of a concert. The première in Linz took place on 4 November 1783.
I think you will love this music too.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony no. 31 in D Major, K. 297  "Paris"
Mozart Akademie Amsterdam
Jaap Ter Linden, conducting


Symphonie no. 36 in C Majorr, K. 425 "Linz"
Berliner Philharmoniker
Karl Böhm, conducting

Symphonie no. 38 in D Major, K. 504 "Prague"
Philharmonia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conducting

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mitsuko Uchida & Mozart

No. 205 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

As we launch into a special Podcast series featuring Mozart’s piano concertos, I thought I would share some of my musings on the subject.

As a group [27 “numbered concertos” and numerous single movement or fragmentary works] Mozart’s piano concertos represent quite a feat, a feat unchallenged by any other composer since. Before Mozart, except for Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach (with nearly 50 keyboard concertos), nobody has composed as many of these kinds of works. Since Mozart, even the most prolific composers of music for the instrument haven’t published as many – Beethoven (5 “numbered”, one without opus, his Triple concerto and the transcription of the violin concerto) probably has the most, followed by the likes of Camille Saint-Saëns and Sergei Rachmaninov.

So, Mozart’s output in itself is noteworthy.

Mozart’s concertos span the length of his career – from his early adolescence (with concertos that may not be entirely original) to the latter parts of his mature career. We can imagine Mozart writing not only for his audience or his patrons; he wrote for himself as he performed these as soloist. The music is inventive, fresh and, though in many ways the music is tame for those who listen to it, I’m sure they are challenging to play. Interestingly, when the yearly competition season comes along, we hear all the early and late romantic concertos – Brahms, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and even Beethoven. Maybe because they are less flashy and in many ways more subtle and personal, we rarely hear the Mozart concertos in a competition setting. I don’t know what to make of that, to be quite honest.

There is no “common characteristic” to these concertos. Depending on when in the course of Mozart’s career they were composed, I guess we can think of them as a snapshot of the composer’s style and influences, or see how Mozart matures as a composer as the set evolves. We can, like in the case of Haydn and the “classical symphony” see a trend in how Mozart crafts his concertos, and that’s certainly evident from, say, concerto no. 9 onwards. The keyboard virtuosity of the first movement (assorted with an elaborate cadenza), the pensive and meditative slow movement and the effervescent rondo finale, also augmented by a cadenza. This “structure” will be the de-facto standard adopted by most romantic composers, with very few excursions. “Rach 2” isn’t very different from the K. 467 concerto, when you think of it in those terms…

So far on our ongoing series of podcasts, we have programmed relatively few of the “numbered” concertos by Mozart: no. 1, no. 10, no. 21 and no. 26. We can also add no. 8 if we consider a featured concerto from a “Once Upon the Internet” Tuesday blog. Nos 10 and 26 were recycled in our Podcast Vault series.

To those 5, I will be adding 12 more, in sets of 3, performed on alternating weeks by some great artists. In the case of Mitsuko Uchida, Geza Anda and Murray Perahia, these were at one point part of an ambitious “complete cycle” of the concertos. I haven’t yet tapped into the Ashkenazy or the Barenboim “complete cycles”…

Born in Atami, a seaside town close to Tokyo, Japan, Mitsuko Uchida moved to Vienna, Austria, with her diplomat parents when she was 12 years old, after her father was named the Japanese ambassador to Austria. She enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music to study with Richard Hauser, and later Wilhelm Kempff and Stefan Askenase, and remained in Vienna to study when her father was transferred back to Japan after five years. She gave her first Viennese recital at the age of 14 at the Vienna Musikverein. She also studied with Maria Curcio, the last and favourite pupil of Artur Schnabel.

A performer who brings a deep insight into the music she plays through her own search for truth and beauty, Mitsuko Uchida performs with the world’s finest orchestras and musicians.  Some highlights from recent years include her Artist-in-Residency at the Cleveland Orchestra, where she directed all the Mozart concerti from the keyboard over a number of seasons.  (Amongst many current projects, Uchida is recording a selection of Mozart’s Piano Concerti with the Cleveland Orchestra, directing from the piano: all of the discs in this series have received critical acclaim, including a Grammy Award in 2011.) She has also been the focus of a Carnegie Hall Perspectives series entitled ‘Mitsuko Uchida: Vienna Revisited’.  She has featured in the Concertgebouw’s Carte Blanche series where she collaborated with Ian Bostridge, the Hagen Quartet, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra as well as directing from the piano a performance of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  Uchida has also been Artist-in-Residence at the Vienna Konzerthaus, Salzburg Mozartwoche, Lucerne Festival and with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom she performed a series of chamber music concerts and a Beethoven Piano Concerti cycle with Sir Simon Rattle.

A naturalised-British citizen, shewas named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009,

The concertos I selected today are from her original "complete" cycle of the Mozart concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Jeffrey Tate.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mozart's Idomeneo

Our Summer 2015 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Once or Twice a Fortnight from September 14, 2012.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

All Summer, we will be sharing music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, feeding a series exploring Mozart on stage and in concert settings.

Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante (Italian for Idomeneo, King of Crete, or, Ilia and Idamante; usually referred to simply as Idomeneo, K. 366) is an Italian language opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was adapted by Giambattista Varesco from a French text by Antoine Danchet, which had been set to music by André Campra as Idoménée in 1712. Mozart and Varesco were commissioned in 1780 by Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria for a court carnival. He probably chose the subject, though it might have been Mozart.

It was first performed at the Cuvilliés Theatre of the Munich Residenz on 29 January 1781, under the baton of its 25-year-old composer. Idomeneo was Mozart's first mature opera. With it he demonstrated a mastery of orchestral color, accompanied recitatives, and melodic line. Dramatically, it adheres to the traditions of opera seria, making formal use of choruses and unfolding more as a sequence of sets than as a well-developed plot. Mozart fought with the librettist, the court chaplain Varesco, making large cuts and changes, even down to specific words and vowels disliked by the singers (too many "i"s in "rinvigorir"). Idomeneo was performed three times in Munich. Later in 1781 Mozart considered (but did not put into effect) revisions that would have brought the work closer into line with Gluck's style; this would have meant a bass Idomeneo and a tenor Idamante.

A concert performance was given in 1786 at the Palais Auersperg in Vienna. For this, Mozart wrote some new music, made some cuts, and changed Idamante from a castrato to a tenor.

Today Idomeneo is part of the standard operatic repertoire. There are several recordings of it, and it is regularly performed.


The link provides an edited set of tracks taken from Sean Bianco’s Friday Night at the Opera Podcast of October 9 2009
. The tracks include Sean’s introductions to the three acts of the opera. The performance is by the Bavarian RSO under Sir Colin Davius in 1991.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante, K. 366) 
Opera Seria in three acts, Italian libretto by Giambattista Varesco from a French text by Antoine Danchet

Barbara Hendricks, Ilia, daughter of King Priam of Troy 
Francisco Araiza, Idomeneo (Idomeneus), King of Crete 
Susanne Mentzer, Idamante (Idamantes), son of Idomeneo 
Roberta Alexander, Elettra (Electra), Princess of Argos 
Uwe Heilmann, Arbace (Arbaces), Idomeneo's confidant 

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Sir Colin Davis, conducting.

Synopsis and more stories:
Libretto :