Mozart in London

Ian PageTue 10th April 2018

Conductor Ian Page introduces his latest recording with The Mozartists

At the start of 2015 we launched MOZART 250, our 27-year chronological journey through Mozart’s life, works and influences. One of the flagship projects in the first year was a whole weekend of concerts exploring Mozart’s childhood visit to London, and we are now releasing a CD of live recordings from these concerts. This was the first proper exploration of the music that the eight-year-old wunderkind might have heard during his stay, and the 2-CD set includes over a dozen premiere recordings.

For a London-based company which specialises in his music, it is winningly convenient that Mozart effectively began his compositional career here in the English capital. It’s true that he had already composed a handful of keyboard works by the time he arrived in England on April 23, 1764, but it was during his 15-month stay in London that he penned his first significant works – three symphonies and a concert aria for tenor and orchestra.

These pieces have all been recorded several times before, but curiously little work has been done in exploring the music that Mozart probably heard during his time in London. When I first started devising MOZART 250, it was a natural decision to use the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s childhood sojourn in London as our starting point. Eighteenth-century chroniclers were gloriously thorough in their record-keeping, but even I was surprised by the sheer volume of music that we know was performed during the course of Mozart’s visit. No less remarkably, a lot of this music has survived, although much of it has lain untouched and unperformed for over 200 years.

We know exactly which operas were performed between April 1764 and July 1765 at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket (the English home for Italian opera) and the Theatres Royal at Covent Garden and Drury Lane (which presented operas, as well as plays, in the English language), and we even know many of the performance dates and which singers sang which roles. Only one opera survives in its entirety – Adriano in Siria by Johann Christian Bach – and it is particularly regrettable that not a note of Thomas Arne’s L’Olimpiade, which was premièred at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket on 27 April 1765, has survived – but during the course of many increasingly intriguing hours that I spent in the British Library I was able to track down published volumes of ‘Favourite Airs’ from some 10 operas, and in total I found over 250 arias or ensembles from operas that were performed while Mozart was in London.

Mozart’s father, Leopold – who provided a mine of information in his letters and travel notes – was frustratingly unforthcoming about the performances that he and Wolfgang attended, but given that the primary purpose of the visit was to provide a thorough education (both musical and general) for his son, it seems highly likely that Mozart heard a significant proportion of this music. Precise composition dates for instrumental works are generally harder to pin down, but we do know that JC Bach and his compatriot Karl Friedrich Abel created their celebrated Bach-Abel concert series while Mozart was in town, and that Abel completed his set of six symphonies, Op 7 in 1764. We also know, for example, that Mozart and his sister had to postpone a planned concert because it clashed with a revival of Arne’s 1761 oratorio Judith.

Our two-CD set of ‘Mozart in London’, released on Signum Records on May 4, is a selection of live recordings taken from a weekend of concerts that we presented at London’s Milton Court in 2015, and its combination of operatic and non-operatic repertoire played a pivotal role in our decision to create The Mozartists as a vehicle for our ever-expanding concert repertoire (while retaining Classical Opera for our performances and recordings of complete operas). ‘Mozart in London’ is The Mozartists’ second CD release, following last year’s ‘Perfido!’ disc with Sophie Bevan.

The set includes Mozart’s first three symphonies and his first concert aria, referred to above, but it also includes works by a variety of composers – English, German and Italian in relatively equal measure – which we know were performed while Mozart was in London. Some of these composers – William Bates, George Rush and Davide Perez – I had never heard of before, and it might be that Mozart did not hear all of the music featured, but we do know, that the Mozarts returned to Salzburg with copies of some of this music, including Pescetti’s 'Caro mio bene, addio', never previously recorded.

The discs can be considered on two levels, firstly as an insight into the musical landscape from which Mozart blossomed, and secondly as a uniquely concentrated exploration of the music of a particular city at a particular point in history. In both respects these concerts felt very valuable and informative – and certainly full of surprises – but I don’t think we would have enjoyed ourselves half so much had the music not been of such consistent quality, variety and beauty.

SPECIAL LIVE EVENT: join Ian Page and Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief James Jolly for a special event at Foyle's bookshop in London on Wednesday, May 2, where they will discuss the music of Mozart's early life and the new recording on Signum Classics. There will also be live performances of Mozart's music. Ticket information is available here: foyles.co.uk

Ian Page

Ian Page founded UK-based opera company Classical Opera in 1997. The company specialises in repertoire of the Classical period and performs with its own period orchestra. Page has championed the lesser-known works of Mozart and his contemporaries, with projects including the world premiere of the ‘original’ version of Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, the world premiere of a new completed version of Zaide, the UK premiere of Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito and his own new performing edition of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes in The Royal Opera’s production, which saw the opera’s return to Covent Garden after more than 150 years.

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018