Oriental delights anticipating Mozart’s operas

“Zanaide” performed in Bad Lauchstädt. © Gert Mothes

Oriental exotics and intrigue, power struggles, impossible love, betrayal and reconciliation – those ingredients have tempted librettists and opera composers alike. How they dealt with it, had very much to do with the conventions of the time, the taste of the audience, and the availability of good singers. When Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, made his debut in London,  he was appalled by the lack of good singers, and though the King’s Theatre asked him in 1762 to write two operas, he initially refused. However, after the audition of several singers, he agreed, and in 1763, he presented an opera that had long been forgotten, and that I have discovered myself only very recently: Zanaida.

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A trio written for friends, performed by friends

Mozart Kegelstatt
Dedication to beauty. © Charles Thibo

Have I ever presented to you the Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst? No?  I should have done so long ago for this man transforms abstract notes into music of pure, glittering gold. Fröst was born in 1970 and as a five-year old boy he started to play the violin. Three years later he added the clarinet. He deepened his studies in Germany and Stockholm and also took classes in conducting. In May 2017, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced the appointment of Fröst as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2019/20 season, with an initial contract of three seasons. The “New York Times” qualified him as having “a virtuosity and a musicianship unsurpassed by any clarinettist, perhaps any instrumentalist”.

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A Requiem as the Vienna master’s legacy

Kyrie eleison. ©Charles Thibo

At some point it had to happen. At some point I had to write about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, KV 626. Too many times I had listened to the overwhelming opening chant “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” (Lord, give them eternal peace). Too many times I had been swept away emotionally by the prospect of the eternal light shining upon me (“Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine”). Yesterday I heard it in an arrangement by Franz Xaver Süßmayr, performed by the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and the Collegium Vocale Gent under Philippe Herreweghe in Luxembourg. Oh Lord, what a blessing! What a performance! Simply exhilarating!

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An autumn serenade from Mozart’s pen

More colours! © Charles Thibo

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.

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