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In the last days of his life, Anton Bruckner was still working on a masterpiece dedicated “to beloved God”. His complex Ninth Symphony embodies a mixture of late Romanticism and Modernism. The first half of the programme features a lighter genre – the Violin Concerto No. 5 by Bruckner’s compatriot Mozart played by concertmaster Jan Mráček.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K 219 (31')
Rondeau – Tempo di menuetto – Allegro
— Intermission —
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, WAB 109 (63')
Feierlich, misterioso (Solemn, mysterious)
Scherzo. Bewegt, lebhaft; Trio. Schnell (Scherzo. Animated, lively; Trio. Fast)
Adagio. Langsam, feierlich (Adagio. Slow, solemn)
Jan Mráček violin
Franz Welser-Möst conductor
About 120 years separate Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto from Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. In music history, this is the period stretching from Classicism to Late Romanticism, a time of great political and social change. The Austrian Empire where both composers were born and lived became Austria-Hungary, went through various wars and revolutions, and witnessed sweeping scientific discoveries and the industrial revolution. Above all, the works contrast in mood: the feelings that reign supreme in Mozart’s concerto are joy, youthfulness, lightness, and carefree playfulness, while in Bruckner’s symphony, written at the very end of his life, the themes are existential.
The Czech violinist Jan Mráček was born in 1991 in Pilsen and began studying violin at the age of five with Magdaléna Micková. From 2003 he studied with Jiří Fišer, graduating with honors from the Prague Conservatory in 2013, and until recently at the University of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna under the guidance of the Vienna Symphony concertmaster Jan Pospíchal.
As a teenager he enjoyed his first major successes, winning numerous competitions, participating in the master classes of Maestro Václav Hudeček – the beginning of a long and fruitful association. He won the Czech National Conservatory Competition in 2008, the Hradec International Competition with the Dvořák concerto and the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009, was the youngest Laureate of the Prague Spring International Festival competition in 2010, and in 2011 he became the youngest soloist in the history of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 2014 he was awarded first prize at Fritz Kreisler International Violin Competition at the Vienna Konzerthaus. When the victory of Jan Mráček was confirmed, there was thunderous applause from the audience and the jury. The jury president announced, “Jan is a worthy winner. He has fascinated us from the first round. Not only with his technical skills, but also with his charisma on stage.”
Jan Mráček has performed as a soloist with world’s orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, St Louis Symphony, Symphony of Florida, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Kuopio Symphony Orchestra, Romanian Radio Symphony, Lappeenranta City Orchestra (Finland) as well as the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK), Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava and almost all Czech regional orchestras.
Jan Mráček had the honor of being invited by Maestro Jiří Bělohlávek to guest lead the Czech Philharmonic in their three concert residency at Vienna’s Musikverein, and the European Youth Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda and Xian Zhang on their 2015 summer tour. He has been a concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic since 2018.
In 2008 he joined the Lobkowicz Piano Trio, which was awarded first prize and the audience prize at the International Johannes Brahms Competition in Pörtschach, Austria in 2014. His recording of the Dvořák violin concerto and other works by this Czech composer under James Judd with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra was recently released on the Onyx label and has received excellent reviews.
Jan Mráček plays on a Carlo Fernando Landolfi violin, Milan 1758, generously loaned to him by Mr Peter Biddulph.
In 2021 he received Jiří Bělohlávek Award from the Czech Philharmonic.
For 18 years, Franz Welser-Möst has shaped an unmistakable sound culture as Musical Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Under his leadership, the orchestra has been repeatedly praised by international critics for its musical excellence. Through innovative projects and co-operations, young audiences have been continuously approached and consulted and, as a result of these initiatives, 20% of all Cleveland Orchestra concertgoers are now under 25 years old. Welser-Möst has brought numerous world premieres and opera productions to Severance Hall. In addition to orchestral residencies in the USA, Europe and China, he and the Cleveland Orchestra are regular guests at all the major international festivals.
As a guest conductor, Franz Welser-Möst enjoys a particularly close and productive artistic partnership with the Vienna Philharmonic. He has twice appeared on the podium for their celebrated New Yearʼs Concert, and regularly conducts the orchestra in subscription concerts at the Vienna Musikverein, as well as on tours in Japan, China, Australia and the USA. Welser-Möst and the Vienna Philharmonic have also performed together at historical memorial concerts in Sarajevo and Versailles.
Franz Welser-Möst is also a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival where he has set new standards in interpretation as an opera conductor with recent performances including Rusalka, Der Rosenkavalier, Fidelio, Die Liebe der Danae, Aribert Reimannʼs opera Lear and Richard Straussʼ Salome, with which he made festival history in 2018. Due to the incredible success of the production, Salome will be brought back to the festival program in 2019, as Rosenkavalier was after its first summer performances with Welser-Möst at the Festival in 2014.
Franz Welser-Möst has been the recipient of a number of major honours and awards. He is Honorary Member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, winner of the Vienna Philharmonicʼs Honorary Ring and has been awarded the Kilenyi Medal of the Bruckner Society of America as well as the Kennedy Center Gold Medal in the Arts.
His discography is extensive, with numerous CDs and DVDs having been awarded major international prizes. Recent recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra have included the symphonies of Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner. His Salzburg opera productions, including Rosenkavalier, which was awarded a number of international prizes, have been released internationally on DVD by Unitel.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s five concertos for violin and orchestra represent a compact group of works all composed in 1775 (K 207, 211, 216, 218, and 219). Mozart, 19 years of age, was playing in the orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg and held the position of second concertmaster, so he may have composed the concertos for himself as soloist and premiered them. He truly understood the violin, having learned it from childhood from his father Leopold, a master of the instrument who even published an important didactic treatise on the fundamentals of violin playing (Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule). The young Mozart gradually familiarised himself with the violin literature and especially with the works of Italian masters like Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli. He also came to know Italian music during his travels to Italy, where he heard one of the best violin virtuosos of the day, Pietro Nardini, experienced playing violin together with Nardini’s young pupil Thomas Linley, and simply absorbed the atmosphere: “A violinist lives above us, another below us, next to us is a singing teacher who gives lessons, and an oboist is living in the last room opposite us. That’s fun for composing!” (Mozart’s letter from Milan to his sister Nannerl, 1771). He drew more impressions from travels around western Europe and Germany.
It was against this background that Mozart composed his Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major (K 219), sometimes called the “Turkish Concerto”. In three movements, the work maintains the fast-slow-fast layout of the classical concerto, but within it the composer demonstrates his originality and imagination. For example, in the first movement after the opening Allegro there is a short but heartfelt violin solo passage (Adagio), but the most famous peculiarity of the concerto is the “Turkish” theme in the trio of the final movement, where there is a change of metre and key, and in contrast with the graceful menuetto, an episode inspired by the music of Janissary bands bursts onto the scene. Mozart imitates the exotic character of such music with strong rhythms, chromatic runs, and col legno playing (using the wooden part of the bow) by the cellos and basses. In those days, this was a fashionable trend and definitely not a reminder of aggression from the South or East. Other composers also wrote such Turkish music, and it is familiar to us from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and his Piano Sonata in A major (K 331) with its famous march “alla Turca”. The orchestration is transparent, especially compared with the forces used in the Bruckner symphony that follows.
The number nine is sometimes said to play an important role in symphonic works. Ludwig van Beethoven, Antonín Dvořák, Gustav Mahler, and Anton Bruckner all wrote nine symphonies; if they began writing a tenth, it remained unfinished or just in sketches. Bruckner, however, did not finish even his Ninth Symphony; its fourth movement exists only in fragments (WAB 143) that experts have tried to reconstruct from time to time. Besides that, he also composed other symphonies that are not numbered. The idea that there is something about ninth symphonies that is magical or fatal to their creators is a bit of a conspiracy theory. More important is the fact that at a certain point in a composers’ lives, they feel the need to gather together their most profound thoughts and to express themselves about the most serious subjects (freedom, death, faith…). Logically, they deal with such inspiration at an advanced age in their final works, but the symphony might just as easily be an eighth (Kabeláč) or even a fifteenth (Shostakovich).
Anton Bruckner regarded the symphony as the most important musical form, but he asserted himself only slowly as a composer and especially as a symphonist, and he did not earn wider recognition until the premiere of his Fourth Symphony in the early 1880s. As an organist, however, he was highly acclaimed. He was born to the family of a teacher, and he continued the family tradition: he graduated from a teachers’ institute in Linz, then he taught and played organ in several places. He was probably happiest at the Augustinian monastery Sankt Florian where he got his start and where he was buried years later. He had a chance to become the organist at the cathedral in Olomouc (competition in 1855), but he did not win the position. His fame, however, is shown by the concerts he gave in France and England. He inspected the organ at the newly built Rudolfinum (Prague 1884), and he played at Franz Liszt’s funeral (Bayreuth 1886) as well as for a joyous occasion in the imperial family—the wedding of Archduchess Marie Valerie of Habsburg-Lorraine (Bad Ischl 1890). From the end of the 1860s he taught at the Vienna Conservatoire and from 1875 at the city’s university. He is said to have been unassertive, yet he desired the title of professor. Despite his modesty, he was rather stubborn in adhering tenaciously to his revered role model Richard Wagner despite the feud between Vienna’s Anti-Wagnerites and the proponents of programme music and musical dramas.
Bruckner began composing his Symphony No. 9 in D minor (WAB 109) in 1887 while also revising his eighth, second, and third symphonies. It is no wonder that work on such a huge composition dragged on and was not finished because Bruckner suffered ill health near the end of his life, and he died while composing the last movement (1896). Even so, the three extant movements (I. Feierlich, misterioso – II. Scherzo. Bewegt, lebhaft; Trio. Schnell – III. Adagio. Langsam, feierlich) contain about an hour of music that respects in many ways the legacy of past epochs (Bruckner admired Beethoven’s symphonies and saw himself as Beethoven’s successor), but that also surpasses earlier music in terms of harmony, handling of dissonance, and instrumentation. Bruckner is said to have consecrated the work to the “beloved God” in whom he believed; sensing that he would lot live to finish the final movement, he suggested ending the symphony with his Te Deum (WAB 45). Ferdinand Löwe performed the Ninth Symphony in Vienna in 1903, but with such radical alterations to the score that it could hardly be called a real premiere. It was not until 1932 that Bruckner’s last work was rehearsed by Siegmund von Hausegger with more reverence for the text and was performed in Munich. The existence of a draft of the final fourth movement will always raise questions about what it might have sounded like had Bruckner finished it. In view of Bruckner’s custom—almost a mania—of improving, revising, and reworking his compositions, I cannot help but wonder timidly what he still would have changed in his “Ninth” if he had been given the chance.