Program Notes: Mozart – Drama & Beauty

Concert Program

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart / Concert-ending by Carl Reinecke. (1756 – 1791)
Overture to Idomeneo, K.366
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Concerto No.24 in C minor for Piano & Orchestra, K.491 1
I. Allegro
II. Larghetto
III. Allegretto
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Symphony No.39 in E-flat major, K.543
I. Adagio – Allegro
II. Andante con moto
III. Menuetto: Allegretto
IV. Allegro

Program Notes


Born in Salzburg, Austria, January 27, 1756; died in Vienna, December 5, 1791

Overture: Idomeneo, K. 366 (1780-1)

Idomeneo, rè di Creta (Idomeneus, King of Crete), Mozart’s tenth opera and his first masterpiece, was commissioned for the Munich Carnival of 1781.  Mozart relished the commission and brought not only a wealth of compositional experience to the project since his previous opera six years earlier, but considerable life experience, too.  Traveling to Paris, he had fallen passionately, though one-sidedly, in love with the singer Aloisia Weber.  Then, once in Paris, tragedy struck as he witnessed the unexpected death of his mother and, with it, the feeling of being alone for the first time in his life.  In Paris he also experienced the power of Gluck’s tragic operas.  Idomeneo draws on all these life and musical experiences and is now recognised as one of Mozart’s greatest creations.

The three-act opera pushes beyond the constraints of the conventional opera seria of the time, with its stereotypical characters, by introducing elements of the French tragédie lyrique and Italian reform opera to the genre – in the process, responding with some of the most intense and deeply personal music Mozart was to write.  Its subject matter is built upon an archetypal scenario in which a father (Idomeneo, returning from the Trojan war) is called upon to sacrifice a child to appease a god (here, Neptune).  Idomeneo had a successful run of just three performances in 1781 and a single concert revival in Vienna in 1786.  The Elector of Bavaria, who commissioned the work, was, however, well pleased with the 24-year-old Mozart’s opera.  “Who could believe that such great things could be hidden in so small a head,” Mozart reported him as saying.


Piano Concerto No. 24, in C minor, K. 491 (1786)

Mozart wrote just two piano concertos in a minor key and both are powerful works.  The C minor, K. 491, marks his peak as a concerto writer and is one of a handful of truly great works for piano and orchestra.  It contains a vein of inner disquiet that is dark and brooding.  The music is understated rather than dramatically expressed and all the more poignant for expressing thoughts which, to use Wordsworth’s line, are “too deep for tears.”

Mozart completed the concerto March 24, 1786, as the 11th of an astonishing sequence of 12 piano concertos within three years, written as a means of supporting himself and his growing family in Vienna.  He was also at work on two operas, including his comic masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro and a revival of Idomeneo, which involved a host of changes and rewrites.  Of all the concertos, the C minor gave him the most difficulty.  The original score, which survives, contains numerous corrections, changes, crossings-out and rewritings which, while not unknown in Mozart’s music, show that he wrestled long and hard with its composition.  In it, he finds a way to crystallize his thoughts through a Beethoven-like creative struggle.  Its music travels through subjective emotions, chromatic themes, rich instrumentation and passionate outbursts that point the way towards the romantic piano concerto of the 19th century.

Mozart uses the largest orchestra in any of his concertos: woodwinds, including clarinets, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.  The orchestral introduction sticks resolutely to C minor, with an extraordinarily powerful main theme (and then three more) that not only foreshadows the harmonies to come, but also passes through all twelve tones of the chromatic scale.  Its effect is unsettling and disorienting.  The entry of the piano, still in the key of C minor, at first offers no solace until it gravitates towards what pianist Glenn Gould liked to refer to as the ‘caressing’ key of E-flat, the relative major.  It is as though the piano here takes on a role as catalyst to the relentless urgency and darkness that the orchestra generates.  By the end of the movement, C minor remains dominant.  Mozart failed to leave a written-out cadenza, but he did allow the piano one last say in the argument after the cadenza, a rare procedure for him and one that Beethoven was soon to follow in his C minor Piano Concerto.

The slow movement returns to the ‘caressing’ key of E-flat major.  It is a romanza in all but name.  Two episodes, notable for their imaginative writing for woodwinds, keep the dark key of C minor ever present.  In the finale, too, C minor is the constant reference point, although several of the variations on its march-like theme do venture beyond.  Mozart strived long and hard to maintain the right balance and a feeling of momentum in this concerto.  Occasionally, as in the third variation, he left no definitive word on which of several alternate passages he preferred.  But the very fact that the concerto has remained in the repertoire since Mozart’s death bears testimony to its power to move us.


Symphony No. 39, in E-flat, K. 543 (1788)

While we don’t know the reason why, in the remarkably short period of six weeks, Mozart composed a trilogy of late symphonies – today’s in E-flat, the great G minor and the Jupiter—we do know that when not composing to commission, Mozart composed out of necessity.  Never one to go on country walks with the hope that a melody would drop out of the sky, he likely wrote these three masterpieces either for a series of subscription concerts that he hoped to put on in Vienna in 1788 or for his fruitless search for patronage and a permanent position during a tour of leading German cities the following year.  After several years of declining work and popularity in Vienna, he certainly needed the money.  But he continued to be active and give concerts in his quest for financial stability.  So, although it used to be said that Mozart never heard his three great final symphonies played, this is unlikely to be true.

The E-flat symphony, dated June 26, 1788 in Mozart’s catalogue, is the least known of the three and one of a small handful of orchestral works by Mozart without a pair of oboes.  In their place he includes the newer clarinets which, together with the symphony’s warm, even solemn home key of E-flat, adds a wistful, sometimes autumnal feeling to the music.  An imposing, majestic introduction introduces a descending violin scale that is to reappear, almost note for note in the Allegro.  Its biting harmonic twists and odd melodic turns foreshadow what is to come.  A movement on an epic scale may be expected.  Instead, Mozart gives a disarmingly concise sequence of lyrical themes, tautly developed.  Remote harmonies and dark shadows cloud the slow movement which, like the opening Allegro, begins innocently enough.  The courtly Minuet’s rustic trio section, based on a known ländler folktune, reflects the influence of the clarinet playing Stadler brothers on their friend.  The finale, with its high spirits, is often called the most Haydnesque movement that Mozart wrote.  Its single theme and innovative, daring tonal structure is Mozart at his most inventive.

©2020 Keith Horner
All program notes are written by Keith Horner.  Comments welcomed:


Pascale Giguère, violin/leader

Pascale Giguère has been a member of Les Violons du Roy since 1995. She was co-concertmaster from 2000 to 2013, and has been concertmaster since 2014. She has performed with the ensemble in some of the world’s leading venues, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and Carnegie Hall in New York, and at leading festivals in Canada, the United States and Europe. Pascale Giguère has also taken part in recordings with Les Violons for the labels Dorian, Atma and Virgin Classics.

In recent years, Pascale Giguère has appeared as a soloist with Les Violons du Roy, in particular in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons; the latter work was recorded by Atma and received a Juno award. She has also performed with the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal, Orchestre symphonique de Laval and Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens, with which she played Stravinsky’s Concerto in D, an experience she repeated in December 2006 with the Orchestre symphonique de Québec conducted by Yoav Talmi. In recent seasons she has appeared as a guest soloist at the Domaine Forget international festival and the Parry Sound Festival.

Pascale Giguère studied at the Montréal Conservatory with Raymond Dessaints, obtaining Premier Prix diplomas in violin and chamber music. She has also won several important prizes, including Grand Prize at the CIBC National Music Festival, First Prize at the Orchestre symphonique de Québec competition, and the prestigious Prix d’Europe award in 1993, which allowed her to continue her studies at Boston University with Roman Totenberg, Peter Zazovski and the Muir Quartet.

Pascale was awarded the Canada Council Instrument Bank’s 1700 Bell Giovanni Tononi violin to play from 2006 to 2008. Her current instrument is a 1745 Milanese violin by Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi, on generous loan from its owner Marthe Bourgeois.

Serhiy Salov, piano

Serhiy Salov is recognized as an outstanding pianist, whose playing is both energetic and imbued with sensitivity. He is known for his remarkable technique and exacting rigour and virtuosity, qualities that unwaveringly serve the poetry inherent in the music. Public enthusiasm and critical acclaim have amply confirmed his prominent status on the international music scene as a soloist and chamber musician. In addition, Serhiy Salov has achieved distinction for his piano transcriptions of symphonic works such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Debussy’s Nocturnes, Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bald Mountain, and many others.

After initially learning music in Ukraine, Salov pursued his studies in London, obtaining a Master’s degree from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, followed by a Doctor of Music degree from the Université de Montréal. His gifts extend far beyond the mastery of piano technique: the disciplines of improvisation, musicology, and the study of languages complement his training and enable him to deploy a highly expressive individual approach.

A superlative concert performer, Serhiy Salov has collaborated with renowned conductors and numerous orchestras around the world. He is regularly featured at the foremost international music festivals, and has been awarded many prizes in competitions worldwide.