Wolfgang and His Pals
A preview by Marc Shulgold
Herr Johann Christian Bach, music master of the queen, took Wolfgang between his knees. He would play a few measures; then Wolfgang would continue. In this manner they played entire sonatas. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would swear that just one person was playing.
So wrote Mozart’s sister Nannerl from London, proudly reporting to Momma in Salzburg about her little brother playing duets with the great Johann Christian Bach (son of J.S.). The year was 1764. The revered J.C. Bach was approaching 30 – Wolfgang was 8.
It seems incredible that an established composer could act as a colleague with a boy not even 10. But this, of course, was Mozart. That remarkable friendship, which carried on for years, is one that Frank Nowell and his Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado will explore in words and music on Friday (May 19) through Sunday (May 21).
This unusual program, titled “Mozart Among Friends,” will find Gary McBride returning as host and narrator, following the format presented in March of last year in “Portraits of Bach.”
“Gary would interweave stories of (Bach’s) life with musical examples by us,” Nowell recalls of last season’s offering. “We got some good feed-back from our audiences. They enjoyed seeing the human side of a composer.”
In these season-ending concerts, Nowell and BCOC will follow suit, exploring the influence of two giants of music who called Mozart their friend. While Johann Christian occasionally kept in touch with the young composer through the years, the friendship that truly touched Mozart – and changed music – was the relationship with Franz Joseph Haydn. And here, again, Nowell, McBride and company will provide rare insights into the lives of those two musical geniuses.
It’s likely that the composers met in 1783, two years after Mozart settled in Vienna. Once again, there was a large separation in years: Haydn was 24 years Wolfgang’s senior. Not that it mattered. Together, they elevated the string quartet and symphony from polite entertainment into a glorious expression of deep and powerful thought.
But how to squeeze those friendships into a single concert? “We worried about that,” Nowell admits. “We decided to present (musical) excerpts in the first half, to allow time for the readings.” Several of Mozart’s letters – and there were a ton of them – were selected “to show the affection that he had for Haydn and J.C.”
Even there, Nowell had trouble deciding on which music to play, settling on shorter works, including some that may not be familiar to Mozart lovers – such as his lovely Church Sonatas, written while he and his father Leopold were employed at the Salzburg Cathedral.
Naturally, the BCOC had to think outside their Baroque box when entering the world of post-Bach music and performance. “There’s really not that much difference between the two periods (Baroque and Classical) in terms of the instruments we use,” Nowell stresses. “Gut strings (favored in the Baroque) were used continuously, even throughout the 19th Century. He added that some players will use instruments of the early era, while others will rely on ones that were Classically designed.
Nowell reports that he’ll play a harpsichord during performances of J.C. Bach, Haydn and early Mozart in the first half, then will sit out the second half, as the orchestra plays Mozart’s celestial Sinfonia Concertante for violin (Cynthia Miller Freivogel) and viola (Tekla Cunningham). The ensemble will be augmented by natural horns and Baroque oboes for these concerts.
The friendship that developed between Mozart and composers representing the past (J.C. Bach) and the ever-changing present (Haydn) will be revealed in this intriguing mix of words and music. For Nowell and his orchestra, the program will be an extension of the comaraderie enjoy by the players. “There’s now a deep friendship in the group, a level of trust with each other that goes beyond the music.”
The Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado will present Mozart Among Friends at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19 in St. Andrew United Methodist Church, 9203 S. University Blvd., Highlands Ranch, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday May 20 in Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave., Cherry Hills Village, and at 3 p.m. Sunday (May 21) in Wellshire Presbyterian Church, 2999 S. Colorado Blvd. Information: http://www.bcocolorado.org/concerts or (303) 889-1012.