b. January 27, 1756 in Salzburg
d. December 5, 1791 in Vienna
Mozart's career faltered in the late-1780s. Unfortunately, the reasons for this stumble may never be known exactly, because his correspondence slowed considerably following the death of his father , Leopold, in 1787. Some scholars believe that the members of the nobility (i.e., his patrons) wanted to distance themselves from the composer following the revolutionary ideas put forth in Le nozze di Figaro in 1785. This is not to say that he was destitute as some myths imply. In fact, Mozart had been appointed "k. k. Kammer-Kompositur" with an annual salary of 800 florins, plus he had other earnings from the Viennese premiere of Don Giovanni, subscription concerts, and other activities, bringing his income to about 10,000 florins. In modern terms, he earned approximately $42,000 per year, placing him in the top five percent of Viennese society. He was, however, a terrible money manager and he lived beyond his means. During this period he frequently appealed to his friend Michael Puchberg for financial assistance.
Though his career backslid in Vienna, the situation in Prague was much different. There, Mozart's music was much beloved, and his sponsors virtually begged him to move from Vienna. Following a performance of Figaro and a concert in January 1787, which Mozart himself conducted, he received an opera commission from impresarios Pasquale and Domenico Guardasoni to be performed at the Estates Theatre in Prague during the fall season. The agreed fee was 100 ducats. Mozart collaborated again with Lorenzo da Ponte, his librettist for Figaro. They decided to set the Don Juan legend.
Mozart did not begin composing the music until July because he had to wait for da Ponte to finish the libretto. According to legend, he composed the Overture last, and the story is that he wrote it the day before the opera premiered on October 29, 1787. The story is that the musicians sight-read the music from scores whose ink was still wet. Don Giovanni was a huge success in Prague. In a letter dated November 4-9, 1787, Mozart wrote to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin, "My opera 'Don Giovanni' had its first performance on October 29th and was received with the greatest applause." Don Giovanni was revised and given in Vienna the following spring to a lukewarm reception. Over time, however, Viennese audiences came to appreciate the genius of Don Giovanni.
Traditionally, the function of an operatic overture was a signal to the audience that the performance was about to begin. In a world without electric or even gas houselights, an audible signal was a technical necessity. In Don Giovanni's overture the opening forte chords most likely captured the audience's attention. This overture stands out among Mozart's operas because he made it a part of the drama. The opening chords are a modified version of the entrance of the Stone Guest. Mozart did leave some surprises for the end of the opera in that he reserved the trombones for the actual scene. It was also the first time that Mozart included a slow introduction in an operatic overture-not too dissimilar from some of his "Haydn" symphonies. The allegro is a fully developed sonata form with two themes. Although neither theme is heard in the opera itself, there is speculation that the first theme represents the protagonist, and the five-note descending motif in the dominant has been called "Justice in pursuit of the rascal."  There is no evidence that this is a programmatic overture, however. The coda very cleverly leads right into the first act through harmonic shifts from D major to F major, the tonality for the opening aria. A slightly longer D major ending for the overture exists, but its purpose is unclear. Some concert versions of this work also have slightly different endings; these versions are more likely the work of an editor than that of the composer.
Don Giovanni's overture is far more than the introduction to the action of the opera. It gives its listener a taste of what is to come. The opera itself is a blend of the comic and serious, and the overture reflects that amalgam. Like the opera, the overture is, in essence, not a derivative of action, but a work born out of a relationship of opposing forces in conflict. The result produced some of Mozart's finest writing.
b. May 7, 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk
d. November 6, 1893 in St. Petersburg
On July 18, 1877 Tchaikovsky married Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova. Scholar Roland Wiley writes of this event, "After his decision to study music [instead of the law] this was the most important event in his life." It was not a marriage of love or convenience. Antonina was a star-struck fan of the composer who wrote to him and threatened to commit suicide if they did not marry. Recent research suggests that Antonina did not, in fact, threaten suicide, but rather Tchaikovsky's brother encouraged the union as a corrective for the composer's homosexuality. Whatever the reason for his marriage, it brought about a personal crisis for the composer. He was close to a breakdown during the wedding, a condition that only grew worse during the honeymoon. Finally in September 1877, hoping to contract pneumonia and die, Tchaikovsky plunged into the Moscow River. Instead of falling ill, however, his health improved. The couple separated after two months, but never divorced.
This incident dramatically altered the course of Tchaikovsky's life. A friend and colleague was able to obtain for the composer a generous paid leave-of-absence from his duties at the Moscow Conservatory. His long-time patron and friend (through correspondence only) Nadezhda von Meck offered him a generous allowance that would continue until 1890. The income from these two sources gave Tchaikovsky the freedom to travel. He chose to spend the winter in southern Europe, traveling first to Switzerland (Clarens), then to Italy-he much preferred Venice to Florence-and back to Clarens again where he composed the Violin Concerto in March 1878.
While in Clarens, one of Tchaikovsky's students from the conservatory, Joseph Kotek, visited him, and the two read through Edouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole. Tchaikovsky was so enamored with its orchestration that he began work on the Violin Concerto. Upon completing the concerto in April, Tchaikovsky sent the manuscript to his friend Leopold Auer who chaired the violin department at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Auer deemed the piece "unplayable" and returned it to the composer, but not before telling other violinists about its level of difficulty. As a result, Tchaikovsky had to wait three years before the concerto had a public performance.
Adolf Brodsky, Tchaikovsky's former colleague at the Moscow Conservatory, first agreed to tackle the challenges of the Violin Concerto. Two years passed before he felt ready for a performance. He persuaded Hans Richter to include it in the Vienna Philharmonic's 1881 season. The premiere did not go well. The orchestra did not care for the piece, and as such, played very quietly. The audience, however, applauded the soloist. Nonetheless, critics were harsh, especially Eduard Hanslick who wrote, "Music that stinks in the ear." Over time, with Brodsky's help, the Violin Concerto grew in popularity to become one of the most beloved violin concertos of all time. Even Auer eventually included it in his own repertoire.
The Concerto begins with a quiet introduction, which hints at the main theme. It is the soloist who first presents the haunting theme. The orchestra has rich lush textures as it progresses through both the first and second themes, infusing the opening movement with strong emotional content. In spite of the superb orchestration, though, the soloist remains the true star. The virtuosic displays in the opening movement are nothing short of breath-taking. This movement loosely follows the sonata style with a dazzling cadenza-written out-to transition from the development to the recapitulation. Composed in a single day, the slow movement provides an opportunity for all to catch their breath. The soloist's melancholy theme brings with it a sense of nostalgia and longing. The sweet plaintive reverie of the Canzonetta: Andante comes to an abrupt end with the robust arrival of the finale without a break between the two movements. There are ample opportunities for pyrotechnic displays of virtuosity in the finale with its seemingly impossible quick tempo. The tempo slows a few times in this rondo, but never for long, and the accelerando to the next fast section begins after only a few moments of calm, continuing the drive to the cadence, as if "almost daring listeners to try to sit still in their seats."
b. September 4, 1824 in Ansfelden
d. October 11, 1896 in Vienna
Few works in the nineteenth century have aroused such extremes of hostility and admiration, or have generated so many scholarly problems as Anton Brucker's symphonies. (Julian Horton, Bruckner's Symphonies, iii)
Anton Bruckner died over 100 years ago, and to most scholars and musicians, he remains an enigma. So much of his music, with their extensive revisions, reflects an equally complicated man. His own contemporary Hans von Bülow called him "half genius, half klutz." On the one hand he was naïve and provincial. On the other hand he was very much aware and savvy, especially in regards to his own career and education. He likely suffered from what we now know as obsessive-compulsive disorder and became preoccupied with numbers. He was extremely industrious, always striving to improve his craft. In appearance his clothes were out of date, and his manners more country than cosmopolitan. He was a devout Catholic. He never married, but because he wrote for some German choirs, the Nazis co-opted his music and posthumously promoted him as a proponent of the Third Reich.
He was a well-established musician, living in Vienna, when he composed his "Romantic" symphony in 1874. Over the next fifteen years, however, the symphony underwent a complex series of revisions, not all of which were his doing. In October 1877, Bruckner wrote to the critic Wilhelm Tappert in Berlin, "I have come to the definite conclusion that my 4th Romantic symphony needs a thorough transformation." Although this is not the proper forum to discuss all of the revisions in detail, there are numerous studies, which do exactly that. What does need to be addressed, though, is some notion of a definitive version and what is most often performed today. Before his death, Bruckner donated all of his manuscripts to the Imperial Library in Vienna, "explicitly stating thereby that they represented his final intentions." His feeling was that using any of the other versions would only confound his audience. Part of the confusion in figuring out Bruckner's intentions also lie with editorial choices suggested by Bruckner's publishers, Loewe and Schalks; some of those choices defied the composer's own style. Others were the result of Bruckner's own careful consideration. His autograph final revisions for the Fourth Symphony were discovered in the 1950s in the Columbia University Libraries in New York.
The 1880 version, published by Kalmus, seems be what Bruckner intended and is most often performed today. Even though Bruckner preferred freer structures, the first movement is in sonata form. The horns' opening in the slow introduction provides the first part of the first theme, while the triplet figurations make up the second part. The second dance-like theme is somewhat split between two parts, the violins and flutes and is in the unusual key of D♭ Major. The third theme finally arrives at the dominant B♭ Major. It is closely related to the first two themes ending the exposition. The remainder of the movement progresses in a traditional fashion until the recapitulation, where Bruckner added a flute obbligato (an important, usually solo, melody that is not part of the main theme).
In the second movement there is an air of veiled emotion, one that Bruckner scholar Robert Simpson wrote, "as if it were dreamt; sometimes we seem close to it, even involved, sometimes we seem to see it from so great a distance that it appears almost to stand still." Idiosyncratic to Bruckner this movement is full of long lyrical melodies that are almost vocal in their conception. The strings dominate most of the movement, albeit with the support of the winds. Toward the end, however, the winds gain more prominence as the entire orchestra picks up the themes before a sudden dimuendo to finish the movement.
The opening of the Scherzo is truly a Bruckner moment with his famous two-plus-three rhythm; the horns' entrance consists of two eighth-notes followed by eighth-note triplets. The vigor of this music has been likened to a hunt as it propels forward. The idea of a hunt is supported not only by the composer calling the robust principal theme a "hunting theme," but in the manuscript of the first version, he also marked the calmer trio section "dance tune at mealtime on the hunt."
Almost every form of writing faces the problem of how to conclude. When plots spiral out of control in Shakespeare, a good old-fashioned sword fight, as in Hamlet, does the trick. It is decidedly more difficult to conclude a non-programmatic symphonic work. The Finale of the Fourth Symphony presented a problem for Bruckner, as he struggled with the problem of how to reach a substantial enough conclusion for the three prior movements. Peter Laki writes, "Bruckner's symphonic scheme placed almost superhuman demands on the finale: it had to serve as summation and culmination, the capstone to a magnificent symphonic edifice." Bruckner begins the end of this symphony as quietly he began the first movement, with pianissimo repetition in the strings in B♭ Minor, shifting to the original tonic of E♭ Major with horn echoes from the Scherzo. Bruckner's critics have called this movement static, and even wrote that something was "seriously wrong." Others have called his wandering Finale an example of the composer's portrayal of "human weakness" on a "bumpy road to salvation"-mirroring the very path Bruckner took with this symphony.
This is Bruckner's only symphony to have a title. His friends, perplexed by the title, begged him for a program. He came up with the following:
First movement: medieval city-morning dawn-morning call by trumpets-the knights gallop into the forest-forest murmurs, etc.
Second movement: funeral march
Third movement: hunting of the hare.
trio : dance melody during the huntsmen's repast
Fourth movement (1st version): popular festival
With this seemingly tongue-in-cheek program, Bruckner unwittingly put scholars and critics on the path to misinterpretation, obscuring the sheer beauty of the music. As Robert Simpson writes, "the music is so much more than this! . . . We had better forget the title of No. 4; it leads us away from the music." The music speaks for itself.
 Da Ponte's own biography is very colorful. He was a notorious rogue who eventually fled to the United States to escape his troubles, and founded the Italian department at Columbia University.
 Julian Rushton, W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni, Cambridge Opera Handbooks (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 9.
 Russian dates from this period are confusing because up until the 1917 Revolution, the Julian calendar was still in use in Russia. The dates used here reflect the shift to the Gregorian calendar.
 Tchaikovsky admitted in a letter to his brother that he had been in love with Kotek at one time, but that he still held enough affection to create the melodies of the Violin Concerto.
 Program music is music with an external reference, such as a story or poem. Absolute music is a piece that simply exists with no external references.
© Copyright 2012, Gail Miller Armondino. All rights reserved