You are in the process of recording all of Mozart’s operas. What was the special inspiration for putting out this fascinating double CD?
This project was part of a new and separate project – MOZART 250. The premise of MOZART 250 is that between 2015 and 2041 we are devoting part of each season to an exploration of the music being composed by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. This enables us not only to explore Mozart’s life and works in chronological sequence but also to provide a historical context for them.
We began MOZART 250 in 2015 with a detailed examination of Mozart’s childhood visit to London in 1764-65, and the recordings featured on this 2-CD album are all taken live from a weekend of concerts that we presented at Milton Court in London.
How old was Mozart when he travelled to London and was it a successful trip?
He was just eight when he arrived in London, and he stayed for 15 months. There is a school of thought that the trip was not a success, based on the fact that at the beginning of his visit he was being summoned to give private performances for King George III and Queen Charlotte, while in his final weeks in the city he was performing musical tricks in pubs to a paying public. I don’t really buy into this theory though. The final ‘pub’ performances were a logical way of amassing some extra cash for the long journey home, and the Mozarts would not have stayed in London for as long as they did if it were not beneficial. Mozart wrote his first three symphonies and his first concert aria (all of which are featured in our recording) while he was in London, but the array of music that he would have heard during his stay is arguably of considerably greater significance.
How much do we know about what he did and who he met?
We’re lucky that Mozart’s father Leopold and sister Nannerl both kept travel notes, which include extensive lists of places they visited and people they met, and Leopold also wrote a dozen letters from London to his landlord in Salzburg, Lorenz Hagenauer. These provide a mine of colourful information – including, for example, details of a family trip to the zoo in the Tower of London, where Wolfgang was terrified by the roaring of the lion and his sister was enchanted by a ‘coffee-striped donkey’ (they’d never heard of zebras before). Mozart met most of the leading London-based musicians of the day, forging a strong friendship with Johann Christian Bach (youngest son of the great J. S.), but frustratingly Leopold hardly ever thought to mention which concerts or operas they saw.
Of the music by London-based composers, how much do we know – and how much suspect – that Mozart heard?
The extended tour that Leopold Mozart devised for his children was predominantly an educational one, and music was always at the forefront of his mind in shaping this education. While there is no conclusive proof that Mozart heard the most successful operas or symphonies that were performed during the course of his stay, it seems inconceivable that he didn’t become acquainted with such works as J. C. Bach’s Adriano in Siria and Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes, and he probably would have heard all the operas that were put on during the 1764-65 season at the King’s Theatre Haymarket (Italian opera) and the Theatres Royal at Covent Garden and Drury Lane (English opera). Similarly, given his familiarity of J. C. Bach and another German immigrant Karl Friedrich Abel, it seems highly likely that he heard and studied their latest symphonies; Mozart’s own London symphonies are, after all, clearly based on their model.
Of the three Mozart symphonies included here, which composers do you feel may have had the greatest influence on him?
At the time symphonies were often published in groups of six, and by far the most significant symphonic works dating from the time of Mozart’s visit are Bach’s six Symphonies, Op. 3 (published on April 3, 1765) and Abel’s 6 Symphonies, Op. 7 (not published until 1767 but already being written in 1764). These symphonies are all based on the three-movement model of the Italianate symphony rather than the four-movement Germanic model (with a third movement minuet and trio), and this was the model on which Mozart based his own first symphonies, written during his stay in London. The final symphony of Abel’s Op. 7 set so captivated Mozart that he wrote out a fair copy of the score (replacing Abel’s oboes with clarinets to give himself extra transposition practice), and because this copy survived it was for a long time presumed to be Mozart’s own composition; when Ludwig Köchel established his catalogue of Mozart’s works in the 1850s this symphony was designated his Symphony No 3. It was only relatively recently that it was discovered to be Abel’s composition rather than Mozart’s, but it’s an outstanding piece, and is the final work on our recording.
The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall
Which other composers do you think might have had an effect on Mozart’s vocal music going forward?
Again JC Bach was the greatest influence on Mozart’s vocal writing, and Thomas Arne was the outstanding English composer of the day. Both these composers were particularly skilled in creating memorable and lyrical melodies, and this is the quality that most sets their music apart from that of their contemporaries. Some of JC Bach’s best arias – and there are many of them – could easily be mistaken for Mozart’s own music.
Of the other composers working in London at the time, who were the really successful ones and who do you feel were both the most accomplished and the most ‘interesting’?
Bach, Abel and Arne were the most successful and prolific (although Abel wrote very little vocal music), but London was the largest and wealthiest city in the world at the time, and many of the leading musicians of the day were recruited to work there. In footballing terms London was the Manchester City of its day! I hadn’t even heard of several of these composers, but the Italian operas being written for the King’s Theatre Haymarket were surprisingly rich and accomplished. I was particularly struck by the Pescetti and Perez arias featured on our recording, but also by another composer, Mattia Vento, who in the end didn’t feature on our album.
Most people will never have heard of Duni, Rush, Bates, Pescetti or Perez. Are any of them ripe for further exploration?
I don’t think any of these names are due for a major retrospective, but they all left some outstanding music (with the possible exception of Duni). It takes time to sift through the dross and bring to light the gems, but it’s also a very rewarding process, especially when the search throws new light on the early years of a truly great composer. While they were in London the Mozarts purchased a score of Pescetti’s aria Caro mio bene, addio (which formed part of the pasticcio opera Ezio, premièred at the King’s Theatre Haymarket in November 1764), and this remained in their music library in Salzburg. As with the Abel symphony, it is easy to see why it made an impression. The music that we performed by George Rush also proved popular, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for any more works by Perez.
What other areas outside of Mozart’s operatic output might also make for interesting listening, and do you have plans?
Mozart in London formed part of the opening season of MOZART 250, a 27-year project in which we travel back exactly 250 years in time to follow and explore the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life and works. It was because of the broadening of our repertoire to incorporate non-operatic works that we recently created a new brand, The Mozartists, and Mozart in London is The Mozartists’ second recording, following last year’s Perfido!, a programme of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven concert arias with soprano Sophie Bevan. We are now nearing the end of the fourth year of MOZART 250, so are currently exploring 1768. Aside from ‘Mozart in London’, one of the most fascinating programmes so far was a concert that we gave at Wigmore Hall last year with Kristian Bezuidenhout playing Mozart’s four pasticcio keyboard concertos (1767) drawn from sonatas that he heard in Paris during his Grand Tour.
As well as all Mozart’s operas and concert arias, our intention is to perform all Mozart’s significant works during the 250th anniversary of their composition, but even more rewarding so far has been the opportunity that MOZART 250 gives us to look sideways at the music being written at the same time by other composers, some unknown to Mozart, others of whom provided a significant influence. We have already presented UK premières of Jommelli’s Il Vologeso and Haydn’s Applausus, and next season we are performing Hasse’s Piramo e Tisbe within the series, as well as Gluck’s Bauci e Filemone and his 1769 revision of Orfeo ed Euridice for a soprano Orfeo. Instrumental works are usually harder to date precisely, partly because their premières tended to attract less attention than opera premières, and symphonies were often composed several years before they were published, but MOZART 250 has already incorporated symphonies by Arne, Beck and Vanhal as well of course as Mozart and Haydn, and I hope that this list will grow substantially over the coming years. In total we have featured music by over 30 composers during the first four years of MOZART 250.
Finally, which will be the next opera releases?
We have already recorded, at the start of this year, a double-bill of Mozart’s Grabmusik and Bastien und Bastienne, and this will be released on September 14. Grabmusik is an extraordinary work, a short two-hander allegedly written in solitary confinement when Mozart was eleven to prove that he hadn’t been receiving assistance in composing his already remarkable portfolio of compositions. At face value Bastien und Bastienne is a more straightforward work, or so I thought when I began preparations for the recording. It turns out, however, that the work’s provenance is highly complicated, due largely to the fact that Mozart’s autograph manuscript was missing until the 1980s, when it finally came to light in Krakow. In brief, Mozart composed the work in Vienna in 1768 for a private performance at the house of Dr Mesmer, the notorious and eccentric scientist and music-lover. Mozart set a pre-existing libretto, but when he returned to Salzburg the following year his friend Johannes Schachtner decided that the language of this libretto was too harsh and angular. He set about replacing all the prose spoken dialogue with verse which was to be set to recitative, and Mozart even composed the first few recitatives before seemingly losing interest. Schachtner also made various changes to the sung text, each of which needed to match the original metre and syllable-count so that Mozart wasn’t required to change or adapt his music.
In the absence of the autograph manuscript it was Schachtner’s version that was printed as Bärenreiter’s Urtext edition in the 1960s, with Mozart’s first few recitatives suddenly giving way to spoken dialogue at the point where he subsequently broke off composition of the recitatives. When I was able to examine Mozart’s rediscover manuscript, though, it was immediately clear that all of Schachtner’s changes to the sung text replaced the original text that Mozart had set, which in each case is heavily crossed out in the manuscript. As far as we know, this recording and our concert performance of the work in September will be the first performances of Mozart’s original setting of the opera since its première in 1768.
Mozart in London is Limelight‘s Recording of the Month in Septmber 2018, and is out now on Signum Classics. Read our review here.