Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto N. 5 KV. 219
I. Allegro aperto
III. Rondeau: Tempo di Menuetto
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
Theme and Variations, on "Preghiera", from the opera "Mosè in Egitto" by Rossini
Theme and Variations on "I Palpiti", from the opera "Tancredi" by Rossini
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony N. 49, “La Passione”
II. Allegro di Molto
III. Menuet e Trio
IV. Finale: Presto
Niccolò Paganini was a phenomenon comparable only to today’s popstars, except that, back then, many people believed him bedeviled and watched him display his virtuosic pyrotechnics in a mixture of amazement and actual awe.
Be it as it may, he certainly set the tone for all touring virtuosos of the Romantic era, starting with Liszt! Variations on popular opera tunes were a ‘must’ for every virtuoso wishing to dazzle his audiences, just as much as it was something expected from the audiences themselves. So it was only natural that Paganini would include such pieces in his travel case, and in those days, no opera composer was more popular than his countryman Rossini.
The 1819 ‘Mosè-Fantasia’ and the 1827 ‘I palpiti’ Variations draw from two of his operas, respectively, ‘Mosè in Egitto’ (1819 version) and ‘Tancredi’ (1813). The first is outright called ‘Variazioni di bravura’, signaling what we are to expect, while the second is more discrete in its purpose, even if the aural experience is equivalently mesmerizing, as it surely must have been for the original (mesmerized) Viennese audiences!
Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 was written in 1768 and its origins may lie in incidental music for a theatrical play at Esterháza. A work full of originality from start to finish, it owes its nickname to an apocryphal source, but it sure helped associate (and thereby narrow…) the soundworld of this work with Holy Week and the Passion of Christ. The opening Adagio presents us with a 4-note motif that will recur, literally or slightly modified, in the other movements – moreover, it strikingly resembles the beginning of Schubert’s ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’! And we are left but with the brief Trio (in the Menuet) for a hint of respite.
Quite an intense work! Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 is his last of the kind. As with the other four, all dated that same 1775, we don’t know what prompted Mozart to write it, or who it was written for. Most likely, however, some extended ceremony or theatrical/musical performance, to which this kind of pieces would serve as intermissions – which would further hint that they were destined either to Mozart himself (we tend to overlook that he was an accomplished violinist) or to Antonio Brunetti, the concertmaster at Salzburg’s Princely-Archbishoprical Chapel. Funny about this Concerto, and the reason it is often called ‘Turkish’, is the episode that cuts right through in the final movement and presents us with Turkish-style music – ‘turqueries’ being a vogue at the time.