Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Mozart & Beethoven at Masonic Center
By Pat Suarez
Here’s how extraordinary the more than two dozen piano concerti of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are: E. Dane Harvey – French horn player, Mozart aficionado and raconteur – once said when he listened to a Mozart symphony, he was always waiting for the piano entry. Indeed.
On Sunday, March 16, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, with Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman on the podium, will allow the Dayton Masonic Center audience to experience one of Mozart’s most sizzling works for the piano medium, the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C-minor.
Completed when Mozart was 29 (Beethoven was 15 years old and the USA was nine years out from its declaration of independence), and at the height of his creative supremacy, the 24th Concerto was one of just two Mozart concerti for piano and orchestra in a minor key. Among his piano concerti, it is the only one scored for clarinets and oboes: flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
This is a relatively small orchestra, but there is nothing diminutive about the opening Allegro, a muscular and aggressive explosion of sound, with no gentle opening, that eventually discovers its brasher voice. Mozart reached into his operatic drama bag for the first few pages of the score. After a minute, calm arrives, then alternates with drama. Fully two and a half minutes into the concerto, the piano makes a tentative entrance, bolstered and encouraged by more animation from the supporting players. Mozart had a lot to say here: this movement occupies half of the work’s thirty minutes.
The gentle Larghetto that follows is in E-flat major, the key signature of kings: Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand and Mussorgsky’s majestic “Great Gate of Kiev” (from his Pictures at an Exhibition) are both in E-flat major. This is a gentle, sunny experience.
The Allegretto, back in C-minor, is a set of dance-like variations that undulate to a brief and spirited conclusion.
Ludwig van Beethoven was no stranger to the key of C-minor. His compositions in that key include his “Pathétique” and fifth piano sonatas, Piano Concerto No. 3, fourth string quartet and the granddaddy of all symphonies, the Fifth, the final work to be performed in this concert.
There is little doubt the first bars of this symphony constitute the most famous passage in the centuries-long history of classical music: Those nine notes and two rests have been the subject of countless references in radio, pop and jazz music, television, cinema and, in the era of comedy albums, a hilarious send-up of pompous sports broadcasters and analysts: 1967’s P.D.Q. Bach On the Air, in which Peter Schickele and his squirrely sidekick Robert Dennis broadcast a play-by-play/note-by-note analysis of the first movement, Allegro con Brio.
Among the interesting tidbits of information about this symphony and its composer are:
The opening two bars of the Fifth Symphony were used as a signature piece for the Allies during World War II, since the notes were – unintentionally – Morse Code for the letter “V” – for Victory.
Beethoven was supposed to be a student of Mozart, but got called away due to his mother’s illness. By the time Beethoven could begin his lessons, Mozart had died. Instead, Beethoven studied with Antonio Salieri. Yes, that Salieri.
The symphony’s premier was a disaster. The hall temperature was below freezing, the entire program ran four hours, the Fifth was played a few hours into the concert, the orchestra had just one rehearsal and Beethoven, deaf and conducting, had to restart the performance.
Beethoven stood only a hair under 5’4” tall.
When performing a piano concerto at the Theatre Anderwien, Beethoven forgot he was the soloist and began to conduct. He threw his arms so wildly that he knocked down the lights on the piano. Two choirboys were enlisted to hold the lights. Later, Beethoven swung his arms in another dramatic gesture and accidently clobbered one of the boys. The kid was so frightened he dropped his light. Angry at the audience’s laughter, Beethoven struck the piano with such force that he broke six strings inside the instrument.
Beethoven loved coffee and normally counted out sixty coffee beans per cup.
Beethoven moved 79 times, occupying 44 dwellings in 35 years in Vienna. He usually left a horrendous mess when he departed.
Find John Belushi’s side-splitting “Saturday Night Live” send-up of Beethoven writing his Fifth symphony. After tinkering around on the keyboard, Belushi/Beethoven plays the first four notes of the opening bars, stops, frowns and shakes his head slowly and disapprovingly.
Maestro Gittleman opens the program with Mozart’s exuberant overture to “The Marriage of Figaro.” Based on a stage play, written in 1778 by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, “Marriage of Figaro” is the second in the Figaro trilogy, preceded by “The Barber of Seville.” Mozart wrote his opera in 1786, just three years before the decade-long revolution that changed the course of France forever.
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents Mozart & Beethoven as part of the Graeter’s Symphony Sundaes series, at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16 at the Dayton Masonic Center, 525 Riverview Ave. For tickets or more information, please call 937.224.3521 or visit daytonperformingarts.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Pat Suarez at PatSuarez @DaytonCityPaper.com.