Notes on Mozart and Johnston

The music on this coming Sunday’s NOVA program unites works by Mozart with those of two very different Utah composers, Bruce Quaglia and Corbin Johnston. The juxtaposition of Mozart and Quaglia’s music is no accident. Quaglia’s Passaggio Scuro employs glittering virtuosity and allusions to dance rhythms of earlier classical styles, while Through the Dark Passage conveys a graceful lightness of texture. He writes music that one could interpret to be very much engaged with the classical tradition, and his own compositional lineage can be traced back to an American school fostered by Arnold Schoenberg’s teachings in the U.S. Johnston’s works, on the other hand, are the result of too many evenings spent performing in the smoky underground jazz scene of the East Coast during the 1980s. His short and decisive pieces are influenced by the cryptic lead sheets and hysterical improvisations of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Cecil Taylor.

Notes on the Quaglia pieces appeared in a previous post. What follows are remarks on the works by Mozart and Johnston for Sunday’s concert.

Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat K. 375 was among the first works he wrote as a new citizen of Vienna. During the summer of 1781 he was dismissed from his post at the court of Salzburg, a circumstance that freed him to pursue a career as a composer and pianist in the musical capitol of the world. The K. 375 Serenade represents Mozart’s earliest attempts to gain favor with the court of Emperor Joseph II. Originally conceived as a wind sextet, Mozart added 2 oboes during the summer of 1782, hoping that it would be performed by the 8-piece court band (it wasn’t). During the five years that separate Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat and the “Kegelstatt” Trio of 1786, Mozart married Constanze Weber and pursued an active career as a pianist/composer through a series of concerts designed to promote his piano concerti. The year 1786 marked a return to opera and a new collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Le nozze di Figaro was premiered in May, and before starting work on Don Giovanni, Mozart spent the summer writing chamber music. The unusual scoring of the “Kegelstatt” work leads one to assume that the intended performers included Mozart on viola and Anton Stadler, dedicatee of the clarinet concerto and quintet, on clarinet. This was not a work intended to garner publicity or money. It was rather an intimate creation meant to be enjoyed in the company of friends.

Corbin Johnston composed Viola and Piano: One Application in 2005 for Brant Bayless. Johnston describes the piece as “an improvisational structure, based on two theme groups and one sub group (Bridge) that delineate the form for improvisation.” The improvisations are incredibly frenetic, always with the intent that the original melodic motives should “disintegrate beyond recognition.”

5.3 |2| blind date  came with the following instructions from Johnston: “No rehearsal necessary. The notion behind this is that of a blind date. No one will have any idea of what their colleagues are going to be playing. So you’ll be hearing the other parts for the first time at the concert, while you are playing your part. Creating sort of an aural blind date. The improvised part is your reaction in the moment.”


- JH, 4.25.14