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The concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Jan Fišer is making a special appearance leading a chamber orchestra in a programme of works of the Classical era with beautiful violin solos.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Serenade No. 7 in D major, K 250, “Haffner” (55')
— Intermission —
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D 485 (30')
Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Jan Fišer violin, artistic director
“It is the fulfilment of a dream we shared with Jiří Bělohlávek: after two years of preparations, we are ushering in regular concerts of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. This name does not stand for one particular ensemble; instead it represents a project in which the orchestra members will be performing in various chamber groups,” said David Mareček, Chief Executive Officer of the Czech Philharmonic, in the spring of 2018. Jiří Bělohlávek was convinced that it was healthy for the Czech Philharmonic to play in a smaller ensemble. In a smaller orchestra, with a repertoire spanning the Baroque to the present, the musicians can hone the intonation, phrasing and collaboration of individuals within the whole. The Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, consisting exclusively of the members of the Czech Philharmonic put together for a specific occasion, has been officially established in the 123rd season.
Jan Fišer is one of the most impressive young Czech violinists. He has been notably successful at international competitions and has collaborated with a number of leading orchestras and chamber music performers at home and abroad. Since 2004 he has been the concertmaster of the Prague Philharmonia, and since 2020 he has held the same position with the Czech Philharmonic. With the pianist Ivo Kahánek and the cellist Tomáš Jamník he belongs to the Dvořák Trio, which enjoys success on concert stages both in the Czech Republic and abroad. Jan Fišer also teaches—he is one of the mentors of the MenART Scholarship Academy, and he gives instruction regularly at music courses including the Ševčík Academy in Horažďovice and at the Music Academy in Telč. He is a graduate of the Prague Conservatoire, where he studied violin under Jaroslav Foltýn, and in 2003 he completed his studies at Carnegie Mellon University under Andrés J. Cárdenes. Thereafter he took part in masterclasses with Stephen B. Shipps, Pinchas Zukerman, Gil Shaham, and Joseph Silverstein. He plays a French violin from the early 19th century attributed to Francois-Louis Pique, which has been lent to him through the generosity of the Fidula Foundation.
On 12 January 1776 at the Munich Court Opera, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera La finta giardiniera (The Feigned Gardener Girl) had its very successful premiere. Not yet 20 years old, the composer attempted to use his success to obtain a position in the Bavarian court in order to escape the services of Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg. The elector, however, told Mozart that he did not have a position for him at the moment, undoubtedly after having consulted Colloredo, who was also present at the premiere in Munich, so the composer had no choice but to return home to Salzburg. Mozart’s disappointment does not appear to have been too great because at home he was churning out joyous, internally balanced music. He wanted to do musical experiments, to break away from established customs, and to try out non-traditional solutions. Serenades, divertimentos, cassations, and nocturnes offered him a broad range of possibilities, and he had no lack of commissions for such works. Mozart never underestimated this kind of music for entertainment, which we would now call popular music. It was he who brought this genre of music to its zenith, together with his contemporaries Johann Wendt, Franz Krommer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Mozart’s serenades constituted a completely equal counterpart to his symphonies; in them, the composer arrived at his mature style sooner than in his operas and symphonies. This is especially true of the three wind serenades from the years 1780–1782: the Tenth Serenade in B flat major, K 361 (Gran Partita), the Eleventh Serenade in E flat major, K 375, and the Twelfth Serenade in C minor, K 388 (Nacht Musique). The latter should not be confused with Mozart’s Thirteenth Serenade, A Little Night Music, K 525, which is yet another gem.
Mozart’s Seventh Serenade, the lengthy orchestral Haffner Serenade in D major, K 250, was composed on commission for the important townsman and Salzburg dignitary Sigmund Haffner. Mozart finished composing the work at the last moment, as was his custom, on 20 July 1776, just in time for it to be heard at the wedding of Haffner’s daughter Elisabeth. Haffner, who commissioned the work, was an important figure and a successful merchant who financed the construction and operation of Salzburg’s hospitals, educational institutions, and monasteries. To this day, there is a Sigmund Haffner-Strasse in the middle of Salzburg. Mozart was also well acquainted with his son Sigmund Haffner, jnr., who was apparently far from saintly. In a letter to his son, Leopold Mozart wrote: “his father gave him his freedom and independence too early, and logically that led to licentiousness”; he was notorious for his “distasteful affair with his stableboy” and also for “living with a black woman”, for which papa Haffner ultimately disinherited him. Nonetheless, in 1782 the younger Haffner, the same age as Mozart, succeeded at getting himself elevated to the nobility, and for the occasion, he dedicated to him the Haffner Symphony, K 385. This was supposedly also at the request of Leopold, who seems not to have been bothered by the earlier scandals under the changed circumstances.
Into his eight-movement Haffner Serenade, Mozart incorporated a “concerto intercalare” (inserted concerto). The second, third, and fourth movements actually constitute a three-movement concerto with a solo violin part (Andante – Menuetto – Rondeau). Mozart mastered violin playing perfectly although he preferred to play the viola later in Vienna. In Salzburg, he often played the violin for musical productions in the salons of the nobility and burghers. Incidentally, Mozart’s wonderful violin concertos in G major and A major also date from this same period.
The power of the music of the Haffner Serenade comes not only from the composer’s extraordinary inventiveness and diverse yet distinctive means of expression, but also, above all, from the masterful conception of the work as a whole. It is full of wonderful moments and striking details such as the premonition of the march theme in the introduction to the first movement, which is then developed in the sonata-form Molto allegro. Or there is the anticipation of the rondo theme in the Adagio, which undergoes a gradual transformation of metre and tempo until it reaches the rondo’s Allegro assai. Finally, there are the three menuets of entirely differing expressive character, especially in the case of the second one in the “dark” key of G minor. The Haffner Serenade is the work of a mature composer, and in its day it represented an entirely new standard of quality in its genre.
In Vienna on 16 June 1816, Franz Schubert took part at one of many musical entertainments. We do not know any details about the circumstances of the soiree, but we do know that Mozart’s music was heard there. When the composer returned home, he wrote in his diary: “This bright, clear, beautiful day will remain in my memory all my life. I hear the magical tones of Mozart’s music as if from afar. What an incredibly powerful yet tender impression his music has left in the depths of my heart… Neither time nor any other circumstances shall erase the mark left upon my soul… It shows us bright, clear distances in the darkness of our lives.” This entry is the key to Schubert’s personality and to his artistic credo. It also largely explains the origins of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony composed soon thereafter in September and October of 1816.
In his previous Fourth Symphony, Schubert wished to express his admiration for his great contemporary Beethoven. He gave the work the rather theatrical subtitle Tragic, but despite all of his efforts, he did not achieve what he set out to do. He was simply an entirely different kind of musician and person. Schubert was able to express the tragic in a different musical genre—the Lied—to utter perfection. Perhaps by composing his Fourth Symphony, he was trying to attain a goal he had set for himself, and after having done so, he set off in a different direction. He turned his attention to Mozart, whose music was far closer to him.
Schubert was also a typical representative of the Biedermeier period, lifestyle, and artistic movement that dominated bourgeois culture of the first half of the 19th century. The word Biedermeier was first used by the German poet Joseph Victor von Scheffel for what is also sometimes called the “bourgeois Empire style”. In music, this style is characterised by melodiousness, plainness, simplicity, intimacy, naturalness, fondness for nature, and love of folk music. The lifestyle was one of balance, moderation, and friendship. The ability to manage one’s finances and affairs, honesty, and respect for hard work were important values. Had Mozart not died prematurely and survived into the Biedermeier period, many things would have seemed unfamiliar to him. His existence had always been directly dependent upon the favour of the aristocracy. However, the Napoleonic Wars had been ruinous for Austria, and the state’s bankruptcy in 1811 mostly afflicted the nobility, devaluating their vast property holdings. That was the end of generous patronage, and the bourgeoisie in the cities quickly understood this and began standing on their own feet. Vienna’s townsfolk began gathering in the evening in their own salons, lavishly equipped with ostentatious factory-made (and therefore cheaper) furnishings. There, they listened to music and poetry, performed Hausmusik and held debates about the arts. At these friendly gatherings, the aesthetics of Romanticism took shape, and there arose a generation of Romantic poets, painters, and musicians including Franz Schubert.
Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat major is a distinctive, musically brilliant tribute to Mozart. It exudes a mood of carefree gaiety, vigour, and immediacy while using compositional procedures borrowed from Mozart’s late style. Everything is taking place in a subtle spirit of intimacy and delicacy (one might say in the Biedermeier manner). The orchestra without clarinets, trumpets, trombones, or timpani seems a bit limited; Otto Hartig’s modest private orchestra played the symphony, and the composer apparently took the forces available at the moment into consideration. Schubert’s Fifth Symphony shared the fate of his other symphonies: it was given a private premiere at Schottenhof, Hartig’s home, in the autumn of 1816, but there was no real, full-fledged public premiere until 17 October 1841 at the Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna, 13 years after Schubert’s death. Johannes Brahms was the editor of the first printed edition, issued in 1885.
Franz Schubert’s Fifth Symphony radiates with Mozart’s proverbial sunshine. In the opening movement, it is not until the first forte that one recognises that the music is not by Mozart, and the doubt persists almost until the end of the composition. The music is joyous, carefree, and crystal clear. The second movement is full of ardour; the slow movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony unfailingly comes to mind. By contrast, the menuet is full of energy, while the trio section is a pastoral dance. The excitingly ferocious finale, bursting with joy and vigour, makes perfect use of imitation technique. In this symphony, Franz Schubert, “a pilgrim seeking his happiness in vain”, is giving away happiness by the handful.