Because of the many different concert formats and collaborations this season, it’s been awhile since we’ve been able to have printed program notes, and we’ve REALLY missed singer Susan Wladaver-Morgan’s beautiful work on these! But thankfully, we have them back for our final concert of the season, which is truly shaping up to be a beautiful program! Remember that you receive a 15% discount when you purchase your tickets in advance, which you can do by visiting our website or talking to a choir member. And for now, enjoy this glimpse into our journey to Vienna!
Capital of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna enjoyed cultural riches as the hub of political, religious, intellectual, and economic power. Whether serving at imperial or ecclesiastical courts or simply seeking musically sophisticated audiences, composers from throughout Central Europe found both inspiration and satisfaction in making Vienna their creative home. Some of this evening’s composers were born there, others migrated from elsewhere in Austria, and two came from other countries. But Vienna held their hearts and inspired their finest work.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) first experienced Vienna when he performed for Empress Maria Theresa as a child prodigy at the age of 5, but he settled in Vienna in 1781 and remained there until his death. This evening’s 3 compositions date from his last year. A devout Roman Catholic, like most Austrians, Mozart wrote many sacred works in addition to 41 symphonies, over 20 operas, and dozens of instrumental works. “Ave verum corpus” is a Catholic Eucharistic hymn whose text dates to the 14th century; it is sung at the Elevation of the Host to stress the moment when it becomes the true body of Christ.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was born in Rohrau, Austria, near the Hungarian border. Haydn originally moved to Vienna at age 8 to become a chorister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and later supported himself there as a freelance instrumentalist and teacher. In 1761, however, he gained steady employment as Kapellmeister for the aristocratic Esterhazy family in rural Hungary where he felt isolated from the creative environment of Vienna. He wrote that his isolation left him little choice but to become original—and prolific, composing over 100 symphonies and pioneering the genre of string quartets. By the 1780s he was able to return frequently to Vienna and his friends, including Mozart. Many of his works employ slyly humorous effects. “Eloquence,” for instance, depicts that contrasting effects of water and wine on conversation. Listen especially for the joke at the very end.
Born into a poor family in Hamburg, Germany, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) did not move to Vienna until the 1860s. As a young man, he was befriended by Robert and Clara Schumann, leaders of the German Romantic movement; Robert publicized his compositions in his musical journal and Clara introduced them in her recitals. “How Lovely is They Dwelling Place” is the fourth movement of his German Requiem, which he composed in Vienna following his mother’s death. The Requiem made his reputation as a composer in Vienna, which seems paradoxical. His requiem is in German, not Latin, as a proper Catholic requiem should be, and the text consists of Biblical passages that held deep personal meaning for Brahms, not the classic form of a requiem mass. In short, it is a thoroughly Protestant work that Catholic Vienna nonetheless took to its heart.
“Ah Perdona” comes from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, a serious opera commissioned to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia—a very welcome job for which the cash-strapped composer was paid in advance. Mozart composed it at the same time he was working on his comic masterpiece The Magic Flute. This duet features two women, although one of them is playing a “trouser role”–a man plotting against the Emperor Titus who, uncharacteristically for a Roman emperor, shows mercy.
Like Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was born in Germany but moved to Vienna in 1792 where he studied with Haydn. Though thoroughly grounded in Classical style, Beethoven moved swiftly toward the more dramatic extremes of Romanticism in his middle and later works. In Vienna he soon established himself as a virtuoso pianist and performer of his own compositions. His Pathetique Sonata (1798) for piano has sometimes been compared to Mozart’s sonata K. 457, for they share the same key of C minor and a similar tragic tone.
Our final Mozart piece, “Lacrimosa” comes from the “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) of Mozart’s unfinished requiem. After describing the terrors of the Last Judgment, the “Lacrimosa” concludes with weeping and begging for mercy. Indeed, the soprano line all but wails on the words “homo reus” (guilty man). Scholars believe that the first 8 bars of “Lacrimosa” were the last Mozart himself ever wrote; his pupil and assistant Franz Xaver Sussmayr completed the Requiem from existing materials.
We close the first half with “The Blue Danube” (1866) by Johann Strauss the Younger (1825-1899). A composer like his father (who wanted his son to become a banker and did his best to sabotage his musical career), Strauss wrote over 500 waltzes and polkas, as well as 16 operettas; Brahms greatly admired his work and was a personal friend. Following his father’s death, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and eventually became known as “The Waltz King.” “The Blue Danube” received its first performance sung by a Vienna men’s choir, and its sentimental praises of Vienna have made it almost an unofficial national anthem. Every year all Viennese TV and radio stations play it at precisely midnight on New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year.
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was born near Linz, Austria, and began studying the organ as a child. He spent many years at the Augustinian monastery at St. Florian, where he had sung and studied as a boy and later became the principal organist and a teacher. He relocated to Vienna in 1868 to teach music theory at the Vienna Conservatory, and in 1875 took over a post at the University of Vienna. In his lifetime, he was equally renowned as an organist and a composer, whose symphonies were somewhat controversial. In addition to symphonies, Bruckner, a devout Catholic, composed many motets and masses. He composed “Locus iste” in 1869 for the dedication of the votive chapel at the new cathedral in Linz.
The Liebeslieder Waltzes (1869) surprised Brahms’s friends and critics alike with their lightheartedness. He chose for his text Polydora, a collection of translated and folk-inspired poems by Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875); Brahms returned to this collection for the Neue Liebeslieder several years later. The poems draw on Russian, Polish, and Hungarian folk traditions and seemed to inspire a new musical palette for Brahms. In their delicate brevity, they recall some of Schubert’s song cycles. Curiously, Brahms described this work, so perennially popular with choral singers, as a “piano duet with voices ad libitum.” In truth, the double piano parts are indispensable, and we are most fortunate to have them performed by Jennifer Creek Hughes and Kay Reboul Doyle.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was Viennese bred and born. Like Beethoven, his style combined elements of both the late Classical and early Romantic periods. The son of a schoolteacher, Schubert began musical instruction around age 7 and soon came to the attention of Antonio Salieri as a promising boy soprano. Despite his amazing musical output—over 600 secular songs mostly for solo voice (including 3 song cycles), 7 complete symphonies, operas, masses, and chamber works–few of his compositions were published until 1825. Instead he received support mostly from a tight group of friends who together put on musical evenings that came to be known as Schubertiads. Both “Gott in der Natur” and “Die Nacht” were apparently first performed in 1827 at a Schubertiad; the former may have been composed for the 4 Frohlich sisters who frequently attended. “An die Musik” set an unpublished poem by one of Schubert’s oldest friends, Franz von Schober; this solemn but uplifting hymn to music is a favorite at farewell concerts.
Haydn composed “Harmony in Marriage” around the same time as “Eloquence,” around 1796, as part songs mostly to entertain himself. As he wrote, “These songs were composed purely con amore, in happy hours and not on order.” The title is ironic, for the song describes a marriage characterized by completely different ideas about money and so on. In spite of his own unhappy marriage, Haydn managed to keep a lighthearted tone.
We close with the final chorus of Beethoven’s only oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives (1802), with a text by Franz Xaver Huber. Although the theme seems similar to sacred works like the Bach Passions, it focuses more on the emotional struggle of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, rather than on the Crucifixion or Resurrection. Beethoven composed it in only a few weeks and later criticized the work, expressing dissatisfaction with the text. Nevertheless, the closing “Hallelujah” remains as stirring and popular as ever—a perfect ending for our musical visit to Vienna.