The third work on our Musical Friendships Chamber Music Concert on Sunday, November 4th, will be Duo for Violin & Viola No. 1, K.423W, by W.A. Mozart. It will be performed by Andrew Calhoun, violin, and Peter Calhoun, viola.
Program notes for this piece:
Mozart – Duo for Violin and Viola, K423
In July 1783, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) returned to his native Salzburg from his adopted city of Vienna. He took with him his new bride Constanze to meet his father Leopold and his sister Nannerl. He planned to keep a low profile, for he did not want to draw the attention of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus Colloredo. Mozart had left the employ of the Archbishop under a cloud of acrimony in 1781. Since Colloredo considered his house musicians little more than hired help and since the young Mozart considered himself more than a common employee, the two were often at loggerheads.
After an extended stay in Vienna with the Archduke and his entourage, Mozart sought to lengthen his stay so that he could compose music on commission, but the Archbishop refused and insisted that the composer return to Salzburg with the group. Mozart, resentful and eager to write music that could earn him a year’s salary in a couple of months, resigned from his post to remain in Vienna. The Archbishop was outraged at the impudence of the upstart composer but relented. Afterwards, Mozart wrote to his father, “I am no longer so unfortunate as to be in Salzburg’s services – today was that happy day for me.”
It was an anxious, nerve-wracking visit for Mozart; not only was he bringing Constanze to meet his father for the first time, but he also expressed concern that the archbishop might have him arrested.
Michael Haydn, brother to Franz Joseph Haydn and good friend of Mozart, had assumed the role of composer and musician at the court of Archbishop Colloredo. The Archbishop had commissioned Haydn to compose a set of six duos for violin and viola, of which the composer had completed four before he fell seriously ill. An autocratic Colloredo, without regard for the sick composer’s condition, threatened to cut Haydn’s salary until the commission was completed. Mozart on hearing of the plight of his friend offered to write the remaining two duos so that Haydn would not have his salary cut.
Mozart wrote two duos, one in G and one in B-flat major. The Duo for Violin and Viola in G, K423 on today’s program has been described by one critic in the following manner:
There is a surprising equality to the violin and viola parts, which gives a completeness to the sense of dialogue between the two instruments. Even in a light work such as this, the operatic Mozart’s ability to flesh out whole characters in pure musical conversation shines very clearly.
It should be noted that the Archbishop, while praising Haydn’s compositional skills, favored Mozart’s two duos over Haydn’s four – which must have given Mozart some pleasure in having gotten one over on his old nemesis.
*Program notes by William Driver.