Maria João Pires
Connoisseurs have been in the know for a while: when Trevor Pinnock steps up to the rostrum he is at best holding scores that are about 250 years old, music from Viennese Classicism. Pinnock justifiably made a name for himself as an expert for music from this time. His interpretations, especially of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music are fine, dense, structured and sharp. And this is why Mozart fans can look forward to Pinnock’s guest conductorship with the Berliner Philharmoniker, and of course to the works themselves: both of the master’s G Minor symphonies. This utterly delightful combination provides enlightening comparisons between Mozart’s late and early styles. In their midst lies a work, which is not only one of the most beautiful of its kind, but also known for controversy about its name: with the question whether the piano concerto K.271 is really called Jeunehomme or rather Jenamy. Our recommendation is that you choose the name you prefer and enjoy the interpretation of the Berliner Philharmoniker under Trevor Pinnock with the soloist Maria João Pires. Connoisseurs know: she is one of the best contemporary performers of Mozart...
Three Mozart Masterpieces
When the 17-year-old Wolfgang Amadé Mozart completed his G minor Symphony K.183 in 1773, the lion’s share of his symphonic output – in statistical terms – already lay behind him. That he created so few symphonies (but what symphonies!) in the following years was no doubt related to Mozart’s increasing separation from his native city. What began as an “inner emigration” soon took the form of an extended trip to Paris and, finally, an acrimonious break with his employer, Salzburg’s prince-archbishop.
It was in Vienna, during a 1773 visit, that Mozart got to know Haydn’s minor-mode symphonies in the pre-Romantic style known as “Sturm und Drang” (“storm and stress”), and it may have been under the influence of these turbulent works that he created K.183, his first symphony in a minor key and a work of stark dynamic contrasts, angular melodies and unprecedented vehemence. The Mozart expert Stanley Sadie has written that the “Little G minor” (so nicknamed to distinguish it from K.550, the symphony in the same key of 15 years later) may be claimed as his “first ‘great’ work”, his earliest one for modern listeners “to enter the realms of serious human feeling”. Even the slow movement, in E flat major, provides little relief from the work’s prevailing stormy character.
If the “little” G minor Symphony of 1773 was his first great work, the Piano Concerto in E flat major, K.271, composed in autumn 1777 in Salzburg, shortly before he left on his Paris journey, can fairly be called the first work of Mozart’s maturity. Nothing in his earlier orchestral music approaches the sheer size, brilliance and structural mastery of this boldly innovative concerto, written for Louise Victoire Jenamy (her name, formerly thought to be spelled “Jeunehomme”, remains associated with the work), daughter of a famous French choreographer and wife of a prominent Viennese merchant. Already in the first movement, the piano’s cheeky reply to the orchestra’s opening phrase in the third bar is an unprecedented solo intrusion into the traditional, purely orchestral exposition.
The tragic pathos of the C minor slow movement, especially in striking passages that suggest operatic recitative, reveals a depth of feeling and a degree of complexity previously unheard of in a concerto. And Mozart reserves one of his biggest surprises for the middle of the virtuosic finale, suddenly introducing a minuet as the rondo movement’s second episode, music of a completely contrasting character, in a new key and a new metre. Throughout this thoroughly remarkable, pathbreaking concerto, composed in the month of his 21st birthday, Mozart heralds the increasingly elaborate, individual style of his later masterpieces in the genre.
The “big” G minor Symphony K.550 is the only other one of Mozart’s contributions to the form not in a major key. It forms part of a matchless final triptych of symphonies, including the E flat K.543 and C major K.551, familiarly known as the “Jupiter”, composed in the summer of 1788 and intended for a concert series later that year which apparently failed to materialize. After moving to Vienna in 1781, Mozart had at first concentrated his creative efforts on opera and, especially, on piano concertos, for which in his new circumstances as a free-lance musician he clearly had greater need than for symphonies. His return to the symphonic genre may well be related to its increasing prestige in the mid-1780s, but whatever their inspiration, the perfection and diversity of these three works, the culmination of Mozart’s achievement as a composer of symphonies, is nothing short of miraculous, and all the more, given how quickly he wrote them.
Listeners to the G minor Symphony’s earliest performances, which probably took place only after Mozart’s death, must have been astonished by this work, right from its unprecedented opening: two introductory bars of quietly agitated pulsation on the lower strings, with divided violas, that establish a sense of urgency before any melody is heard. And this urgency is only reinforced when the violins enter with the movement’s short-breathed, seething main idea. Robert Schumann’s description of the symphony’s “weightless, Hellenic grace” seems curious to modern audiences, who hear in it instead what a commentator of our own day, Charles Rosen, has called a “work of passion, violence and grief”. And yet, as Rosen goes on to say, “to reduce a work to the expression of sentiments, however powerful, is to trivialize it ... the G minor Symphony is not much more profound conceived as a tragic cry from the heart than as a work of exquisite charm. Nevertheless, Schumann’s attitude to Mozart ends by destroying his vitality as it canonizes him. It is only through recognizing the violence and sensuality at the center of Mozart’s work that we can make a start towards a comprehension of his structures and an insight into his magnificence.”
Trevor Pinnock started his career as a harpsichordist and became known worldwide as a conductor who pioneered performance of baroque and early classical music on historical instruments. In 1972 he founded The English Concert, which he led for the next thirty years. He now divides his time between conducting, solo and chamber music and educational projects, working with the Royal Academy of Music in London. Numerous engagements as guest conductor with chamber and symphony orchestras around the world include regular appearances with the Freiburger Barockorchester and the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; he also continues a close association with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Trevor Pinnock received great acclaim for his production of Handel’s Rinaldo at Opera Australia in 2005. In the last season, Trevor Pinnock appeared on the rostrum of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam; he now gives his debut as guest conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker. In 1992 Trevor Pinnock was made a »Commander of the Order of the British Empire«.
Highlights from the concert can be seen in our trailer.