Riccardo Muti has been one of the regular guest conductors of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1972. The recognised Mozart expert will open this concert with the "Haffner Symphony”, a work whose origin you can hear clearly in the serenade music of the same name. Other works on the programme include Franz Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style and Richard Strauss’s symphonic fantasy “From Italy”, inspired by both impressionist and folklore music.
Overture in the Italian style in C major D 591
Symphony No. 35 in D major Haffner
From Italy, Symphonic Fantasy
Riccardo Muti can spare nothing for extravagances like extreme rubati, exaggerated dynamic fluctuations and excessively slow tempi. Ultimately, the Italian maestro is known for his faithfulness to the original scores, and he is also considered a perfectionist on the podium. In his guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the recognised Mozart expert, who recently extended his contract as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until 2020, will turn to the Haffner Symphony – a work whose origin you can hear in the serenade music of the same name (“You will be surprised that you see only the first Allegro,” Mozart wrote to his father); the first and last movements are to be played – in Mozart’s words – “quite briskly”.
Muti will complete the programme with an homage to his home country: Franz Schubert’s Overture in the italian style and Richard Strauss’s symphonic fantasy From Italy. The impressionist third movement, “At the Beach of Sorrento”, is, in the composer’s words, “the soft music of nature as our inner ear hears it in the rustling of the wind in the leaves, in the song of the birds […], in the faraway murmuring of the ocean and the lonely song drifting over to the beach in a poetic, musical way”. The piece ends with a folkloristic humoresque that “intends to describe the lively hustle and bustle of Naples” – including a quote from Luigi Danza’s contemporary hit Funiculì, funiculà.
Heinrich Schütz became the father of German music in Venice, where he began studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in 1609. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart perfected his art in Milan, presented the premieres of three of his operas there and was knighted by the pope, although he only used the title “Ritter von Sauschwanz” [Knight of the Pig’s Tail]. Needless to say, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Spohr also made pilgrimages to the South. Brahms went on nine walking holidays in Italy with friends, which were more likely drinking holidays, Liszt lived in Rome as an abbé and Wagner managed to die in Venice.
Admittedly, there were also unlucky souls who did not have the privilege of dying in Venice or even a glimpse over the Alps. But the Apennines did not leave anyone cold. Bach consoled himself with his Italian Concerto and Beethoven with his songs to Italian texts, op. 82. Franz Schubert composed two overtures in the Italian style. They have less to do with the yearning for the South, however, than with the yearning for success à la Rossini, who at that time – in 1817 – sent all of Vienna into a frenzy with sparkling allegros and melodious cantilenas. At any rate, rumour has it that these overtures were Schubert’s response to Rossini’s domination of the music scene and, in particular, to the euphoria of his friends. There is no evidence of this but, much as we marvel at the personal note the 20-year-old strikes with his unique harmonic style and the softer, warmer tonal quality, the Overture in the Italian Style, D. 591, is still for the most part pure Rossini. That is revealed by the light-limbed melody, the skipping accompaniment of the strings and the texture of the overture, which is calculated for effect. There can be no doubt that Schubert wanted to impress his friends, and he must have succeeded with this overture, probably his first publicly performed orchestral work.
Even Mozart was no match for the Italians when he was very young. His early operas are insignificant exercises compared to those of such contemporaries such as Giovanni Paisiello and Niccolò Piccini. Mozart did not achieve a more or less equal footing with them until 1775, with La finta giardinera. This judgement also applied to his symphonic works, particularly since the dividing line between the operatic overture, symphony and serenade was not clearly drawn yet in the middle of the 18th century. Mozart’s first contributions to this genre all follow the Italian or Neapolitan pattern that he encountered in the symphonies of Johann Christian Bach, who worked in Milan and later in London and whom Mozart greatly admired. This model captures the spirit of the buffo opera; the three brief movements, seasoned with lively, cheerful melodies, may or may not be loosely related to each other. The theatrical effect is due to the strong contrasts between forte and piano, between majestically surging drama and tenderly bucolic sounds; there are many instrumental solos and even counterpoint, although the themes are barely developed but instead are merely modulated from one key to another.
Mozart’s serenades and divertimentos surpassed in beauty, profoundness and compositional refinement everything that had been produced in the symphonic genre thus far. That is demonstrated not least by his splendid “Haffner” Serenade of 1776, in which the festive social character is undermined by its symphonic style and even more by its Minuet in G minor. It was composed for a wedding in the family of the Salzburg patrician Sigmund Haffner. Mozart’s father Leopold felt obliged to the former mayor, and thus in 1782 he again asked his son to compose something suitable for Haffner’s ennoblement. The following year Mozart removed a march and a second minuet from the score and from then on referred to it as a “new Haffner symphony”. There can be no doubt about this in view of the authoritative splendour of the main theme, which is vigorously presented with contrapuntal skill, dooming the second theme to mere triviality. Scholars disagree about the Andante that follows: does it represent Parisian coquetry or Viennese grace? They are in agreement about the Minuet; many even regard it as the best movement of the symphony. A folk-song-like, almost rustic trio contrasts with the jaunty dance step of the main section – not surprising, since in Mozart’s day the Vienna woods began just beyond today’s Ring road. It is also no surprise that Die Entführung aus dem Serail [The Abduction from the Seraglio] is quoted in the finale: its main theme is derived from Osmin’s aria “Ha, wie will ich triumphieren” [Ah, how shall I triumph].
Richard Strauss travelled to Italy for the first time in the spring of 1886. He described this journey to his mentor, Hans von Bülow, as a series of thefts, but he consoled himself with the art treasures and scenery: “Despite all its natural splendour and in spite of the beautiful museums, I was finally sick of Naples, which seemed to me like a wonderful drop scene before which a bad piece was being performed. An ascent of Vesuvius by funicular was highly entertaining, a stormy 8-hour boat trip from Amalfi to Capri very adventurous, in Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii I spent some unforgettable hours, but eventually I went back to Rome, which for me is the point of perfection of Italy. After the Vatican, the glorious, melancholy Campagna, the Sabine mountains and the Alban hills and the wonderful, evocative ruins of ancient Rome attracted me most irresistibly.” All of these places are depicted with atmospheric intensity and audacity at times in the symphonic fantasy Aus Italien [From Italy].
The first movement, an andante in G major, is entitled “Auf der Campagna” [In the Country]. The slow introduction, with its distinctive octave leap in the flutes, paints a picture of a mysterious landscape – cold lava streams, a desolate plain, from which malaria has long since driven away all the people. But that is only one aspect of the campagna. The mountains and the sea come into view, a Wagnerian-sounding melody in the strings, also featuring an octave leap, announces the unexpected discovery of this scenic beauty. It is as though the traveller suddenly realized where he was; the brass instruments speak loud and clear of ancient grandeur, the mood brightens, a folk-song-like tune, played first by the clarinets, wants to assume control but cannot entirely banish the twilight.
The second movement, an allegro in C major, bears the title “In Roms Ruinen” [Among the Roman Ruins]. As if Strauss already anticipated the criticism that would soon be expressed, he provided a few explanatory notes to the score: “Fantastic images of vanished splendour, feelings of melancholy and grief amid the brilliant sunshine of the present” – to no avail. The scherzo style remained an enigma to his contemporaries; they could not make sense of the many themes and, above all, they could not hear Rome in it. The third movement, “Am Strande von Sorrent” [On the Shore at Sorrento], an andantino in A major, calms the nerves – subdued colours, arabesques reminiscent of bird songs, a contemplative mood and, in the middle section, a slow siciliano in 6/8 metre, modulated to minor. The main theme of the G major allegro finale – the popular song “Funiculì, Funiculà” – caused Strauss nothing but trouble. Luigi Denza had composed it for the opening of the funicular railway on Mount Vesuvius, and he had no intention of giving his hit song away to a German. He filed a lawsuit against Strauss – and from then on received handsome royalties for every performance.