Accompanied by the Amsterdam-based Dutch string orchestra Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Sergei Khachatrian (violin) and Candida Thompson (viola) perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d). This performance was recorded on October 11, 2015, in the Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam, during The Sunday Morning Concert.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d) for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra is a masterwork that blends elements of the symphony and the concerto. Composed in 1779, during Mozart’s time in Salzburg, the piece is remarkable for its depth of emotion, complexity, and the way it elevates the viola to an equal footing with the violin. While it’s not the first work of its kind, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante is considered one of the most accomplished examples of the genre.
One of the most striking aspects of this composition is the partnership between the violin and the viola. Rather than placing the violin in a starring role with the viola serving merely as a supporting character, Mozart treats the two instruments as equal partners in a musical dialogue. This was unconventional for the period, given that the viola often took a backseat to the violin or other melody instruments in orchestral compositions. The equality between the two solo instruments seems to be a conscious compositional choice by Mozart, and it has the effect of showcasing the unique tonal qualities of each instrument while creating an intricate, interweaving musical narrative.
The orchestration is lush but also well-balanced, allowing for the solo instruments to shine without overwhelming them. Mozart employs a classical orchestra with strings, oboes, and horns, but the focus is largely on the interplay between the solo violin and viola. This emphasis on equality and dialogue between the two instruments extends to the orchestra as well, resulting in a harmonious and integrated musical texture.
Mozart’s emotional range in this work is noteworthy. The piece travels through a gamut of moods, from the exuberant to the melancholy, capturing a depth of emotion that was somewhat atypical for the instrumental music of the time. While the genre of Sinfonia Concertante often emphasizes virtuosic display, Mozart does not shy away from imbuing the piece with emotional depth and complexity, making it not just a technical showpiece but also a profound emotional journey.
Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major is a monumental work that stretches the boundaries of what a sinfonia concertante can be. It’s both technically challenging and emotionally resonant, serving as a testament to Mozart’s genius in melding form, function, and feeling into a cohesive and impactful whole.
- Allegro maestoso, common time
- Andante, 3/4, in C minor
- Presto, 2/4
1. Allegro maestoso
The first movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d), is marked “Allegro maestoso,” and it serves as a splendid introduction to the unique qualities that define this composition. With its grand opening, the movement immediately establishes an air of majesty, creating an atmosphere that is at once serious yet filled with possibilities.
The orchestral exposition sets forth two primary themes that are characterized by their contrasting moods; the first one is stately and noble, while the second is more lyrical and relaxed. After the orchestral exposition, the violin and viola enter, each taking turns to introduce themselves with these themes. Here, the equality between the violin and the viola becomes apparent. Mozart skillfully employs each instrument to create a dialogue that is fluid and harmonious, treating both with equal importance and thematic material. This gives the listener a sense of equilibrium, making the dialogue between the two solo instruments an engaging focal point.
One of the noteworthy aspects of this first movement is the sheer depth and complexity of the soloists’ interactions. Mozart introduces a level of polyphony that is quite intricate, weaving the voices of the violin and viola together in a way that complements their individual timbral qualities. This polyphonic texture adds to the richness of the music and creates a tapestry of sound that is not only pleasing to the ears but also intellectually stimulating.
While the movement provides ample opportunity for virtuosic display, what sets it apart is the emotional depth that Mozart infuses into the music. The writing for both solo instruments is laden with expressiveness, often touching upon a range of feelings within a short span of time. This quality is particularly effective in capturing the listener’s attention and drawing them into the narrative that unfolds.
Harmonically, Mozart doesn’t stray too far from the conventions of his time but uses them to great effect to provide momentum and contrast. He guides the music through a series of harmonic progressions that feel both logical and emotionally satisfying, moving towards a recapitulation and coda that bring a sense of resolution and grandeur.
The movement culminates in a fashion that consolidates its thematic material and reaffirms the partnership between the violin and viola. It’s a masterful example of Mozart’s skill in balancing form with emotive content, seamlessly integrating the demands of structure and virtuosity with the nuances of emotional expression.
The second movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d), is marked “Andante,” and it provides a stark emotional contrast to the opening Allegro maestoso. Here, Mozart dials down the grandeur and virtuosity to explore a more introspective and nuanced emotional landscape. The movement is in C minor, a key often associated with a deeper, more somber mood in classical compositions.
The orchestral introduction is more subdued, immediately setting a tone of quiet contemplation. The textures are thinner, and the atmosphere is imbued with a sense of vulnerability that did not prominently feature in the first movement. When the violin and viola enter, they continue this introspective journey, engaging in a musical conversation that is more like a heart-to-heart talk among close friends than a public display of brilliance.
Unlike the first movement, where the violin and viola seemed to compete in virtuosic display, here they almost seem to console each other. Each instrument gets its moment to voice its thematic material, but it’s done in such a way that one complements the other. This mutual consolation provides some of the most touching moments in the piece, elevating the music from mere notes on a page to an emotional dialogue that can touch the heart of the listener.
As the movement progresses, the themes undergo various transformations, becoming more intricate and interwoven. Yet, despite the technical intricacies, the emotional core of the music remains intact. Mozart is a master at keeping the emotional message clear, even as he navigates through complex musical structures.
The harmonic progressions in this movement also contribute to its emotional impact. Mozart exploits the rich possibilities offered by the key of C minor to journey through a series of harmonic territories that provide both tension and relief. The harmonic language enhances the expressive content, making every modulation, every resolution, feel like an emotional turning point.
The Andante concludes in a way that provides emotional resolution, yet also leaves room for the complexities and questions raised by the movement to linger in the listener’s mind. This makes it a perfect bridge to the final movement, keeping the audience engaged and emotionally invested in the musical journey that is to come.
The second movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante is not just a middle movement that serves to connect two more exuberant sections; it is a work of art in its own right. It showcases Mozart’s ability to communicate complex emotional states with clarity and elegance, all while maintaining a perfect balance between the two solo instruments.
The finale of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (320d), is marked “Presto,” indicating a lively and rapid tempo. This movement serves as a brilliant finale to the emotionally and musically complex journey that the composition has undertaken. It’s almost as if Mozart wants to lift the curtain of solemnity that enveloped the second movement and end the piece on a high, joyful note.
The movement begins with an effervescent orchestral introduction that brings back the brightness and exuberance missing from the second movement. Here, Mozart returns to the home key of E-flat major, injecting the music with a sense of homecoming and resolution. The thematic material is catchy and rhythmic, with dotted rhythms and crisp articulations that contribute to its buoyant character.
Once the violin and viola enter, they engage in a vivacious dialogue that re-establishes the equality and partnership that was the hallmark of the first movement. There’s a playful banter between the two instruments, as they toss thematic fragments back and forth and sometimes even seem to mimic each other. The technical demands on both instruments are high, but the atmosphere is one of joy and lightness.
In terms of structure, this movement often follows the principles of sonata-rondo form, which combines elements of sonata form with the recurring themes characteristic of the rondo. This hybrid structure allows Mozart to keep the music engaging and dynamic while also presenting new thematic material and development. Even as he introduces complexities, Mozart maintains a sense of coherence and unity, ensuring that the listener is never lost amid the musical intricacies.
Harmonically, this movement is more straightforward than its predecessors, sticking mainly to established classical norms. Yet, Mozart manages to inject freshness into this framework by the clever use of modulations, unexpected accents, and rhythmic shifts. These elements add surprise and drama, enriching the emotional texture without overwhelming the listener.
One of the most compelling aspects of this movement is its culmination. As the piece moves toward its conclusion, Mozart employs a series of brilliant passages that bring both the solo instruments and the orchestra together in a final, emphatic statement. It’s a dazzling display of musical craftsmanship and a satisfying conclusion to a piece that has explored a broad emotional and thematic spectrum.
The third movement of the Sinfonia Concertante serves as a compelling finale, offering a perfect counterbalance to the solemnity of the second movement and re-emphasizing the themes of partnership and dialogue that run through the entire work. It’s a movement full of life, displaying Mozart’s extraordinary ability to marry technical brilliance with emotional clarity.
Candida Thompson was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1967. She has been living in Amsterdam since 1992. She studied with David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she received her soloist’s graduation diploma with honour. She developed her qualities further at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada. She also participated in various national and international competitions and received several prizes.
Currently, she plays a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin.
Candida Thompson has been Amsterdam Sinfonietta’s concertmaster since 1995 and its Artistic Director and Leader since 2003. This string orchestra of twenty-two players, founded in 1988, performs under her guidance with a strong conviction that similarly minded players are stronger as a group if each individual upholds the responsibility. In the recent past Amsterdam Sinfonietta has performed both in the Netherlands and abroad with soloists such as Murray Perahia, Thomas Hampson, Maxim Vengerov, Christianne Stotijn, Martin Frost and Gidon Kremer. The orchestra also actively commissions composers such as HK Gruber, Aulis Sallinen, John McCabe and Michel van der Aa.
Sergey Khachatryan (also spelled Sergei Khachatryan) (born 5 April 1985 in Yerevan) is an Armenian violinist. Since 1993 he has lived in Germany where he gave his first orchestral concert at the age of nine in the Kurhaus, Wiesbaden.
He made his New York City debut on August 4, 2006, playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Avery Fisher Hall under the baton of Osmo Vänskä. In June 2013, he played Shostakovich’s first Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot conducting.
- Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra (Mozart) on Wikipedia
- Candida Thompson on Wikipedia
- Sergey Khachatryan on Wikipedia
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