Columbus Symphony January 6 and 7: Mozart, Brahms/Schoenberg

Matthias Bamert, conducting this weekend's Columbus Symphony concerts.(Photo: Askonas/Holt)
Matthias Bamert, conducting this weekend's Columbus Symphony concerts.(Photo: Askonas/Holt)

The program for the Columbus Symphony this weekend in the Ohio Theater:

Mozart Symphony 25 in g minor, K. 183

Mozart: Violin Concerto 5 in A, K. 219

Brahms/Schoenberg  Piano Quartet in g minor , Op. 25

Yossif Ivanov, violin

Matthias Bamert, conductor

Matthias Bamert returns to Ohio where he earlier had been a protege of George Szell’s in Cleveland . Mr. Ivanov is a 24 year old Belgian born violinist and a prize winner at the Queen Elisabeth competition in Brussels.

The Saturday night performasnce is broadcast live on Classical 101 at 8 PM.

Come at 7 PM either night for a pre- concert talk on the 4th floor mezzanine. Or listen on the web.

Remember the Mozart effect? This was all the rage a few years ago. Play Mozart cds on your belly before your baby is born. Play Mozart for yourself 30 minutes a  day-like vitamins or the stair master-you’ll feel better.  Mozart releases the giddy and joy endorphins. Put down that pepperoni pizza or umpteenth rerun of ‘Two and a Half Men’ (the Charlie Sheen episodes of course).  Mozart will make you feel good.

Then just as the marketers were reveling in the success of Mozart as papa confessor/chocolate substitute, the ‘Mozart effect’ was repudiated and went away.

Too bad. Mozart is perfect anytime, but Mozart is necessary to chase off  the mid- winter post holiday blues. Go ahead, throw on any performance of any of Mozart’s works and sit back. Ten minutes later ask yourself, “Is it so bad?”. Especially with music like this in the world. It works.

One is either impressed or dismayed to learn that the symphony and violin concerto on this weekend’s CSO program were written by a teenager.  The Symphony 25 in g minor comes from late in 1773.  Mozart had just returned from his second tour to Italy, where he premiered his opera Lucio Silla in Milan. This “little g minor symphony” is interesting for two reasons: It is ‘big boy’ music. This is no longer a precocious child writing pretty music as he sat on the Empresses’ lap. Further, Mozart had the sturm und drang school of music in his mind, it having been briefly embraced by Haydn.

The love between Mozart and ‘Papa Haydn’ was warm and uncomplicated. If Haydn was testing the ‘storm and dress’ patina begun by Goethe, so would Mozart.  You can consider the opening bars ‘a cry in the dark’-and the urgency never goes away

Mozart doesn’t know how not to be graceful, but here he is unafraid to pour in the drama he would use so brilliantly in the later symphonies and in Don Giovanni. The Symphony 25 is the pivotal work,  boy to man.

That was 1773, when the composer was seventeen.

Two years later Mozart was back in Salzburg, in a low level position at the Court of Archbishop Hieronymous Colloredo. He spent that summer with the violin…literally. Over a two month period the composer completed his five violin concerti. It’s said that Mozart hated playing the violin. This might have been some Oedipal problem, since Leopold Mozart was a master teacher of the instrument. We don’t know much about the premiere of any of these concerti. We do know that in the A major concerto, we are back with the composer who gave us joy and wit:

And so to Brahms. But Brahms/Schoenberg? Odd. Brahms’ wonderful Piano Quartet No. 1 in g minor was his first chamber work. He worked it through with Clara Schumann, who sniffed at the earliest pages. Brahms was nothing if not patient. He revised carefully after the first performances. Today we have a forty minute work that plays fast, complete with dances, song and a raucous gypsy finale.

So who needs Schoenberg? No disrespect to the father of atonality but he was doing well enough for himself by 1934.  By then Arnold Schoenberg was part of a thriving ex-pat community in Los Angeles:  Stravinsky, Thomas Mann and Lotte Lehmann were among his neighbors. He taught theory and composition at UCLA. That his music by itself failed to make him a household name surprised the composer-he saw himself as the continuum of music rather than something radical, and to many noisily different.

Transcribing and adapting music by other composers is nothing new-it’s a tradition going back centuries. In the 1930s,  Stokowski ‘s high calorie editions of Bach were played everywhere.

Otto Klemperer asked Schoenberg for a transcription of the Brahms piano quartet for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The result is a work that sounds like Brahms, but is not. It has plenty of whiz-bang moments, but he proportions are wrong. The original Brahms Quartet was a chamber piece successful at sounding large-particularly in the gypsy finale. The orchestral inflation can sound a tad substandard, but it certainly makes a nice challenge for a large orchestra and is a vast entertainment for the audience. Schoenberg may have been trying to re-invent himself for the public. From severe atonalist (not fair, consider his Cabaret Songs and Verklaerte Nacht-but that’s another story) to a descendant of Brahms, a spiritual son of Mozart who made chamber music into a delightful circus.

* g minor: “A key of earnest meditation” -Slonimsky,  Lectionary of Music