WHEN MOZART LAUGHS
“Stop!” Daniel Hope wants to exclaim when Mozart’s Violin Concerto K 216 begins to pick up speed. “The opening bars still show us a sublime and noble world, but Mozart then breaks out of it with a single phrase and never really returns. He continues to make new discoveries, constantly spinning and turning. None of this is the result of his love of pure virtuosity however, but stems from his extraordinary talent. Every time I play Mozart I can’t even begin to fathom the scale of his genius.”
This Mozartian miracle becomes even greater when we compare K 216 with Joseph Haydn’s magnificent Violin Concerto Hob. VIIa:4, also in G major. It was written in 1768, seven years before Mozart’s, by a composer who was his elder by twenty-four years. Daniel Hope says that Haydn’s concerto is a jewel – but that Mozart’s is a revelation. “Haydn remains rooted in beauty, whereas Mozart really takes off. With Haydn I hear elegance and nobility: a perfect style filled with a sense of propriety. Mozart, too, champions these virtues but this is not enough for him – he simply can’t leave it at that.” Haydn beautifully embellishes the key of G major, Daniel Hope emphasizes, but Mozart opens it up in such a way that the key itself is almost no longer tangible. And the simplicity of the melody in the second movement – for Daniel Hope this Adagio is one of the most beautiful ever written – reminds him of Schubert.
Would a piece by Schubert have been a more obvious way of bringing this Journey to Mozart to its conclusion?
Perhaps, but this album not only guides us towards Mozart, it also leads us away again. Daniel Hope chooses an unexpected course. In his 1810 D major Romance for violin and strings, Johann Peter Salomon sought to develop Mozart’s thinking and take it in a more Romantic direction. Salomon is a scintillating figure. As a concert promoter he introduced Haydn to London audiences, and it was probably he who named Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 the “Jupiter”.
In Journey to Mozart, Daniel Hope explores the world of Mozart by demonstrating what was written before and after him. “This album is a reflection of the Age as
I see and hear it.” The other works included here are by composers whom Mozart publicly acknowledged or with whom he was in personal contact. One such composer is Christoph Willibald Gluck.
“Gluck was revolutionary,” says Daniel Hope enthusiastically. “His wig is deceptive.” With Mozart we know about the unfathomable depths of his music, but with
Gluck, too, we can discern an equally uncanny depth and honesty in his compositions. Daniel Hope says that this was sometimes frowned upon at the time. “Not
everything could be expressed in music. Indeed, certain dances were censored.” But Gluck refused to be put off by this and did exactly what he felt he had to do – and,
what’s more, he did it with tremendous expression. The Dance of the Furies from Orfeo ed Euridice that opens this album must have come as a shock to contemporary
Daniel Hope has great respect for many of the composers who were later eclipsed by Mozart: “There’s a mass of fêted and hugely talented composers, each of whom influenced the next one, assimilating ideas from many different sources.” This point is clearly audible in the Violin Concerto in D major by Josef Mysliveček that
dates from 1769. Bohemian by birth, Mysliveček was celebrated in Italy. Daniel Hope sees him as closer to Mozart than to Haydn in terms of his technique: there
is the same sort of delight in virtuosity with Mysliveček, whereas Haydn is more interested in expression. In his violin concertos Haydn never wanted merely to impress.
But Journey to Mozart also traces another expedition, namely, the one that Daniel Hope and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra are currently undertaking. “Each
time I play Mozart with someone, I hear his music from an entirely different angle. In Zurich I’m experiencing this in a particularly exciting way. Our journey together has already lasted many years, but now we’re undertaking it as a family.” Earlier Daniel Hope was a guest soloist with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, but since the autumn of 2016 he has become its Music Director and has already left his mark within a short space of time.
Daniel Hope has rediscovered Mozart on this journey. “He is the greatest inspiration and at the same time an enigma. Each time I engage with Mozart, I realize how
much we can all learn from him. And just when you think that you’ve understood him, you realize that you’re further away from him than ever before. You should never think ‘Now I know you, Mozart’.” As a musician, however, you have to come to terms with Mozart as man and artist. And at some point you have to venture an interpretation: you have to try to continue your own quest whilst at the same time knowing that you’ll never really get close to him: “There are times when I’m almost inclined to curse him, although I could never do so. For that I love him too much.”
What remains is the question of how it is possible to achieve the extraordinary lightness that Daniel Hope and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra have succeeded in finding. Thinking about this, we recall a single brief moment at a Mozart rehearsal with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. After the musicians had repeated a phrase countless times and the much-debated eight bars suddenly made sense, there was total silence in the hall. The achievement was scarcely greeted by even so much as a smile before the usual hubbub of instruments rehearsing began all over again. Daniel Hope smiles and says that something like this works only when the thousand considerations, the notes and the pencil markings in the scores disappear again behind the music. “If you intend to take account of twenty-five different suggestions within the space of three bars, then things are bound to become difficult.”
Gluck provides Journey to Mozart with its frenzied opening. But it is Mozart who has the last word with an arrangement of the final Rondo alla turca (“Turkish
March”) from his Keyboard Sonata in A major K 331. We can almost envisage Mozart cocking a snook at his colleagues, especially when we recall what he wrote in a letter to his father: “As far as music is concerned, I’m among beasts and brutes.” And to Haydn: “You’re the exception, but all other composers are veritable asses!” Daniel Hope does not refute this suggestion but says something more beautiful and conciliatory: “He’s laughing! And in this I see that this impertinent, vain and brilliant young man was also a human being. That’s why I feel even more respect for him: the genius leads us a merry dance.”
Christian Berzins / Translation: texthouse