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Andrews University Orchestra
November 8, 1997

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19 | Mendelssohn: Reformation Symphony

Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F Major, K. 459

Allegro Assai
Mozart does not wish to say anything; the just sings and sounds.  Thus he does not force anything on the listener, does not demand that he make any decisions or take any positions; he simply leaves him free.  Doubtless the enjoyment he gives begins with our accepting that.  He (does not) will to proclaim the praise of God.  He just does it -- precisely in that humility in which he himself is, so to speak, only the instrument with which he allows us to hear what he hears:  what surges at him from God's creation, what rises in him, and must proceed from him. --Karl Barth

The Piano Concerto in F Major, K.459, completed December 11, 1784, in Vienna, was one of six works in that genre, composed by Mozart that year.  At the time, Mozart was known as one of the world's greatest keyboardists, and was earning most of his income from teaching.  His piano concertos were written either for his students, other pianists, or himself.

It seems likely that the composer wrote the concerto that we hear tonight for his own use.  We don't know the exact occasion of its first performance, but it was most likely at one of the subscription concerts that Mozart gave during the winter of 1784-85.  The first recorded performance of this concerto was at the coronation festivities of Leopold II in October, 1790 with the composer as soloist.

The Concerto in F Major is full of sunshine, elegance, and charm.  Along with Mozart's other Viennese concertos of this time period, it synthesizes many aspects of his genius -- the ability to bring together the various instruments in harmony and contrast, a brilliant and ingenious solo part, variation of the conventional classical concerto form, and always drama and wit.

In the first movement, listen for the elegant march like rhythm.  Instead of the usual slow second movement we are favored with a more pastoral allegretto featuring exquisite interplay of piano solo, winds, and strings,  The exuberant rondo theme of the final movement contrasts sharply with the ensuing fugue and counterpoint.  This unusual device yields a richness and complexity perhaps best described by the composer in writing his father Leopold regarding the Vienna concertos:

These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid.  There are passages here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.
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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 5 in D Major, op. 107 "Reformation"

Andante~Allegro con fuoco
Allegro vivace
Choral: Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott

The idea to compose a symphony in honor of the tercentenary celebration of Augsburg Confession (1530), one of the most important documents of the Reformation, came to Mendelssohn while he was in England during the fall of 1829.  The symphony was completed during that winter, but waited for its first performance, which the composer conducted, in Berlin, November 15, 1832.  It was at first entitled Symphony for the Celebration of a Religious Revolution; the title Reformation became associated with the piece later.  The work received few performances during the composer's lifetime and was evidently laid aside, as it wasn't published until 1868, posthumously.

Of the symphony's four movements, only the first and last allude to Lutheran themes.  The work opens with a slow solemn introduction which closes with pianissimo strings intoning the Dresden Amen (taken from the 18th century Lutheran liturgy used in Saxony).  The ensuing allegro con fuoco is dominated by a bold powerful theme.  Following the development section, the recapitulation is signaled by the reappearance of the Dresden Amen.

The second movement engages in turns the woodwinds, strings, then full orchestra in a tuneful, playful scherzo.  The trio features a lilting oboe line.

The short contemplative andante, a song without words for strings, serves as a prelude for the finale -- a fantasia on Luther's hymn Ein' feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).  Simply introduced by  single flute, then woodwind chorus, the chorale leads into new material in sonata form.  Phrases of the chorale reappear in the development, growing in strength in the recapitulation, with the coda a majestic statement of the hymn for full orchestra.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1997.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts