Mozart & Tchaikovsky
Date & Time
Dirk Brossé conductor
Sara Sant’Ambrogio cello
Brossé Elegy for Cello and Strings
Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme
Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G Minor
Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme is the composer’s cello concerto in all but name – a thrilling exploration of the instrument on a melody explicitly designed to sound as if it were from an earlier century. Mozart’s famous G Minor Symphony rounds out a magical season opening.
Read more in the program notes below.
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
300 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Elegy for Cello and String Orchestra
Dirk Brossé (b. 1960)
Dirk Brossé’s 1994 Elegy for Cello and String Orchestra was commissioned by the Flemish ensemble i Fiamminghi for Belgian cellist France Springuel. The Elegy has been referred to as a cantilena, music with a long, lyrical line, and Brossé has crafted beautiful melodies which showcase cantabile playing of the cello. The piece opens with a slow, pensive, arch-shaped melody for the cello, heard against the whispering of high strings.
This segues into a more expansive, lyrical melody which provides the bulk of the thematic material. The music ebbs and swells, with lush writing for the string ensemble, before closing with a quiet restatement of the second theme. Brossé has recorded the Elegy with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and The London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
When virtuoso cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen requested a concert piece from Tchaikovsky, the composer responded with a theme and set of eight variations inspired by the graceful and elegantly ornamented Rococo style and scored for an 18th century-sized orchestra. He completed a piano reduction in early 1877 and sent it to Fitzenhagen to review and edit the cello part. Fitzenhagen revised much of the cello part to make it more virtuosic, and Tchaikovsky orchestrated the revised score. This was the version premiered by Fitzenhagen in Moscow in November 1877, but Fitzenhagen had additional revisions in mind. By then Tchaikovsky was in Europe, recovering from an ill-conceived and disastrous marriage, and Fitzenhagen took charge of editing the variations for publication, rearranging the order of the variations and deleting the final variation to produce a version that was a more effective vehiclefor the solo cello. This is the familiar version that has been performed ever since. While there is a third-hand anecdote that Tchaikovsky was frustrated with Fitzenhagen’s changes to the score, most of the evidence suggests that he acquiesced to the changes, and he even conducted the revised version himself. The music is Tchaikovsky at his best, from the ingenious variations to the wonderful writing for the wind choir in a recurring codetta.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart’s creative powers were always cause for astonishment, but in the summer of 1788 they were truly aglow. In two months he composed three incomparable symphonies (K. 543, 550, 551). Swiftly, almost unnoticed, they were swept into existence by the mercurial magic of his beautifully possessed mind—that marvel of an artistic instrument.
They were acts of self-indulgence since he was apparently not prompted to their composition by a commission or any other circumstance of commitment. Though Mozart had been writing symphonies for twenty-four years, he was only thirty-two when he wrote these three.
Their production must have given Mozart pleasure at a time when his worldly existence was plagued with his wife’s illness and oppressed by particularly severe financial pressures. He had recently been named “Chamber Composer” to Emperor Joseph II—a post held by Gluck until his death the year before—but he collected a low salary for a high-sounding title. The Emperor had no qualms about cutting Mozart’s remuneration to less than half what he had paid Gluck. Of course, he didn’t ask much of him—some minuets or country dances would do—too short-sighted to realize that his low-priced chamber composer could have set all of Austria aflame with symphonies and operas. Seven days after his death, a Prague correspondent for a Berlin music journal wrote: “Now that he is dead, the Viennese will indeed find out what they have lost….Peace be with his ashes!”
Some have found a reflection of Mozart’s worldly troubles in the G minor Symphony. Otto Jahn, in his mid-nineteenth-century biography of the composer, heard “a piercing cry of anguish” in the first movement; he considered the entire work “a Symphony of pain and lamentation.” Throughout Mozart does seem to hold the expressive content in conscious reserve, keeping his musical colors shaded to achieve a greater feeling of inwardness.
Mozart’s G minor Symphony exists in an original version without clarinets and in a revised version with clarinets. (For readers interested in such details, the proposal that the clarinets were added later for a 1791 Lenten concert is perhaps thrown into a new light by the fact that the watermarks of the paper Mozart used for the additions are the same as those of the rest of the 1788 manuscript of K.550 and may have been made for a concert that year. As for the 1791 concert, it is clear that it was the version with clarinets that was performed at that time.)
George K. Diehl
Luigi Mazzocchi, Concertmaster
Joseph Kauffman, Associate Concertmaster
Natasha Colkett, Principal
Catherine Kei Fukuda
Yoshihiko Nakano, Principal
Branson Yeast, Principal
Anne Peterson, Acting Principal
Edward Shultz, Principal
Geoffrey Deemer, Principal
Doris J. Hall-Gulati, Principal
Zachary Feingold, Principal
John David Smith, Principal