Adriana Isabel Figueroa Mañas

One of Argentina’s most celebrated female composers, Adriana Figueroa Mañas is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist who graduated with a licentiate in music and flute from The National University of Cuyo’s School of Music in 1997. She pursued further studies at her Argentine alma mater,  completing Masters courses in Latino-American music as well as several courses in jazz, improvisation, chamber music composition and orchestration. 

Mañas served as flautist to several professional orchestras in Mendoza, Argentina, before establishing her own studio to offer flute, saxophone, and composition instruction. A member of the West Jazz Band and Camerata Barroca, she has also lent her incredible musical talents as a cellist to the Academic Orchestra of Mendoza.

Accepted as an associate member of the Latin Grammy Academy for her contributions as a composer, she has also served as media composer and musical producer to Film Andes. A member of the Argentinian Foundation of Women Composers, she helps to promote the music of female composers throughout Argentina so that they can receive a wider audience.

 Her symphonic works have premiered throughout South America, Spain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, China, Sweden and the United States. Some of the more notable orchestras who have had the honor of debuting her work include: I Solisti Veneti, The Symphonic Orchestra of Unicamp, The Arizona Southern Symphonic Orchestra, and Artura Toscanini. In addition to producing original music for animations, video games, film, and television, since 1992 Mañas has devoted herself to the formation of instrumental groups for children, and has recorded several children’s albums to date.

 She received a plaque of recognition for her contribution to the art and culture of Mendoza, Argentina, in 2009. The international chamber music festival “Por los Caminos del Vino” honored her music in 2014, and she provided scoring for the documentary “La mirada del colibri” in 2016. Her 2009 composition for flute, violin, and cello, (“Misteros Urbanos”) constructs a sprawling array of exciting musical architecture in its opening bars: a city of music coming to life before your very ears! And when this city goes to bed, a captivating blanket of stars slowly flit across the night sky…

Misteros Urbanos incorporates jazz elements and constructs a musical narrative through which the listener is exposed to all sides of this remarkable painted city. It utilizes dissonance to provoke wonder, finding beauty in the strangest of shapes. The first rays of the sun break over the hill, led by passionate rumbling passages from the piano, and a new day breaks fresh and clean over the silent city. An invigorating wind is blown through the clouds by a cluster of flutes, and you can taste the romance in the air. A percussive and undulating finale is sure to leave you feeling warmed from head to toe…and utterly inspired. Don’t miss your ticket to Buenos Aires, where your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra will bring Adriana Figueroa Mañas’ “Misteros Urbanos” to life!

Catching up with Janna Sailor

Conductor Janna Sailor returns to lead her hometown orchestra for Postcards of Buenos Aires – we were able to ask her some of the questions we’ve been itching to ask!

SSO: When it comes to the rich musical heritage of Latin America, there is so much to love. What  do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of performing traditional Agrentinian music?

Janna: What I love about Latin music is the humanity that always comes through… everything from heart on your sleeve emotion to the pulsating rhythms,  there is something so universal about the musical language that surpasses  cultural and language barriers to be relatable, captivating, and engaging.  Piazzolla’s music is a very intimate look at the human  experience, outlining everything from an unsettled bad dream, the introspective and longing of  love, and a crushing and oppressive  anxiousness that we can all relate to. On the other hand, Ginastera’s “Four  Dances from Estancia” pulsate with dance rhythms and folklore that take  your breath away and make your heart beat faster. Both works are  rewarding and enticing in their own way, and prompt you to dig deeper into  your own human experience as a performer, both emotionally and  technically. 

SSO: Over the past hundred years, the bandoneon has become a staple for tango ensembles  worldwide. How has Piazzola’s writing for the bandoneon inspired your collaboration with  Jonathan Goldman in bringing this music to life?

Janna: I have played the works of Piazzolla in many different contexts…as an orchestral musician,  soloist, and even with my harp and violin duo! A wonderful thing about his music is how versatile  it is, and the composer himself encouraged transcriptions and arrangements of his work by  many different ensembles and instrumentations that would not have traditionally played tango  music. I wanted to be sure to feature the bandoneon in this performance because it was  Piazzolla’s instrument, and he had such an intimate understanding and connection with it. 2021  marks the centenary of Piazzolla’s birth, so I envisioned this program as a celebration of the  music and life of the man himself. I highly recommend sourcing a video of Piazzolla himself  performing on the bandoneon – I am always inspired by his intensity and commitment to his  culture and art form. 

SSO: Four years ago you founded the Allegra Chamber Orchestra. What was the process of  creating an all-female classical orchestra like, and how has it informed your work moving  forward?

Janna: The creation of Allegra happened quite by chance! I had an idea to raise funds through a benefit  concert for Music Heals, a charity that establishes music therapy programs in Vancouver. I put  out the call to my fellow musicians, and only female players responded. The outpouring of  interest from the musicians for the concert was so overwhelming, I soon realized we had  enough players for an orchestra, and that this was he beginning of a movement of “women  helping women through music”. Our first concert raised enough funds to start a music therapy  program at the WISH Drop in Centre for women living on the street in Vancouver, and we have  continued to support the program through fundraising concerts and employing women from their  transition work experience program as ushers and assistants at our past concerts over the  years. Through my work with Allegra it has opened my eyes further to not only many of the  imbalances within the classical music culture and programming, but in society as well. The music industry is a microcosm of our society at large, and through Allegra’s work we strive  to bring awareness to the inequity not only on our stages, but to shed a light on the larger social  and community issues that contribute to these inequities on a larger scale. To be able to  combine my two passions – music and community change making – has been a truly rewarding  and humbling experience for me, and I have grown tremendously as a person and artist  because of it. 

SSO: You have led orchestras all over the world, performing with the likes of Mariah Carey, The  Canadian Tenors, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. What would you say to young aspiring  maestras who wish to advance their careers during this time of change and uncertainty?

Janna: I certainly put in my time exploring a wide variety of styles and experiences! I think the biggest  thing that I learned was to be open to taking on jobs that were outside my comfort zone and  current experience, and to be willing to grow, observe and learn from each of them, no matter  what genre or artist I was working with. I feel privileged to have collaborated with renowned  artists from many genres, and found something to admire and replicate within my own artistic  output from each of those experiences. Looking back I also realized that each job and  experience lead to another in some way, even if it was for a basic reason – like the fact that I  worked very hard, was prompt and pleasant to work with, etc. and the contractor would take  notice and offer me bigger and better jobs and more prominent roles in the months and years  that followed as a result. I tried to take any opportunity – no matter how big or small – with  gratitude and know that I was working my way forward and gaining more confidence and skill as  I went. No experience is ever wasted if you choose to learn and grow from it. 

SSO: Astor Piazolla was adamant in his belief that “the tango was always for the ear rather than the  feet”. How do you tap into the essence of tango music to deliver its vibrant nature authentically?

Janna: To me, his music is all about colour and various states of energy and evolution. However the  essence of the motion is internal rather than external, and his music always has a sense of  restlessness and is never fully at ease. To me, Piazzolla’s music embodies the essence and full  bodied flavour of the tango so fully, you don’t even need the dancers!

Ginastera’s Estancia

Born in Buenos Aires to an Italian mother and a father of Catalan descent, Alberto Ginastera left behind a musical legacy which rightly established him as one of the most important classical composers in the Americas during the 20th century. More than any other stylistic contribution to the wide body of modern classical music, Ginastera is remembered most fondly for his success in blending aspects of European art music and indigenous Argentinian folk music so seamlessly.

As a younger man, the renowned composer studied at the Williams Conservatory in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1938 and pursuing a professorship at the Liceo Militar General San Martin soon after. He mentored a young Astor Piazzolla in 1941, and continued to teach at his post at San Martin until 1945, when he travelled to the United States.

He remained in the United States for two years, becoming a student of Aaron Copland’s at Tanglewood before returning to his native Buenos Aires. His self-proclaimed first compositional period (termed “Objective Nationalism”) would give way to more subtle abstractions of Argentine folk themes (the beginnings of his “Subjective Nationalism” period) by 1948.

The bulk of Ginastera’s musical output owes a great deal of its folk-centered inspiration to the Gauchesco tradition, which views the wandering native horseman as the penultimate symbol of Argentinian pride and cultural perseverance. The four-dance suite created for his ballet Estancia exemplifies Ginastera’s reverence for this tradition, and is fill to bursting with thematic tributes to the gorgeous diaspora that is Argentinian folk music.

Ginastera composed Estancia in 1941, having been commissioned by the American Ballet Caravan to create a work which included spoken and sung elements. The composer produced his ballet in one act and five scenes based on Argentinian country life, but conflicts within the American Ballet Caravan delayed Estancia’s debut performance until 1952. That did not stop Ginastera from publishing his four-dance suite from Estancia in 1943, which received its first public hearing at the legendary Teatro Coloacuten in Buenos Aires.

Each of the four dances offers to the listener a poignantly unique mental picture of rural Argentinia. The first dance, “Los trabajadores agrícolas” (Agricultural Workers) depicts the passionate labouring of a vibrant group of field hands. The rhythm in this movement is relentless, slowly bringing forth a pastoral melody which carries us into the second movement: “Danza del trigo” (The Wheat Dance). The lyrical interlude of this movement develops a melody which stands in stark contrast to the energetic sophistication of “Los peones de hacienda” (The Cattle Men). This third movement enjoys an unbridled splendor of dynamic contrasts leading into Malambo, the piece’s finale, made to stand out to the listener by way of its constant 6/8 rhythm and rapid usage of eighth-notes. Malambo is titled after a dance frequently utilized by Gauchos (Argentine Cowboys) for competitive purposes.

Though Alberto Ginestra left this world far too soon (passing away at only 67 in Geneva, Switzerland), his music holds a special place in the hearts of Argentinians the world over. His musical vision ensured a continued interest in the rustic traditionalism of Argentine folk music and culture, and it is this very celebration for which we salute him. You can hear the four-dance suite from Ginastera’s Estancia performed by your very own Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra in our concert: Postcards from Buenos Aires!

Piazzolla at 100

Leonardo Suarez Paz has big plans for the world of arts and culture, and he plans to bring each of us closer to the heartbeat of our collective humanity with Piazzolla 100. An interdisciplinary performing arts project of grandiose scale, Piazzolla will celebrate the centenary of tango’s legendary composer Astor Piazzolla in 2021 by showcasing a groundbreaking Nuevo Tango style. But what is so unique about this new style of tango? For one, Nuevo Tango draws on the common roots of Tango, Jazz and Classical Music, relying on the technical developments made possible in each of these genres by the interactions of African and European cultures in the Americas. 

Young Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was born in Argentina, but grew up in New York, and Leonardo Suarez Paz wants to honor the legacy of the revolutionary composer in the Big Apple as a testament to the complexities his musical idol and mentor brought to the genre. If not for the innovations of Piazzolla, the tango might never have been pushed to its limits to truly evolve as an art form and challenge the sociocultural constructs of Latin America as a whole.

Piazzolla at 100 is a project that thrives on its artistic and sociocultural mission: to represent the culture of Tango in all its forms of expression and to emphasize liberty as an evolving concept that was instrumental in birthing the genre of dance in the first place. The project aims to foster educational outreach through a focus on bridging the people and cultures of North and South America, while emphasizing the high quality of art which can be produced through dedicated and giving collaboration between people from all walks of life. Piazzolla at 100 strives to afford greater opportunities for different generations of artists across genres and disciplines and represents an integral effort to renew the concept of cultural unity and inclusion for the world of dance and art at large. 

Piazzolla at 100’s will take place as a Festival in 2021 in New York, and the action will be spread out over multuiple venues and with a variety of programs. These include a chamber music program, a symphonic program, art exhibits, film screenings, master classes, and so much more. This Festival to top all festivals will bring together top artists from all disciplines who “form a part of Tango culture’s renewal” and will emphasize the importance of women and their role in the evolution of Nuevo Tango post-Piazzolla. 

The festival’s Artsitic Director Leonardo Suarez Paz belongs to a long line of tango innovators and artistic creators. This legacy begins with Gabino Ezeiza, who mentored Leonardo’s father Fernando Suarez Paz (an artist instrumental in the co-creation of Nuevo Tango alongside Piazzolla). Learning all he could from both his father and Piazzolla, Leonardo formed part of the most distinguished tango orchestras in the world (those of Mariano Mores, Horacio Salgan, Atilio Stampone, Osvaldo Berlingieri and the shows Tangox2 and Perfumes de Tango). The Artistic Director of Piazzolla at 100 is referred to by many as a “virtuoso extraordinaire”, whose art transcends both culture and genre. We at the SSO are excited about so many musical projects that are taking wing in the New Year, but Piazzolla at 100 is definitely one we will be following with extra enthusiasm!

Meeting Maria Fuller

As a young musician, Maria Fuller was a force of nature in Saskatchewan growing up. From one of the province’s most musical families, Maria was a pianist of such note in her teenage years giving remarkably musical performances that lead her to pursue a career that eventually led to the podium.

Maria Fuller makes her SSO debut on the podium for Mozart in Prague – and ahead of the performance, we had a few questions for her!

SSO:
You recently conducted La Clemenza Di Tito in the Main Stage series at the College-Conservatory of Music. How does it feel to be reunited with Mozart’s music once again?

Fuller:
It feels great, but I must add a little story in front of this answer! Conducting an opera was one of the last things I imagined I would do when I arrived at CCM six years prior for a Masters of Music in piano performance. Most people here in Saskatchewan know me as a pianist and/or trumpeter, but in the last few years, I am suddenly internationally known as a conductor. It makes me think of the quote that I now have hung on my wall, painted by a dear friend I met in Cincinnati, “Life takes you strange places, and love brings you home.” To be home in SK, conducting, means very much to me.

When I went to Cincinnati, it was with the intent on furthering my piano studies. Immediately after obtaining that Masters degree, I was asked to stay for an Artist Diploma in Operatic Coaching. After that, I was approached again, this time by the Maestro at CCM, with the following comments: “conductor is written all over you,” “you’re a born conductor,” and “you will have a huge career.” I was asked to stay once again to do a second Masters of Music in Orchestral Conducting. I hadn’t applied, I didn’t audition, I hadn’t asked. It was as much news to me as my parents, when I decided, less than a week after the invitation, to allow Maestro to show me his craft of conducting. I began my conducting studies knowing that after 13 months of study, I would be conducting the mainstage opera. My first assignment, as I learned how to hold a baton (which we, at CCM, call a stick), was in September 2017: Act I of Tosca. 

Getting on with answering the question now. Mozart. I have to tell you all this – Mozart is proving to be extraordinarily special to me in my conducting career; the very first thing that I got to try in front of an orchestra, less than a week into my studies, was his overture from the Magic Flute. The first opera, and the last thing I conducted/performed at CCM, was by Mozart. The first piece that I conducted in performance with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, where I am currently the Resident Conductor, was that same Magic Flute overture. It feels great to be home in Saskatchewan conducting, and no surprise that once again, my debut performance with the SSO will be Mozart.

SSO:
For those who are just beginning to delve into discovering the joy of classical music, what do you believe Mozart’s Wind Serenade has to offer? What makes this work so special?

Fuller:
It has a lot to offer – but that is coming from someone who is crazy about music from the Classical and Baroque era! The energy, rhythmic vibrancy, inevitability of momentum and forward movement, the earnestness of the melodies, and the simplicity of texture, (yet the musicians know that the word “simplicity” lies very far from the performance equation), are all enticing to my package of musical make-up. My father always used to say that Mozart instinctively knew what his audience needed when they came to listen to his performances; someone listening might be suffering pain, or loss of a loved one, while another person may have just received great news, or is anticipating something very special. Mozart portrays a great deal in his writing. I would like to meet Mozart, if I could, because I believe that like Einstein, he was brilliant, and that his brilliance made him difficult to understand and accept as a human being. Even in my lifetime, I have observed that there is an odd dichotomy found with people, such as agents, or teachers, who seek brilliance encased in a human possessing extreme ability or cognitive awareness. While they seek this attribute, they are at the same time seemingly unable to deal with the ramifications and struggles of dealing with that same brilliance. Mozart’s music is just as he was: genius, honest, rambunctious, and emotionally complex. When asked to “take a few notes out” of his composition, Mozart would rather starve than alter a fibre of who he was.

 

SSO:
During the concert you will be exploring a second Serenade of Winds with the orchestra, composed by Antonin Dvorak. How do you feel this piece contrast with Mozart’s Wind Serenade? 

Fuller:
This program is great, and full of contrasts, and comparisons. Both of the Serenades have 4 to 5 movements, and come in under a half hour each. When multi-movement works are composed, such as the ones you will hear in this concert, the composers have built into them an emotional and cognitive trajectory and journey. In these serenades by Mozart and Dvorak, one can be sure to feel the high and low points, to experience the quick and slow paces, the happy and sad moments, and the moments you wish would never end. The Dvorak Serenade has some seriously beautiful moments, such as in the 4th movement. However, it soon finds itself in a most aggressive state of bewilderment and terror. Perhaps a little bit like last year was? Even from the beginning of the movement, the harmonic language, which moves continuously underneath a classically formed melody, hints that things aren’t as settled as they appear. In contrast, the last movement ends with a celebratory, robust and rhythmic folk song; a specialty of Dvorak’s, where he, through his music, brings you into his homeland, and welcomes you into his heart.

SSO:
You are a conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and composer with a growing career. What is it like to return to your Saskatchewan roots during such turbulent times?

Fuller:
I am very fortunate to belong to such a welcoming and encouraging musical community here in Saskatchewan. During my first year working as a conductor in Thunder Bay, Regina caught wind that I was now conducting, and invited me to guest conduct. The same has happened with Saskatoon. For the past few years, I have also been one of the repetiteurs for Saskatoon Opera. I am grateful for the consideration that the RSO and SSO has shown me, and for their support regarding my newest musical endeavour. It still hits me at times that I get to do what I do. Being a conductor, for me, is a responsibility, and a massive privilege. It’s the difference between snowmobiling out here in SK
solo, versus snowmobiling pulling a sled with three other people on it. Alone, you’re free, and need consult no one for your own careless thrills. But throw other people into the situation, and you must now be aware of the implications of what you do on others, because it affects everything they do as well. 

SSO:
Prague has been referred to as “The Golden City, as well as “The City of a Hundred Spires”. What is it about music from this part of the world that inspires you?

Fuller:
It is fascinating to ponder a city like Prague that has brought to life so much remarkable music. One might ask, “What did they put in the water?” I am inspired by the fact that many composers who were associated with Prague were also nationalist composers (meaning that their compositional styles were based on, or included national folk music). Their pride for their country, for historical events, and historical music, influenced them to write in a style that was very unique, and vibrant. Some of these composers include Janáček, Mahler, Smetana, and Dvorak. I am inspired, and am moved very much by hearing the music of composers whose hearts were so firmly rooted in their homeland that they couldn’t help but etch it into the very fibre of what meant the most to them.

We’re thrilled to have Maria Fuller leading the SSO Winds in this wonderful concert!

Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds

Born in the Czech village of Nelahozeves on the banks of Vltava River just north of Prague, Antonin Dvořák pursued an intense love of music from the very beginning. His father owned an inn, and Antonin would spend a considerable portion of his youth investing his musical passions in the study of the violin. He would play his beloved instrument for the patrons of the inn, and frequently accompanied the music-making at local dances. His father, a zither player, was a butcher in addition to his duties as an innkeeper, and it was expected that his son would follow in his footsteps. But young Antonin had such a natural talent for music that his father had a change of heart and encouraged the young boy to pursue his passions. 

At the age of 12, Antonin moved to Zlonice to live with an aunt and uncle and to begin studying harmony, piano, and organ. It was during this three year period that Dvorak would pen his earliest polkas. One of the music teachers Dvorak studied with during this time hastily wrote to the boy’s father, insisting that Antonin be enrolled at the Institute for Church Music in Prague. Antonin’s father agreed, and after Dvořák completed a two-year course at the Institute, he played the viola in various inns and with theatre bands to make ends meet, in addition to setting up a modest private studio.

In the 1860’s, Dvořák fell on hard times. He could barely afford the paper required to write his music, and his hectic work schedule left little time for composition. Even with the odds stacked against him, the young composer was able to pen two symphonies, numerous songs, works for chamber orchestra, and an opera…all while remaining virtually unknown. His passion for the music of iconic Romantic composers such as Beethoven and Schubert are clear in his early works, and as his compositions matured they began to be increasingly influenced by the styles of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.

Dvořák tutored several students throughout the 1860s, two of which were the sisters Josefina and Anna Čermáková. Antonin’s love for the elder sister went unrequited, but Anna took an interest in the musician and the two soon became inseparable. They were married in November 1873 and endured several years of hardship as Antonin struggled to get his career as a composer established. Everything changed in 1875, when Dvořák was awarded a state grant by the Austrian government that enabled him to pursue composition full-time. This turn of events also afforded him the exposure necessary to make the acquaintance of the Red Hedgehog himself, Johannes Brahms. They developed a lasting friendship, with Brahms offering the occasional piece of compositional advice and connecting Dvořák with influential publisher Fritz Simrock (whose firm would go on to publish Antonin’s “Moravian Duets” and his sensational “Slavonic Dances”). 

After reorchestrating Slavonic Dances for the orchestra in 1878, Dvořák composed a piece of music which he dedicated to well-known Czech music critic Louis Ehlert (to express gratitude for the high praise Ehlert gave his “Slavonic Dances” to all who would listen). This piece of music, his Serenade in D minor, would come to represent a high point in Dvořák’s prolific compositional output. Originally composed for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, and three French horns, Dvořák added optional contrabassoon, cello, and double bass after the work’s first performance. Divided into four movements, the Serenade begins with a Moderate quasi-March before breezing through a Minuetto to develop by way of an invigorating Andante and Allegro movement that gives way to a breathtaking Finale.

The first movement’s quasi-March begins in D minor, and it is immediately apparent just how profoundly the folk music of Czechoslovakia impacted Dvořák’s compositional style. The first theme is sounded, and echoes three more times with the first oboe featured as the soloistic voice throughout. The cello and double bass bring forth unison octaves with the bassoons to create a harmonic breadth that is warm and captivating . The second movement, Minuetto, takes the form of a minuet and trio. The minuet portion of this movement plays out in ternary (ABA) form, and its delicate nature builds to a unique and wholly Czechoslovakian take on the concept of a trio. Throughout these three sections, Dvořák relied primarily on traditional Czech dance forms as his inspiration. The first section of the trio is based on a dance referred to as the “dumka”. Translated in English as “thought”, the dumka finds its origins in folk ballads and laments, and this dance possesses a contrasting grouping of melancholy and lively sections. Dvořák’s dumka repeatedly switches from major to minor keys throughout this first section to alternate between these two emotional states. The second section of the trio, the “furiant”, is well-known in Czech folk music as a fast dance that makes effective use of a hemiola rhythm. Boasting an odd phrase structure, the furiant gives way to a recap of the dumka before transitioning to the third movement.

In the Andante, a persistent motor rhythm in the French horns and cello drive the pace forward, while clarinet and oboe delight in a shared melody above. Expressed in A major (the dominant key for this work) the Andante and Allegro makes full use of the expressive capabilities of both cello and bass. The final movement proudly enters with a forte unison line in all instrumental voices before beginning four major themes in sequence. The first of these is an opening statement in D minor, and we get a taste of the dumka and furiant once more before the piece ends in a flourish of fortissimo triplets (brought forth with tremendous effect by the horns!). The Finale culminates in a fortissimo D major chord played by the full ensemble.

Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor was first heard on 17 November 1878 at a concert exclusively dedicated to Antonin’s works, performed by the orchestra of the Prague Provisional Theatre under the composer’s baton. In that same year, Dvořák’s wife Anna would give birth to the first of six healthy children. Despite past rejections, Antonin remained close with Anna’s older sister Josefina (who married Count Václav Kounic and settled in the small village of Vysoká). The Dvořáks would purchase a house in Vysoká soon afterward, and Antonin would go on to write some of his most prolific works as they spent their remaining summers together in the clear Bohemian air: A fitting retirement for a composer who created one of the most influential Wind Serenades in the history of music.

Mozart’s Serenade for Winds in E Flat

In the late Fall of 1781, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was surprised in the late evening by a group of musicians who had gathered outside the window of his Vienna lodgings to play for him his Wind Serenade No. 11 in E flat major. Mozart was so caught off guard and delighted by what may have been the first musical flash mob that he wrote a letter to his father Leopold about the experience.

“At eleven o’clock last night” the composer writes “I was serenaded by two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons playing my own music. These musicians had the front gate opened for them, and when they had formed in the courtyard, they gave me, just as I was about to undress for bed, the most delightful surprise in the world with the opening E-flat chord.”

Originally composed in early 1781, Mozart’s Wind Serenade No. 11 in E flat major was first performed in Vienna on October 15 of that year. The six musicians who would later gather beneath Mozart’s window delivered the debut performance of the serenade at the Vienna home of court painter Joseph von Hickel. Correspondences between Mozart and his father reveal that the composer wrote Wind Serenade No. 11 “rather carefully”. The ambitious Mozart had hopes that his new musical offering might impress a regular guest of the von Hickels: Joseph von Strack. In addition to being the valet and personal cellist for then Emperor Joseph II of Austria, von Strack was in a perfect position to “pass along a favorable report” of Mozart’s music. 

In the Serenade’s first completed draft, Mozart scored the piece for pairs of horns, clarinets, and bassoons. However, after learning that Emperor Joseph II had recently established a wind octet as his house band of choice, Mozart added two oboe parts to the score. Unfortunately for the composer, this revision was made in vain: Emperor Joseph II was far more interested in giving an audience to established popular music (ballet and opera suites) than newer works. Despite a brilliant first performance, von Strack left the home of Joseph von Hickel knowing that Mozart’s Wind Serenade No. 11 was not anything that the Emperor necessarily want or need to hear. 

But networking difficulties aside, Mozart really struck gold by converting the wind sextet into an octet. The addition of the oboe section provides an earnest warmth that adds several dimensions to the piece. The Serenade is renowned by music historians today as being Mozart’s earliest masterpiece for wind ensemble and has the distinction of being the first great work of its kind by any composer. With five movements (Two framed Allegros and Minuets surrounding an Adagio), the piece is not unlike a deliciously layered trifle dessert.

The Serenade’s first movement, Allegro maestoso, opens with a solemn repeated chord E major chord. This chord is important, serving as an architectural pillar throughout the movement and returning at critical structural moments (such as during the recapitulation sections as well as the coda). The third movement, a grand Adagio, is framed by two minuets: the first of these a highly chromatic C minor, and the second full to the brim with the melodies of classic Austrian folksongs. The Adagio which serves as the center of the entire Serenade contains deeply expressive writing for its wind instruments, rich in character and operatic in its scope. 

Richard Wagner later wrote that Mozart “inspired his instruments with the ardent breath of the human voice to which his genius was overwhelmingly inclined.” There are similarities between his writing for winds in the Adagio of Serenade No.11 and that of the quartet “Andro ramingo e solo,” found in his opera “Idomeneo”. Throughout both exemplary compositional works, the sheer dramatic potential of the wind instrument is elevated to a level that simply had not existed prior to Mozart’s musical efforts. In the Serenade’s Adagio movement, Mozart delivers to the winds a quartet of operatic dimensions. The Serenade’s finale is a breezy and soothing Allegro, and despite bringing forth an impressive fuge-like section consistently retains its lighthearted character. Despite von Strack leaving the party at the von Hickels without feeling the need to talk it up to his boss the Emperor, The premiere version of Mozart’s Wind Serenade No. 11 in E flat major was a raucous hit among partygoers. Mozart fondly recalled to his father via letter that the players reportedly performed his serenade two more times at other parties held later that same evening. “…As soon as they finished playing it in one place,” Mozart wrote, “they were taken off somewhere else and paid to play it.” You can hear your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra bring this classic to life once more at our upcoming Mozart in Prague concert!

Prague’s Don Giovanni

Commissioned after the overwhelming success of his trip to Prague in January and February of 1787, Mozart’s Don Giovanni was originally to have been performed on October 14th of that same year. The occasion was an evening of musical entertainment for the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria (niece of then Emperor Joseph II) while she was visiting Prague. The opera’s subject matter was strategically conceived by Mozart in consideration of the long history of Don Juan operas in Prague. The city lay something of a claim to the character, as the genre of operas featuring Don Juan as a central figure had originated in Prague during the 18th century. 

Don Giovanni’s libretto was written by Mozart’s previous librettist and collaborator Lorenzo Da Ponte. In fact, Da Ponte lifted much of his libretto from that written by Giovani Bertati for the opera Don Giovanni Tenorio, first performed in Venice early in 1787. Among the most important of elements that Da Ponte copied from the production was opening the show with the murder of the Commendatore. Earlier iterations of the classic drama had him bumped off somewhere in the middle of the production. Da Ponte’s libretto was not specific as to where the drama was unfolding, only a mysterious assertion that the action occurs within a “city in Spain”. But Da Ponte’s setting of the action was far from the only uncertainty that would plague this iconic opera’s debut… 

The production itself was forced to undergo so many delays owing to the scattered mind of its composer. Only six months earlier Leopold Mozart had died, and the burden of his loss was still weighing enormously on Mozart. The melodies in his head simply would not align in their usual fashion, and this resulted in an opera that could not be prepared in time for the original performance date of October 14th. In its place, Mozart’s celebrated Marriage of Figaro was substituted by the Emperor himself, and because the musicians of the local theater were already well-acquainted with its music. 

After a tense few weeks, Mozart emerged with the completed score on October 28th. Da Ponte was long gone by this point, having been recalled to Vienna to work on a different opera. History is not clear when the overture was completed, but all accounts agree it was last minute. Some reports tell of the overture being completed the day before the premiere, while others insist that it was finished the very day of the debut performance. 

Originally entitled “Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni – Dramma giocoso in due atti” (The Rake punished, or Don Giovanni, a dramma giocoso in two acts), Don Giovanni brought the house down. Like so many other pieces of Mozart’s music, the Prague audiences were blown away by the complexity and raw power the production emanated. As the local newspaper Prager Oberpostamtzeitung reported, “Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague has never heard the like,” and “the opera … is extremely difficult to perform.” Wising up to the game of Mozart classics debuting in Prague, the Viennese newspaper Provincialnachrichten managed to sneak one of their own into the debut performance, and they reported triumphantly that “Herr Mozart conducted in person and was welcomed joyously and jubilantly by the numerous gathering.” 

Music historians have cited that Don Giovanni represented an significant tonal shift in Mozart’s musical stylings, one brought on no doubt by his father’s passing. Despite his grief, Mozart dug deep within himself to pull forth one of the most visceral and compelling operas that can be seen on the stage today. One only wonders how different the world of classical music might have been if Mozart had not found the stamina to power through that hectic and emotional two-week period before the curtains rose in Prague.

Mozart’s Love of Prague

If one were able to ask Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart why some of his contemporaries were not fans of his music, hearsay might incline one to believe that he would bat away your question and reply “Meine Prager verstehen mich” (“My Praguers understand me”). 

But just how meaningful was Mozart’s music to the city of Prague? The history books are not entirely clear on whether the above quote can be attributed to the classical composer. What they do maintain, however, is that citizens of Prague in the late eighteenth century regarded Mozart as something of a rock star. Most of what we know today of Mozart’s fame during his time in Prague comes to us directly from the mouth of librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (who collaborated with Mozart to create staples of the operatic genre such as Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni). With very little exception, everything Mozart created in Prague was lauded by those who lived and work there as nothing short of genius. So what was it about the people of Prague that rendered them so perceptive when it came to admiring Mozart’s melodies?

Speaking to the discernment which Prague audiences reserved for Mozart’s music, Da Ponte is quoted as having remarked “It is not easy to convey…the enthusiasm [Prague’s citizens had] for Mozart’s music. The pieces which were admired least of all in other countries were regarded by [Prague’s citizens] as things divine; and, more wonderful still, the great beauties which other nations discovered in the music of that rare genius only after many, many performances, were perfectly appreciated by the [people of Prague] on the very first evening.”

So what was the catalyst for Mozart’s stardom taking off in Prague? Mozart was originally invited to Prague by a group of musicians and patrons because of how well his Marriage of Figaro had been received just one year earlier at the city’s National Theatre. And while the compositions of “Don Giovanni” and “La clemenza di Tito” certainly cemented him as a household name in the Golden City, it was Mozart’s performance of his “Prague Symphony” in 1787 that turned the everyday “Praguer” into a die-hard Amadeus fan. 

It is speculated by music historians that Mozart’s intricate writing for wind instruments within his Prague Symphony could point towards that work being fashioned specifically with Prague in mind. Certainly not every title given to a symphonic work reflects the inspirational force behind the piece’s inception. Yet the wind instrumentalists of Czechoslovakia were so well-known throughout Europe during Mozart’s life that it seems plausible the wigged wunderkind may have timed his performance of the Prague Symphony somewhat strategically. The people of Prague had established a strong ethno-musical identity through their efforts with wind instruments, and the Prague press attributed Marriage of Figaro’s success at least partially to Mozart’s “skillful deployment of wind instruments.” 

Whether or not the winds were what won the people of Prague over, it has been firmly established that the Prague Symphony was not performed in Vienna before Praguers got a chance to hear it for themselves. That was enough of a respectful gesture in and of itself, as Vienna was one of the go-to centers for musical innovation at the time. It must have been refreshing for the musical innovation of Mozart to come to Prague for a change. And having had a chance to revel in the immortalization of their city name through a Mozart symphony, the people of Prague had something on the cusp of musical fashion to share with Vienna for a change! 

In any event, Mozart’s arrival in Prague caused a ripple effect of wholly positive musical proportions, one that brought forth a major advance in Mozart’s symphonic technique through the wind instrumentation of the Prague Symphony. Imitations of this very technique would find thier way into his final symphonies, and would be emulated by the likes of Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would return to Prague many times before illness took him in that great city at far too young an age. And while he was was laid to rest in Vienna with few mourners and without any special performance of music, the first memorial service given in his honor was held in in Prague on the 14th of December, 1791. The service was attended by thousands of Praguers and featured a lavish Requiem mass performed by over a hundred musicians who refused to be paid for their efforts. So, in the end, one could say with conviction that Mozart’s Praguers really did understand him, and that they gave back to the brilliant composer just as much as he gave them in the dedication and performance of his unforgettable 38th Symphony.

Local Gift Guide

We asked our musicians and staff to come up with their favourite local spots for holiday shopping. Looking for some last minute gift ideas? Check out our local gift guides! You can visit our retail page for gift cards, prints, and more!