Upcoming Events
20th November 2018
Theme and Variations

Michael Collins plays Mozart:Themes and variations

4 December 2018: Stratford Play House
5 December 2018: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

  • Igor Stravinsky – Concerto in D for string orchestra ‘Basle’
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622
  • Igor Stravinsky – Concerto in E flat for chamber orchestra ‘Dumbarton Oaks’
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Symphony No.40 in G minor ‘Great G minor Symphony’, K.550

Today’s concert is a rich demonstration of just how broad the classification – and content – of ‘classical’ music can be. Stravinsky’s paired concertos are Neoclassical (1920-1950, or thereabouts); and their inspiration and form stem mainly from the Baroque period (approximately 1600-1750). Mozart (1756-1791), of course, is held up by many as the very model of a Classical (1750-1820 or so) composer; but – especially at the outset of his life and career – was, of course, also indebted to the works of Bach, Handel, Lully, etc..

However, it did not take long for young Wolfgang to stretch the categorization of his output and dig the foundations of what would become to be known as the Romantic (roughly 1780-1910) – despite Britten claiming that “A certain rot… set in with Beethoven”. Nor, listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, is it difficult to find such defining personal passion and self-centred sentiment within, or to be intensely moved by them. All of which only goes to show why the above numbers (apart from Mozart’s) are so very “thereabouts”, “approximately”, “or so”, and “roughly”; and may explain why Descartes once opined that “Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare…” – although Hamlet’s written claim to Ophelia that “I am ill at these numbers” may be much more accurate!

The case I am trying to make is that Mozart – despite, to that “many”, being just the creator of memorable melodies (such as lies at the centre of today’s heartbreaking Clarinet Concerto) – not only crossed musical divides; but, in many cases, actually invented them. And the ‘Great G minor Symphony’, which closes the concert, is the perfect demonstration of that: evoking Classicism and Romanticism, and predicting Serialism, all in the space of around twenty-five minutes. In other words, his music is all his own; it defies (or at least pushes back at the boundaries of) classification… – although there is no doubt in my mind that his œuvre can be labelled that of a genuine genius.

PS: Even defining the overarching term ‘classical music’ can be laborious; but I am happy to accept Wikipedia’s – that it is “Art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music”. If you think you know, and/or can do better, please email your suggestion to writer@orchestraoftheswan.org with the subject ‘Definition’. The best entry will win two complimentary tickets for a concert of your choice and will be published in the next programme.

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