Vibrant Vienna Program Notes and Soloists

Program Notes

Time and Place: Vienna, late 1700s:

Between roughly 1730 and 1820, a steady stream of composers flocked to central Europe to establish themselves in Vienna’s music scene. Known today as the ‘Viennese Classical Period’, it was distinguished by music of an ordered elegance, in contrast to the complex, richly-layered style of baroque music. The music featured contrast in mood and timbre, as well as dynamics, key, and tempo. It is recognizable because of the use of symmetrical phrasing, characterized by much shorter melodies and themes, balance and restraint, and because of its sheer beauty, characterized by impeccable pitch and utmost clarity in every respect.

How did Vienna become a primary center of this classical style? Its status as the capital of the Austrian Empire (later the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and its location in the heart of Central Europe likely played a role. The city’s rulers and aristocracy were well-educated audiences, and music was still largely tied to the court culture. The Austrian Empire took pride in its production of music; craftsmen specialized in the creation of musical instruments, sheet music publishing houses flourished; concert halls and opera houses abounded. But of course nothing would have been possible without the creative genius of the musicians who came to this vibrant place.

Our concert today focuses on three of those musicians: Mozart, Hummel, and Beethoven. These men knew each other, were friends, teachers, students – and sometimes rivals. Each had an important place in the constellation of Viennese composers.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 – 1837), was a violin and piano prodigy. He was born in what is now Bratislava, and his family moved to Vienna when he was 6. By the time he was 8, he had been noticed by Mozart, who was greatly impressed by his piano playing, and taken into the Mozart home as a student, free of charge. He was taken on a highly successful performance tour of Europe while still a child, and studied with other notable teachers in Vienna. Haydn was instrumental in his obtaining the position of concertmaster for the Prince of Esterhazy. Taking on many of the duties of the aging Haydn, he succeeded him as music director when Haydn retired, remaining in the Esterhazy household for a total of eleven years.

The relatively “unknown today” composer was overshadowed by his contemporaries, Haydn and Beethoven.  However, seeing as how both of those gentleman had complimentary things to say about Hummel’s music, it hardly seems fair to dismiss him as unimportant or uninteresting.

Of course, he was quite an “interesting” man, if only because of the company he kept! His teachers included Mozart, Haydn, Clementi and Beethoven; his pupils included Henselt, Thalberg, Mendelssohn and Hiller. His wide-ranging and sometimes extravagant piano-writing certainly had a direct influence on Chopin and Liszt, and a discernable, if less pronounced, influence on Saint-Saëns, Moszkowski, and other pianist/composers of the Late-Romantic period. 

Hummel’s Te Deum was composed during his time in the Esterhazy’s employ to commemorate the signing of the Peace of Pressburg in December, 1805. (This treaty ended hostilities between France and Austria, preventing the sack of Vienna by Napoleon’s army, but resulted in a significant loss of territory for Austria, and preceded the demise of the Holy Roman Empire.) Precise dating of the composition is problematic because there is no mention of it in the Esterhazy archive. It is possible that it was never performed at Eisenstadt, although it was commissioned for a peace celebration there. Nonetheless it is an immensely attractive work. The orchestration is bright and the choral writing is fluid and attractive. Although relatively short in duration, it is a brilliant example of Classical composition, containing moments of great emotional gravity as well as pure transcendent joy.

Throughout his life, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) was obsessed with the poetry of Friedrich von Matthisson, a German poet who espoused the ideals of the German Romantic movement. In particular, the ideal of the tragic artist who overcomes all odds to conquer his fate must have resonated for Beethoven, who struggled with loss of hearing from a young age. Matthison’s Opferlied (Song of Sacrifice) appeared in 1790, and depicts a young man in an oak grove, offering a sacrifice to Zeus, asking him to be the protector of liberty, and to gift the good, in youth and old age, with beauty. Beethoven was known to have scribbled the last line, “Das Schöne zu dem Guten!” (“The beautiful to the good”), in his late manuscripts.

His admiration of the poem led him to set the text of Opferlied four times, beginning in 1794, for various combinations of musicians, producing his fourth and final setting, Op. 121b, for soprano solo with four-voice chorus and orchestra, in 1823-4. This is the version being performed today, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The work is set in E major and is in strophic (verse) form: each verse is sung by the soprano soloist, with the chorus repeating the last half. Additionally, the chorus repeats the final line of each verse, each time to completely new music, providing a strong sense of closure. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) was undoubtedly one of the most influential composers of the Viennese Classical Period. Born in Salzburg in 1756, he spent much of his short life in Vienna. Having begun his musical career as a small child making musical tours across Europe, he first visited Vienna in 1762, appearing at six years of age at the Schonbrunn Palace to play a concert for the Habsburg family. After moving permanently to the city when he was 25, the composer synthesized what he had heard in the courts of Europe, to produce a Viennese voice for some of his greatest legacies, such as the Magic Flute and Marriage of Figaro.

The Regina Coeli (Rejoice Queen of Heaven), is a Marian antiphon, an ancient hymn form in praise of the Virgin Mary. The young Mozart composed three settings of the Regina Coeli, all most likely for use in the Salzburg cathedral; the sunny C-major K. 276 which you will hear today is the last of them. The original score is lost so its date of composition and intended destination are conjectural; however, its stylistic similarities to the precisely dated Dominican Vespers, K. 321, suggest to some scholars that it is a work from 1779.

This setting is scored for four soloists, chorus, orchestra, and organ. Each line is sung by either the chorus, the soloists, or some combination of the two. The solo lines are remarkably integrated into the work as a whole. Among its many charms is the ‘Alleluia’, repeated three times, whose rhythm immediately recalls to the listener a familiar chorus by Handel, though it is thought unlikely that Mozart knew Messiah in 1779.

Mozart’s Grand Mass in C minor is considered one of his greatest works. The mass is scored for two soprano soloists, a tenor and a bass, double chorus and large orchestra.

It is to posterity’s lasting disappointment that Mozart did not complete his two greatest liturgical works, the Requiem and the Grand Mass in C minor. While the former was left incomplete because of the composer’s death, the C minor Mass seems to have been the victim of the upheaval in Mozart’s life caused by his resignation from the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg and his marriage (against his father’s wishes) to Constanze Weber in 1782. When the newlyweds returned to Salzburg in 1783, Mozart had with him the incomplete score of the Mass and intended to fulfil a vow made to finish it. In the event, the Mass remained unfinished, lacking the Agnus Dei and most of the movements of the Credo. Some of the orchestration of the existing Credo and Sanctus movements was also unfinished, but was edited to make it performable.

What is known is that it was first performed on August 25, 1783 in Saint Peter’s Church, Salzburg, with Constanze herself taking one of the soprano solo parts. It is not known how the missing sections were filled in in this performance – it is possible that they were omitted altogether, spoken, or sung to different music. In terms of style, the Mass draws considerably on Mozart’s study of the Baroque masters; Mozart’s grip of the fugal and contrapuntal techniques of Bach and Handel, whose music the Imperial Court Librarian, Van Swieten, had recently introduced to him, balances with the quintessentially Mozartean vocal solos and sonorous orchestral writing.

The Kyrie is the only movement of the mass written in the key of C minor; it begins with solemn depth, using the full force of the orchestra to lead to the soaring soprano solo. Given that Mozart was known to compose within the capabilities of his performers, we can marvel, in retrospect, at Constanze’s gifted virtuosity, range, and easy coloratura in the opening “Christe eleison”.

The Gloria extends toward the heavens with a burst of trumpets and drums over the four-part chorus. The inner movements of the Gloria, in a variety of predominately minor keys, gather force from one to two to three soloists, and from four- to five- to eight-part choruses. The counterpoint and continuo textures of the soprano duet in “Domine Deus” (and later in the italianate trio in “Quoniam tu solus Sanctus”) expertly reflect Handel’s influence yet magically transform into Mozart’s own musical language. In “Qui tollis,” dotted rhythms and a repetitive bass line portray the tension of a heart caught up in life’s trials, pleading for mercy. “Cum sancto spiritu” returns again and again to masterful fugal action, accompanied by exuberant string passages.

The Credo opens with a burst as does the Kyrie, but this time the choral proclamation is without trumpets and drums. The lively “Credo in unum Deum” depicts a confident community on a mutual spiritual path. Engaging woodwinds introduce and underscore the breathtakingly transcendent soprano solo, “Et incarnatus est.”

The Sanctus, with its eight-part chorus, is an editorial reconstruction of about half of the surviving choral parts, yet it seems true to Mozart’s intentions. This movement portrays the exciting ideal of universal human brotherhood that was part of Mozart’s era. The Benedictus encompasses both personal quest and timeless unity, weaving the four soloists together in expert counterpoint and ending with an elegant, joyful double chorus singing “Hosanna.”

With its magnificent and mighty choruses, sensuous and ornate solos, large orchestral and solo instrumental segments, the Mass in C Minor was unlike any church music of its time and stood on its own ground, apart from the “dumb it down” restrictions of the era’s “enlightened” despots, such as Colloredo in Salzburg and Joseph II in Vienna. As noted by Steven Ledbetter, “the Grand Mass stands as “a magnificent torso — grandiose, dramatic, and powerfully expressive.”

Barry Creasy, Chairman, Collegium Musicum of London

 

The Soloists

LILIANE CROMER, Mezzo Soprano, is a native from France where she graduated from the Université des Sciences Humaines and the Conservatoire de Musique, both in Strasbourg, France. She continued her musical education in the United States and received her Master of Music in Vocal Performance at San Jose State University. She has been on the teaching staff at SCU where she enjoyed developping in students the passion for singing and performing. 

Ms. Cromer has performed in recital, Oratorio and Opera in Europe and North America. Roles performed include Marcellina/ Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni by Mozart. Exciting Verdi roles sung are Maddalena in Rigoletto, Ulrica in Ballo in Maschera, Preziosilla in La Forza Del Destino, Flora in La Traviata, Azucena in Il Trovatore and Amneris in Aida. Among other major roles she enjoyed singing Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, Carmen in Bizet’s Carmen, Angiolina in  Rossini’s La Cenerentola,  Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, Romeo in Capuletti ei Montecchi and Adalgisa in Norma by Bellini. With BSLO, San Jose Symphonic Choir and Mission Chamber she was delighted to sing the role of Ladybird Johnson in Ladybird First Lady of the Land by Henry Mollicone. 

With the San Jose Symphonic choir she sang the mezzo soloist in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis as well as Mozart’s and Salieri’s Requiem. To sing with SJSC again and share this beautiful with 100 plus other voices is a very special honor, she is thrilled to be part of the performance tonight.

GABRIELLE HAIGH, soprano, is enjoying a career which balances opera, operetta, concert work, choral singing, and art song in equal measure. Recent and upcoming engagements include solo performances with the Akron Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Requiem, the San Francisco Ballet in Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (First Fairy), and the Canton Symphony Orchestra in the Dvořák Te Deum.

She has soloed with the San Jose Symphonic Choir in Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s B Minor Mass with the San Jose Baroque Orchestra, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie with the Nova Vista Orchestra. With the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan, Ms. Haigh has performed as “Angel” in Handel’s Joshua and “Benjamin” in Handel’s Joseph and His Brethren; a recording of Joseph was released last year on the PBO label. In 2019, she performed at Lyric Opera Studio Weimar as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus and as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, and appeared in opera gala concerts with the Thüringer Sinfoniker Saalfeld-Rudolstadt. An avid recitalist, she was a 2019 Colburn Foundation Fellow at Songfest in Los Angeles.

Graduating from Cambridge University in 2014 with a B.A. (Honours) in Classics, Ms. Haigh frequently soloed with the renowned Clare College Choir, including several Harmonia Mundi recordings. She completed her M.M. at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2018.

CHRISTOPER WALL has performed in a number of operas, including Falstaff (Cajus), Les mamelles de Tirésias (Lacouf), Le nozze di Figaro (Basilio), Later the Same Evening (Sheldon), and most recently in The Impresario (Vogelsang) and Ariadne auf Naxos (Tanzmeister), with upcoming roles in San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s production of Die Fledermaus (Alfred/Blind) and Firebird Motel (Ivan). Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, he received his Bachelor of Arts in Music from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and is currently working toward a Masters degree at SFCM.

DIEGO GRANOBLES is performing his debut with San Jose Symphonic Choir, although he is an active member.  He started piano studies at a very early age, then went on to study piano and voice at the College of DuPage, Lisle, Illinois.  Diego regularly performs with Carl Franzen Opera Studio. He currently teaches piano lessons and works as a substitute at New Mozart School of Music.  Diego recently performed the role of Flavio in the opera Norma for Bay Shore Lyric Opera.