The Scottish Chamber Orchestra continues their hugely successful series of Mozart recordings, following on from Mozart Symphonies 38-41. Austrian-born violinist Alexander Janiczek directs the Orchestra in a fine performance of the rarely recorded ‘Colloredo' Serenade and Divertimento K.251. The ‘Colloredo' Serenade, written for Hieronymous, Count von Colloredo, who was elected Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1772, shows the eighteen-year-old Mozart writing in an easy, informal style, but showing great originality. The Divertimento K.251, in the same key as the Serenade and similarly designed for summer entertainment, is full of spirited, catchy themes and dance music. It contains some delightful surprises! The Orchestra uses a stylish combination of modern instruments (except for natural trumpets), and period influences such as selective vibrato that results in clear textures and an exciting, entertaining performance in the natural acoustic of Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh. The SCO's previous Mozart recordings have been critically acclaimed; ‘Mozart Wind Concertos' consistently received four and five star reviews and BBC Music Magazine named "Mozart Requiem" a ‘Benchmark Recording' in January 2007 whilst ‘Mozart Symphonies 38-41' won BBC ‘Disc of the Year' in 2010.
Colloredo Serenade K.203 and Divertimento K.251
Mozart completed the K.203 Serenade in August 1774, a year after the ‘Andretter' Serenade (K.185) included in Mozart ‘Serenades' (Linn CKD 287). It has become known as the ‘Colloredo Serenade' on the supposition that it was composed to celebrate the name-day (30th September) of Hieronymus, Count von Colloredo, who had been elected Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1772, but it is most likely that, as with the Serenades K.185, K.204 and K.320, Mozart wrote it as Finalmusik for the University philosophy students' end-of-year celebrations. Like its companions, K.203 has an accompanying march; on the evening in question the Serenade would receive two informal, open-air performances, at the Archbishop's summer residence and at the Universitätsplatz; the March was played as the musicians and audience processed to the two venues. K.203 has a similar plan to K.185 - both works consist of a symphony plus an additional minuet with, after the first movement, an interpolated violin concerto in a key remote from the D major home key.
Following his extended tours throughout Europe, the years 1773-7 mark an unusually stable period in Mozart's life. Apart from a three-month stay in Munich (from December 1774 to March 1775) for the production of his opera La Finta Giardiniera, he stayed in Salzburg, fulfilling his duties as Konzertmeister, and composing for church, court and a circle of Salzburg patrons. In the earlier part of 1774, for example, he had written two symphonies - one of them the well-known work in A major, K.201 - the Bassoon Concerto, the Concertone for Two Violins and Orchestra, a set of keyboard variations, and a number of works for the church, including two Mass settings. Mozart was acutely aware of stylistic differences between these different genres. Though the K201 Symphony contains passages that could easily fit into a serenade, the Serenade as a whole doesn't demand such concentrated attention from its audience; the melodic style is more straightforward and there are fewer moments of contrapuntal intricacy. The emphasis is on a bright, entertaining style, full of contrast and colour. However, the first and last three movements of K.203 did achieve a wider circulation in the 1780s as a symphony, almost certainly one of a set of three offered for sale by manuscript music dealers in Vienna and Hamburg.
The first movement, after the March, is preceded by a slow introduction; its serious mood is quickly dispelled by the following Allegro's atmosphere of light-hearted celebration. During the course of the Serenade, different instruments come into prominence. Typical of Salzburg practice is the alternation of oboes and flutes (the same musicians played both instruments). The change to flutes gives a distinctive sound to the second of the three minuets; in its Trio section the first flute assumes a solo role, along with bassoon. Apart from this moment, bassoons are not specified in the score except in the introductory march, where two are called for - they play the same, quite prominent, part. This doesn't mean the bassoons were silent elsewhere in the Serenade - their role was the usual eighteenth-century one of reinforcing and helping to articulate the bass line.
The first minuet is scored for strings alone. In F major, it forms the middle movement of the interpolated violin concerto, its melody cunningly fashioned from a single three-note motif. The outer movements of the concerto, Andante and Allegro, are in B flat. This is a high key for the horns, and their bright, ringing sound dominates the tutti passages. At the start of the Andante the violas divide; the little staccato figures they play in conjunction with the oboes, joining up the violins' melodic phrases, give an entirely original character to this lyrical, slightly formal movement.
The other Andante, in G, which functions as the symphony's slow movement, also has its own special sound, with muted violins and, at the start, a rustling accompaniment figure like a nocturnal breeze. A feature of this beautiful piece is the prominent solo oboe, entrusted with the subsidiary theme in both exposition and recapitulation, and unexpectedly returning again in an extended coda. In this movement Mozart unusually pitches the first and second horns in different keys - D and G. The reason for this takes us right back to the opening bars of the march. Here, too, the horn parts are unusual in being set not in the key of the work (D), but five notes higher, in A. Mozart exploits this higher tessitura to give the orchestra a brighter sound, but the arrangement also allows him to answer the trumpets' downward fanfare in the first bar, based on a D chord, with a similar A major horn fanfare in bar two, outlining the dominant chord. These same two fanfares re-appear (transposed to G and D) in the Andante, here forming a dialogue between the two horns, and indeed, they provide a leitmotif for the entire work, appearing as the bass line at the start of the introduction to the first Allegro, during the Allegro of the concerto (bass and solo violin in dialogue, with the horns joining in near the end of the movement) and played by the whole orchestra near the start of the finale.
Exceptionally, this serenade has three minuets, and Mozart saves the most splendid till last. With its proud, insistent rhythm and contrasting plaintive oboe solo in the trio, it provides a perfect foil to the helter-skelter fun of the Prestissimo finale. As a whole, the Serenade shows the eighteen-year-old composer writing in an easy, informal style, but showing great originality in the way he gives his work coherence, and able, through highly sophisticated appreciation of the sonorous and technical capabilities of the different instruments, to captivate his audience with a brilliant interplay of colour and rhythm.
The Divertimento K.251, in the same key as the Serenade and similarly designed for summer entertainment, is very different in scale and design. Its instrumentation suggests affinity with the series of divertimenti for strings and horns (K.247, K.287, K.334) intended for solo performance and featuring virtuoso first violin parts. In K.251, a shorter work, this element of concerto-like display is largely absent, and though Mozart may have envisaged a performance by seven solo instruments, much of the writing, in the first movement for instance, has an orchestral character. Even the oboe has to wait for the third movement, the Andantino, for its first extended solo. The opening Allegro is dominated by its spirited, catchy initial theme. Especially effective is the minor key version featuring the oboe, which serves instead of the second subject. Shortly after this the happy atmosphere is intensified, as all the instruments take up the theme's characteristic rhythm.
The following minuet has a stately manner. The horns, given an important thematic role, are pitched in the low key of D, lending a sonorous, opulent sound to the ensemble. The delicate trio section, by contrast, is scored for strings alone. The Andantino is in rondo form. Mozart revels in the sound of the new key, A major, making only very limited excursions away from it. Moreover, the first four bars of the oft-recurring rondo theme are based entirely on the A major chord. The movement does, however, contain some delightful surprises - as when the oboe takes over the theme, transforming it with a new continuation, and when, after a pause (and, in this performance, a short oboe cadenza) the rondo melody resumes at a faster tempo.
For the second minuet, Mozart abandons the traditional minuet-and-trio form, writing instead a sequence of variations that provide solos in turn for oboe, first violin, and second violin; between each variation the minuet returns in its original form. The finale is another rondo that echoes the first movement's vivacious, joyful mood. Halfway through, following a minor-key episode that features the solo oboe, a new theme in popular style is introduced. We can imagine that this is a quotation of a melody well known to the original audience (similar quotations occur in the finales of the Violin Concertos K.216 and K.218, and the Divertimento K.287) who would have been even more delighted to hear it a second time near the end of the movement.
K.251, like K.203 and most of Mozart's serenades and longer divertimenti, has an accompanying march: because it's part of the autograph manuscript and not preserved separately, it doesn't have its own Köchel number. Its title, ‘Marcia alla francese' may refer to the rhythmic basis - five beats, followed by three silent (or de-stressed) ones - the traditional pattern of drumbeats to which the French infantry marched. The pattern can be heard repeated in the bass part of Mozart's march.
The manuscript of K.251 bears the date July 1776. It has been suggested, though with no direct evidence, that it was designed as a name-day present for Wolfgang's sister Nannerl (her name-day fell on July 26th). Certainly, from a letter he wrote two years later from Paris, we know that Mozart had in previous years composed music to celebrate the occasion. Nannerl would have fully appreciated this divertimento's wonderful craftsmanship, and found such a sunny work a perfect celebratory gift.
© Duncan Druce, 2008