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
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.