Mozart's Instrumental Oratorium

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Mozart's Instrumental Oratorium

I have just been reading about Harnoncourt's latest recording of Mozart's final three symphonies. He has recorded them before, but this time he has recorded them as a single, unified work, rather than as three distinct symphonies. He calls this epic, twelve movement work, "The Instrumental Oratorium."

I am now fully convinced (writes Harnoncourt) of this unity. Why are the themes and motifs so closely related as to be almost identical? Why is the language of those rhetorical figures that had long been used in music explored in such exhaustive detail here? It was usual to write and publish groups of works – as a rule in sets of three or six. But in this case Mozart wrote all three within a matter of weeks, without any obvious reason for doing so, whether in the form of a commission or with a concert in mind.

For decades I have felt that every performance of these three symphonies amounts to a voyage of discovery. From the E flat major introduction [Symphony No. 39] we find ourselves setting out on a rocky road that recalls nothing so much as a psychological drama and that leads ultimately to the mighty coda at the end of the final movement of the “Jupiter” Symphony. In short, this is a goal, a final destination. There is no going on after this.

Mozart must have had a plan: the instrumental Oratorium did not exist as a form. That was his idea. A genius like Mozart does not stumble upon a large-scale work while writing symphonies.

It sounds like bananas to me - or a shameless marketing strategy to shift more units - but it is an interesting idea, nevertheless. For one thing, his latest interpretation (which I haven't heard - though I have just found it on spotify) differs from all others in that it is shaped and weighted as a total work throughout. The G minor symphony is no longer Mozart's stand-alone 40th, but the grim, agitated centre of a much larger canvas, which starts the moment the 39th (which is no longer just the 39th) comes to a close. The finale of the 41st is now the finale to the entire work, so it carries the burden of everything that has gone before it - not just the preceeding three movements. Considered like this, the interpretative possibilities - even if they are based on a false premise - are genuinely intriguing. I gather, too, that Harnoncourt is not the only distinguished expert to come to this conclusion. Does anyone know anything about this or have any views on the subject?

I am unaware of any evidence

I am unaware of any evidence that Mozart ever thought this - although happy to be informed.

Mozart's last 3 symphonies would be rich fare for a concert - my feeling is that the loss of individuality of each would be too much.

Best wishes,

P

A Whatanorium?

Very interesting Jane. I'm afraid I've never heard of an oratorium. I just googled a definition and got...'Do you mean moratorium?' Which I gather means a temporary hold put on something (you may recall that we recently had one of those on the forum, and when we came back everything was blissfully perfect, and rational and peaceful discourse was the order of the day. Ahem).

My first thoughts like yours were a) bonkers and b) they'll be playing all nine of Beethoven's symphonies as one work next.

But I'll have to look at it seriously, if there is a rationale behind it, viz: 'Why are the themes and motifs so closely related as to be almost identical?  

Is that true? I don't know. But the purist in me says they are separate works, so...

It's a while since I listened to 39 and 41, so I'll have to listen to all three on the run...

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

phlogiston wrote:

phlogiston wrote:

I am unaware of any evidence that Mozart ever thought this - although happy to be informed.

Mozart's last 3 symphonies would be rich fare for a concert - my feeling is that the loss of individuality of each would be too much.

Best wishes,

P

 

Yes, P, I am unaware of any evidence, either. I assume that Harnoncourt's "evidence" is based on nothing more than a thematic analysis of the works and a few circumstantial details - such as the fact that we still don't know "why" he wrote them.

partsong wrote:

partsong wrote:

Very interesting Jane. I'm afraid I've never heard of an oratorium. I just googled a definition and got...'Do you mean moratorium?' 

But I'll have to look at it seriously, if there is a rationale behind it, viz: 'Why are the themes and motifs so closely related as to be almost identical?  

Is that true? I don't know. But the purist in me says they are separate works, so...

Well, Oratorium ("place of prayer") is Harnoncourt's word. I don't know why he used it. (I am guessing he has imputed a sacred dimension to the works. At least one of the themes can be traced back to an early Mass.........)

As for the relationships between the themes and motifs, I don't know, either. (Listening in my mind's ear, I can't quite hear it, though I could be wrong.) But I would have thought that Harnoncourt would at least have made a reasonable case for this somewhere.

A certain amount of thematic uniformity is to be expected, of course, given how closely the symphonies were composed together. One theme would have suggested another, one motif would have generated a slight variation somewhere else......and so on. By this stage, Mozart was working from notes and workbooks of various kinds. It is easy to imagine a certain amount of spillage or cross-pollination. Schubert's last three piano sonatas, as you may know, share very similar motifs and themes. Take one, invert it and transpose it up a notch, and you get another - and so on. But that doesn't make them one giant work.........

 

The Teldec Recordings

Fortunately I bought the Harnoncourt recordings of these three Mozart Symphonies when they came out on the Teldec Das Alte Werk label. I have them stored together on my hard drive and I typically listen to all three within one sitting. So this comment from Harnoncourt is somewhat surprising but then somewhat, well not so much.

My initial thought is that Harnoncourt conducts these three symphonies as if there's a common aesthetic thread of integrety running through each one of them. I've always felt this way about the previously mentioned Teldec recordings which then again accounts for why I listen to all three in one sitting.

Oddly however, I don't combine the three symphonies this way on other recordings even though I do have some very fine performances and recordings by other groups and conductors. I suppose the Andante label box set of Mozarts Last Symphonies would offer one the chance to listen and compare as Harnoncourt suggests. Unfortunately, I don't own this Andante box set so I can't offer my experience of it. I have been meaning to buy it however.

My overall take on Harnoncourts statement about the three symphonies is that he is after all a very gifted and knowledgeable conductor and so out of respect, I just grant him the benefit of the doubt. Also, the last three could have been conceived with various direct references to one other even if Mozart didn't fully recognize it or make mention of it at the time. In otherwords, who could possibly know what was going on in that giant genius brain of his (Mozart').

sorry abou the spelling

goofyfoot

Alice Harnoncourt still going strong

OT: In the CD booklet the violinist Alice Harnoncourt is listed. Born in september 1930 she was 83 when the recording sessions took place in october 2013. Impressive!

Hallvard

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