Pompous, clear-cut, irritating, frightening, oppressive, siege mentality, bunker atmosphere, reinforced concrete, hard, sharp – the aesthetics of Hitler and Stalin. Those were my associations when I listened to Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (BB 123, SZ. 116) for the first time, more than two years ago. A brutal piece, a fascinating piece, one that I have grown fond of over time.
If you are old enough, you may remember Laurel and Hardy, two slapstick comedians from the 1920s, whose short movies I saw in the 1970s on TV, all black and white, no spoken words, occasionally subtitled – just as funny and just as sad as Charlie Chaplin. I loved Laurel and Hardy when I was a child, and when I recently listened to the opening bars of Alexis de Castillon’s Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major (Op. 4) I had to think of the piano music that accompanied the short movies. It made me feel nostalgic for the simplicity of the jokes, the straightforwardness of the arrangement and the unobtrusive piano music that conferred a sense of tragedy, of comedy or simply heightened the tension.
No strings today! Winds only to celebrate a lovely autumn day. This piece is a firework of creativity, unbridled enthusiasm and utmost beauty: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Serenade for Winds in B flat major, KV 361 (KV 370a). Mozart wrote it in Vienna together with two other serenades for winds between 1781 and 1784 while he was working on his opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio“, that I have presented in an earlier post. He scored it for two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, four horns, two bassoons and “Contra Basso”, which suggest a double bass, but the double bass is often replaced by the double bassoon. The excellent recording by the Bläserensemble Sabine Meyer has opted for this version.
“Some quartets have just appeared by a certain Pleyel, he’s a pupil of Joseph Haydn”, a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote in a letter to his father in April 1784. “If you don’t know them, try to get hold of them; they are worth it. They’re very well written, and very enjoyable […] It’ll be good – and fortunate for music if in due course Pleyel is able to replace Haydn for us!” Pleyel did not quite replace Haydn however. He would move abroad, Haydn would outlive Mozart and Vienna’s next rising star would be Ludwig van Beethoven.