January 25, 2016. Mozart. January 27th marks the 260th anniversary of birth. Every year we focus on a different episode of Mozart’s life and present compositions from that period. Last year was about his rather unhappy trip to Paris in 1777-1778. The 22 year-old Mozart had left Paris in September of 1778. He was offered a position in Salzburg at the court of the Prince Archbishop as an organist and concertmaster, and even though it paid three times his previous salary (450 florins instead of 150 – the New York Times has an interesting article on how much that would be in current dollars), Mozart was hesitant: he remembered the stifling atmosphere of Salzburg and was looking for an appointment in other places. He stayed in Mannheim and then in went to Munich but found no offers in either place. To make things worse, his Mannheim lover, the singer Aloysia Weber, seemed to have lost interest in him. (A quick note on these two cities. It was not by chance that Mozart was looking for employment there: Mannheim was famous for its orchestra, considered at that time the best in Germany. Munich had a strong musical connection: in 1778 the Elector Karl Theodor moved his court from Mannheim to Munich, bringing with him 33 musicians who became the core of his court’s orchestra; they also performed in the royal opera.) On January 15th of 1779 Mozart returned to Salzburg. For a while his relationship with Hieronymus Colloredo, the Prince-Archbishop, was quite good, but soon the same tensions that dominated their relationship before the Paris trip, became apparent again. Colloredo wanted Mozart to compose more church music while Mozart was getting more and more interested in opera and other non-liturgical genres. These difficulties were spelled out in a 1782 document appointing Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn, to the same position as Mozart had previously held: “we accordingly appoint [Michael Haydn] as our court and cathedral organist, in the same fashion as young Mozart was obligated, with the additional stipulation that he show more diligence … and compose more often for our cathedral and chamber music.” What Mozart did compose during that time were three symphonies (a short one, no. 32, no. 33 and no. 34, with a wonderfully energetic Finale, which you can hear in the performance by The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood conducting). Also, a concerto for two pianos, the famous Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola and several other pieces, none of which could’ve been performed either in the Cathedral or at the Court. (Here’s the 1956 recording of the Concertante made by Jascha Heifetz, violin and Willian Primrose, viola)
In 1780 Mozart received a commission from Munich, from the Elector Karl Theodor himself, to compose a “serious” opera (opera seria). It was to become Mozart’s first mature opera, Idomeneo. (Here’s a Quartet Andrò ramingo e solo from Idomeneo with a great cast: Edita Gruberová and Lucia Popp, sopranos, Baltsa, mezzo-soprano and Luciano Pavarotti, tenor). The premier in Munich in January of 1781, with Mozart conducting, was highly successful. Papa Leopold traveled from Salzburg to attend. The whole family stayed in Munich for another two months. Then came a summons from Vienna where Archbishop Colloredo went to attend the celebrations of the accession of Joseph II as the Holy Roman Emperor. Spoiled by his triumph in Munich, Mozart was especially offended by the Archbishop treating him as a servant. In May of 1781 Mozart asked to be dismissed and a month later he was let go “with a kick on my arse,” as he wrote in a letter. Thus commenced the Viennese period of his life. The portrait of Mozart by Johann della Croce, above, is part of a picture of the family; it was made around the time of the described events, in 1780 or 1781.
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