Columbus Symphony: Mozart, Schumann and…Schwertsik!

Justin Brown, pianist and conductor, this weekend with the Columbus Symphony(Photo: alabama symphony)
Justin Brown, pianist and conductor, this weekend with the Columbus Symphony(Photo: alabama symphony)

Columbus Symphony performs this weekend in the Southern Theatre, conducted by Justin Brown. Music by Mozart, Schumann and Kurt Schwertsik.

Brown will be in-studio with Boyce Lancaster at 9 a.m. Friday talking about this weekend’s performances.

This weekend’s Columbus Symphony concerts in the Southern Theatre introduces us to Brown, a pianist and conductor, and to the music of Austrian composer Kurt Schwetsik (b. 1935).

We’ll hear his 12 minute work for orchestra composed in 1978, Epilog zu Rosamunde. I suspect Schwertsik uses the same source as did Schubert 200 years ago. This is an opportunity to hear a composer lauded by the Financial Times. “Schwertsik’s music is homespun, witty, nostalgic, vegetarian, politically liberal, intelligent, anti-authoritarian, widely read and deeply in love with tradition.” You lost me at vegetarian but for everything else Kurt Schwertsik is a fella after my own heart.

Schwertsik is approaching 80 and apparently busy, popular in Europe and creative.

Mozart’s career was on the skids by 1791, the last year of his life. As he approached his 35th and last birthday, Mozart found his popularity with audiences gone as were the commissions from the nobility that kept him one step in front of the bill collectors.

How was this possible? Even during his lifetime, Mozart was Mozart!

Money was low. Austria was engulfed in an expensive war with France. Those well-born and not at war had escaped Vienna. Tastes were changing. Music was becoming more personal and more dramatic. Beethoven was about to give his first concerts. Audiences flocked to the new guy and left his performances in horror.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B flat, K. 595 was the last of his 27 concerti for that instrument. It was the piano that made Mozart famous as a precocious five year old, and he never lost his love and facility for the instrument. It was his piano concerti which he wrote quickly and performed as “calling cards” to the Viennese public. They came to adore the adult Mozart, for a while. Mozart played and conduced the premiere of his 27th concerto, in Vienna as usual. But this time he was last on a crowded bill, an afterthought, and left to an audience already tired.

Some critics have suggested that this concerto is a farewell,a tearful goodbye or a stash of self-pity. I don’t buy it. It is well crafted and beautiful. It is not a work designed to show off soloist versus orchestra. It is a more integrated work. You could call it “grown up” music. Certainly here are flashes of wit and irony, but this is a composer with nothing left to prove.  Mozart died 11 months to the day after he completed this work. His death on Dec. 5, 1791 came after a year that saw two new operas, Die Zauberflote and La clemenza di Tito, the Clarinet Quintet and the Requiem.  Had he lived another thirty years, there’d be no talk of melancholy about Mozart’s final work.

Melancholia plagued Robert Schumann (1810-1856). His first episodes of mental illness came in 1828, and continued every few years until his death, in an institution in 1856. He managed to function quite well as a music critic and composer, happily married to Clara Wieck and father of six children. I’ve never heard a work of Schumann’s that told of any madness or chaos. The Symphony 2 in C major was started in 1845 and premiered the following year. Felix Mendelssohn conducted the first performance, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig (still today on of the world’s great orchestras.)

In 1845 Schumann was coming off several months of “illness”. He was fighting his way back as he worked in the C major Symphony. He allowed himself to become hopeful as work progressed. The work has a few riddles, including the spelling of B-A-C-H in notes. In the finale Schumann quotes Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To a Distant Beloved) Schumann had bene distant from his beloved Clara for some time. The title might be sad but this symphony certainly is not. It is the first symphony not ‘program music’-no allusions to rivers, towns or battles and only hints of people-and is considered one of his finest achievements.

This program will be broadcast on Classical 101 Sunday April 13 at 1 p.m.