Program Notes: Mozart, Father and Son

I’ll do anything in the world to please you—although it would be easier for me if once in a while I could get away for a short while just to breathe freely.

                                                -Mozart to his father, December 1780

Mozart enjoyed a famously difficult relationship with his father, although one has to ask: was it really more fraught than the average father/son dynamic? Leopold sacrificed his own career ambitions to promote those of his son, a decision sometimes suspicious in hindsight. Did he do so for his son’s benefit or his own? Surely Wolfgang experienced moments where the latter seemed true; his letters reveal a rebellious streak in response to Leopold’s attempt to control everything from his finances to his love life. 

Scholars hold differing interpretations on the surviving letters between the two Mozarts. “Leopold Mozart may have been haughty, difficult to please and at times intractable, ... but there is no compelling evidence that Mozart was excessively manipulative, intolerant, autocratic or jealous of his son’s talent. On the contrary, a careful reading in context of the family letters reveals a father who cared deeply for his son but who was frequently frustrated in his greatest ambition: to secure for Wolfgang a worldly position appropriate to his genius.” (Cliff Eisen) 

But others take a harsher view, portraying Leopold as a man who loved his children but was unwilling to give them their independence as adults, resulting in a great deal of emotional baggage for his children. 

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Leopold Mozart composed his Trombone Concerto during the year 1756 (that of Wolfgang’s birth). Leopold Mozart became acquainted with the virtuoso trombonist Thomas Gschladt in Salzburg that year and was extremely impressed by his playing. He composed three movements for solo trombone and ensemble and incorporated them into a larger nine-movement Divertimento. The original score notes that "in the event a suitable trombone player may not be found, the solo may be played on viola" (to which an anonymous trombonist online responds “:horror:  :horror:  :horror:”). 



Wolfgang Mozart composed his first violin concerto at the age of 17 in 1773. While we think of Mozart primarily as a keyboard virtuoso, it is worth remembering that his first position in Salzburg was as concertmaster and that his father Leopold wrote an important treatise on violin playing. The younger Mozart composed 33 sonatas for violin and piano as well as five violin concerti. “You are not quite aware yourself of what an excellent violinist you are, when you gather up all your strength and play with self-confidence, verve, and fire,” Leopold wrote to his son. Although the exact circumstances of the premiere are unknown, it is assumed that Wolfgang Mozart gave the first performance of this concerto in Salzburg while still holding his courtly concertmaster appointment. 

Mozart completed the Piano Trio in C major, K. 548 in July 1788 during one of the most productive summers of his life. Between June and September, he composed his last three symphonies, three piano trios, two piano sonatas, the C Minor Adagio and Fugue for strings, and the Divertimento K. 563 for string trio. Burdened by his wife's serious illness, which added to his financial stress, these last piano trios were published in an attempt to raise funds. The dialogue between instruments is reminiscent of ebullient characters found in Mozart’s operas, placed here in an intimate setting. The piano tends to lead the ensemble in the outer movements with material similar to that of his piano concerti, while the Andante cantabile features a true conversation between the three instruments.


Nova Chamber Music Series
Nova Chamber Music Series

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