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Inside The Music: Fate Beckons

Discover more about classical music with our new video series and interactive programme notes.

Music by kind permission of Naxos Records

Written when he was still a teenager, Mozart’s Violin Concertos are packed full of invention and humour.

You can already sense a future great operatic composer flexing his muscles: Mozart gives the solo violin long mellifluous lines to sing, no more so than in the rapturous slow movements where it soars above the orchestra with stunning ease and grace.

Written almost exactly a century later, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, one of the composer’s richest, most colourful works, is a thrilling tour de force featuring one of the most heart-rending slow movements in all 19th-century music and a finale that will have you on the edge of your seat.

10 things you didn’t know about… Mozart

  • Mozart’s full name, as given on his birth certificate, was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.
  • According to the film Amadeus, Salieri poisoned Mozart and, before his victim’s death, helped the scribble down music for the Requiem. Neither is true.
  • Mozart wasn’t buried in a pauper’s grave, either. He was buried in a ‘common grave’, used by citizens as opposed to the aristocracy. The city simply had the right to reuse the grave after a certain amount of time. Which they did.
  • Gustav Mahler’s last word before he died was ‘Mozart’.
  • Forbidden from seeing the score on the visit to the Sistine Chapel, the young Mozart reputedly transcribed Allegri’s famous Miserere after just one hearing.
  • Unusual uses for Mozart’s music include encouraging cows to produce more milk, making wine more alcoholic, breaking down sewage and purifying water. Apparently.
  • Mozart composed over 600 works and could write music before he could write sentences.
  • So far, researchers have pinpointed 118 causes of Mozart’s death, including rheumatic fever, syphilis and mercury poisoning.
  • Mozart was left-handed.
  • And he was also a very fine and enthusiastic billiards player…

VIDEO: Oliver Condy

VIDEO: Jonathan James

Listen out for… 5 key moments

    1. Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 1, second movement

    When you hear the violin solo come in at around a minute in with a beautiful descending line, it’s hard to accept this was written by a 17 year-old. This is one of Mozart’s most sublime moments in all his music, the violin entering the conversation so gently and naturally.

    1. Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 1, final movement

    Towards the end of the movement, just over five minutes in, Mozart takes the violin to the briefest of rustic dances, a brilliant moment of levity before the brief cadenza and a masterstroke in the final few bars as Mozart brings the concerto in to land in the most gentle, graceful fashion.

    1. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, first movement

    The doom-laden opening fanfare sets the tone for the whole symphony from the start, threatening even the optimism of the final movement. You can track it through the piece like a character in a novel.

    1. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, third movement

    The fizzing third movement features highly original, extraordinary writing for pizzicato strings. Listen to how Tchaikovsky’s ideas shoot up and down the string sections.

    1. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, final movement

    Tchaikovsky’s final movement features constantly changing moods, but the composer is at his most optimistic around a minute in when he banishes the gloom in a style reminiscent of a Tom and Jerry cartoon!

A young prodigy and a tormented soul

“Many people do not even know that you play the violin, since you have been known from childhood as a piano player.” So said Mozart’s father, Leopold, noting perhaps with some regret that his son’s gift on the violin hadn’t been as recognised as it should. A justifiable regret, as Mozart was by all accounts a staggering violinist (he was employed as a musician in the Salzburg court in his teens) and proof of that talent can be found in these Violin Concertos, written by the composer for himself to perform. The first was written when Mozart was just 17 in 1773, the other four following two years later in a flurry of activity in Vienna, each concerto showing more and more Mozart’s maturing style and burgeoning love of opera. You can hear, in the First Concerto, Mozart’s love of the Baroque Italian concerto with its flashy technical challenges, whereas in the Fourth, Mozart’s love of opera gives the violin its long flowing lines and delicate conversations with the orchestra – a sense of grace and balance was by now much more important to Mozart than virtuosic pyrotechnics…

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 was written during a low ebb in the composer’s life – his marriage to one of his former students lasted all of two and a half months, bringing the truth of his homosexuality into stark relief. A painful few months culminated in a botched suicide attempt as Tchaikovsky counted on contracting pneumonia by wading into the Moscow River. But while 1877 was clearly a desperate year for the composer, it was one of his most artistically fruitful periods, the Symphony No. 4 being, he wrote, “the best thing I have written.” The first movement is dominated, unsurprisingly given his circumstances, by a ‘fate’ motif – ominous blasts from the brass that threaten the mood at every turn. The anguished second movement contains one of Tchaikovsky’s most gorgeous melodies, with strings that push and pull, yearning and sighing. The third movement features staggering scoring for pizzicato strings, while the finale is a rush of thrilling energy, its incredible, seemingly unstoppable optimism almost sabotaged by the fate motif towards the end. But joy wins the day, and the work ends on a triumphant note, Tchaikovsky daring to look to the future with a glint of hope.

Further listening

Mozart – Violin Sonatas

Mozart wrote more sonatas for the violin than he did for his main instrument, the piano. Hear all 36 performed dazzlingly by pianist Daniel Barenboim and violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Itzhak Perlman (violin), Daniel Barenboim (piano) (DG 463 7492)

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

Not such a cheery suggestion, but Russian composer’s last symphony is truly his greatest. This time he succumbs to the clutches of fate from which he’d tried to escape all his life. Tchaikovsky committed suicide soon after the premiere.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons (Orfeo C832101A)

Words: Oliver Condy

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