Thursday, May 14, 2020

Something a little different -- "The Curious Case of the Missing Mozart and the Neglected Younger Brother"

The Curious Case of the Missing Mozart and the Neglected Younger Brother

Vivek Dehejia

May 14, 2020

How many of you music mavens have noticed the gap in the chronology of the late Mozart symphonies? Your boxed set will jump from No. 36, the “Linz”, to No. 38, the “Prague”, and then onto the final, glorious trilogy. Whatever happened to No. 37?

Therein lies a tale. When Ludwig von Köchel compiled his comprehensive catalogue of Mozart’s works in 1862, there was, indeed, a Symphony No. 37 in G major, K. 444. It was only discovered in 1907 by Lothar Perger and Georges de Saint Foix that the true composer was (Johann) Michael Haydn, younger brother of the famous (Franz) Joseph Haydn, when Perger was assembling his catalogue of the younger Haydn’s works.

So how did the misattribution occur? Simple enough, it turns out. Haydn completed the symphony on May 23, 1783, scoring it for a (small) classical orchestra, flute (only in the second movement), oboes, bassoons, and horns, in pairs, and the usual string choir (without cellos). Unlike many of the symphonies of his older brother, Haydn’s symphony has no slow introduction and jumps straight into the jolly theme of the first movement. This symphony, in three movements (fast - slow - fast, with no minuet), is now known as No. 25 in G major, Perger 16, Sherman 25, MH 334 (because there are at least three different catalogues of his works).

Now, Mozart and the younger Haydn were friends — indeed, they had been colleagues working for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. While Mozart quit the hateful prince’s employ to set off on a freelance career, Haydn stayed in service to the prince until his death, much as older brother, Joseph, served the princely Esterházy for most of his career. It is fair to say that both Haydn brothers and Mozart were good friends, and thought highly of each other’s work.

When Mozart was preparing to journey to Linz in late 1783, for the concert at which the “Linz” symphony would be premiered, he decided he needed another work to add to the program. Michael’s No. 25 was readily at hand, but, Mozart being the genius he was, did not want to play Haydn’s symphony straight, but made his own modifications. Most notably, he added a slow introduction, marked Adagio maestoso, to the first movement, with a clever segue into Haydn’s actual fast opening movement. (I am leaving out the technical musicological details.)

But, those were not his only changes. Most notably, and audibly, he eliminated a bassoon solo from the Andante sostenuto slow second movement, as well as some other minor modifications to the wind parts, where, again, I leave out the technical details.

Mozart’s score, in fact, does away with bassoons altogether, being scored for flute (again, only in the second movement), pairs of oboes and horns, and the usual strings (including cellos). As with all music of this period, it is contentious whether a basso continuo, typically played on the harpsichord or perhaps the fortepiano, is required, or is dispensable. Bassoons are sometimes added back in, doubling the cellos and basses as part of the continuo group, a practice we also see in some earlier symphonies by Joseph Haydn.

When Mozart’s autograph score was discovered, the slow introduction and part of the second movement was in his handwriting, and the remainder of the symphony was in another’s hand, perhaps that of a copyist. This is how the misattribution occurred, and we know already how it was eventually rectified.

What is interesting is that the chronology of the late Mozart symphonies was not re-arranged, which would have made the “Prague” into No. 37, and the final trilogy Nos. 38 - 40. Rather, No 37 was kept vacant — a “missing Mozart”, so to speak.

All of this would be rather pedantic and uninteresting, except for the fact that the symphony — in either version — is very lovely indeed, most especially the delightful middle movement. It is well worth listening to.

There are several recordings of both versions available. For the Haydn original, I would recommend Matthias Bamert conducting the London Mozart Players, on the Chandos label, part of the “Contemporaries of Mozart” series (he uses a harpsichord continuo). For the Mozart version, there is a very fine recording by Jane Glover conducting, also, the London Mozart Players, on the Sanctuary label, in a box called “Mozart: The Great Symphonies”. She dispenses with a continuo instrument. In terms of historical recordings, the great Erich Leinsdorf’s traversal of the complete Mozart symphonies — the first recorded set of the complete symphonies, in fact — for the Westminster label, includes No. 37, in perfectly acceptable late mono sound, and a very vigorous performance.

It is noteworthy that No. 37 is performed much less frequently since it became known that the composer was mostly not, in fact, Mozart. But not a single note changed. It gives you pause to think about how we perceive works of art based on the presumed authorship. Mozart is rightly thought a universal genius, so even the archaic sounding (for 1783) No. 37 was accepted as part of his oeuvre — until it was discovered that the true author was a lesser light, the younger Haydn brother at that. And so the symphony has mostly gone in the drawer since then, and only occasionally dusted off for performance or recording, which is a real pity.

As a postscript, the lovely bassoon-laden second movement of the Haydn symphony forms an important part of the soundtrack of the 2018 Denys Arcand film, La chute de l'empire américain, in an arrangement and elaboration by Mathieu Lussier, and played by Les Violons du Roy, conducted by Lussier.

In fact, it was watching Arcand’s beautiful and autumnal film — for which the music is perfectly suited — that enticed me into rediscovering the mystery of the missing Mozart and the neglected younger brother.

Notes and Sources

For background on the Haydn/Mozart confusion, Wikipedia — what else? — and for the recording recommendations and other maundering, myself. The recordings are easily found on your favourite streaming service or for purchase from the usual on-line stores.

The Wikipedia articles on both Haydn’s Symphony No. 25 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 37 contain useful links to scholarly and semi-scholarly sources. The most useful is Denis Pajot’s blog post on the Mozart forum, https://web.archive.org/web/20070929091530/http://www.mozartforum.com/Lore/article.php?id=085 . There is some interesting discussion here of how it was that Haydn’s symphony came into Mozart’s hands (from a dishonest Salzburg copyist, or perhaps a gift from Haydn to Mozart?), and how and why he felt it necessary to add a slow introduction before taking it with him to Linz. It is possible that the confusion was abetted by the fact that the Mozart No. 37 was thought to be a new symphony composed for Linz, which we now know to be No. 36.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I speak to the WSJ on India's lockdown.

“Governments around the world are reclaiming the commanding heights of the economy,” said Vivek Dehejia, an economics professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. “You can do things quickly, but the danger is once governments obtain more power they are very reluctant to give it up.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/amid-coronavirus-lockdown-india-post-still-deliversbecause-nobody-else-can-11588528535?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Opinion | The coronavirus outbreak is a crisis of globalization, my latest Mint column.

A special post on our present moment


OUR PRESENT MOMENT

VIVEK DEHEJIA

 March 22, 2020

Mumbai, India

Different folks are doing different things to stay sane during the self-isolation/lockdown we are all experiencing all over the world thanks to COVID-19. My solace is art, literature, and, especially, music (sometimes some food and drink as well!).
And, folks, there is such a thing as synchronicity! I had been looking forward for some time to "La Passione", a new album by superb Canadian soprano and conductor, Barbara Hannigan, which just released this past Friday after being in the pipeline for months. The timing could not have been more a propos for our present global moment.
The album has haunting and powerful songs by (near) contemporary composers Luigi Nono and Gérard Grisey, but the centrepiece is Haydn's Symphony No. 49 in F minor, "La passione". The title, apparently not Haydn's, refers to the Passion of Christ and the stages of the Cross. Whether the title is apocryphal or not, this is perhaps Haydn's most powerful, personal, and existentially charged work. It should also be noted that Haydn was a devout and observant Roman Catholic, a well documented fact, so that the casting of doubt on the title, suggesting it may reflect a theatrical representation of the Passion, rather than the Passion itself,  may reflect rather  the biases of "secular" critics -- just a conjecture by me, not based on historiographical research.
Many well-known recordings scrub down the sharp edges of the work and present is as buttoned-down, slick, soulless, middle-period, and run-of-the-mill -- good old Papa Haydn. Hannigan and her inspired Dutch musicians blow this myth apart. Hannigan does for Haydn what Bernstein did for Mahler. The emotional core of the piece, the long first movement, is here given all its repeats and played at an appropriately sepulchral tempo -- clocking in at close to an incredible 15 minutes -- as long as some movements in Mahler! The remaining movements maintain the intensity level.
A very special touch is the harpsichord part, which plays at variance with the music on top, not relegated to a generic continuo which mimics the bass line. Hannigan, in her own liner notes, describes this as the "dark, lost angel". The effect is extraordinary. This is where genuine authenticity -- coming to the core meaning of a work of art -- sometimes parts ways with pedantic authenticity as in some of the "historically informed performance" folks.
Listening to this recording has given me a lot of solace, and helped me think through -- or, better yet, feel through -- the existential questions swirling around all of us now.
If you want to check this amazing recording out, the link below points you to various sites to download or stream the work. The usual suspects, Apple Music and Spotify, are streaming it, and it's available for purchase from other standard sites.

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A last thought from me: I've been thinking quite a bit of what that last music is one might want to hear, in these existential times, in case one needs to make such a choice. The obvious choices for me would have been Mozart, or Beethoven, or Schubert, Mendelssohn, Bach or Brahms, (maybe) Mahler, (just possibly) Wagner, (unlikely) Strauss. It is said that, on his deathbed, Schubert wished his friends to play Beethoven's C sharp minor string quartet, Op. 131, as the last music he heard. Some, including me, might pick Schubert's great C major string quintet for one's swan song. Suddenly, out of left field, came this stunning "La passione" from Hannigan, that I have been listening to "on loop" (as they say) since first hearing it a few nights ago. I recall the sage words of an old professor of English of my brother, whom I also knew a bit, a fine Chaucer scholar and a great lover of classical music, who said, "In the end, we always come back to Haydn..."

I'll give the last word to Hannigan: "Haydn’s Symphony 49...is a universal ritual for loss and grieving, beyond a single figure. The symphony is the journey of souls: the ones enduring on earth and the ones who have departed."






POSTSCRIPT

The first page of the full score to Haydn's "La Passione". Notice the inscription at the head, "In Nomine Domini" -- "in the name of the Lord". At the end of the work, Haydn writes, "Fine laus Deo" -- "the end, praise be to God": the sacred, the secular, and aesthetic are melded.