254 can­dles

Pasatiempo - - Pop Cd Reviews - Craig Smith I For The New Mex­i­can

Peo­ple tend to make a big fuss over birthdays, whether the oc­ca­sion marks their own an­niver­sary or that of a fam­ily mem­ber, lover, or friend— or per­haps even a pet. Most such cel­e­bra­tions of a natal day are doubt­less driven by true af­fec­tion, per­haps with a tinge of guilt added. The idea that any ex­cuse for a party is a good ex­cuse may also come into play. But lurk­ing even deeper, one will prob­a­bly find the su­per­sti­tious feel­ing that, hav­ing put Death off for an­other year, we might as well laugh at hav­ing missed the scythe, for who knows what the next 12 months will bring?

Mozart only cel­e­brated 35 birthdays in his short life from Jan. 27, 1756, to Dec. 5, 1791, and many of them were mark­ers of stag­ger­ingly event­ful ex­pe­ri­ences. Beethoven man­aged to pack 56 birthdays into his tu­mul­tuous life, though we have to go by his bap­tismal date of Dec. 17, 1770, in lieu of a recorded birth date; his death date was March 26, 1827. The two may have met in Vi­enna in spring of 1787, when the young Beethoven was there au­di­tion­ing and prospect­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties, but mod­ern schol­ar­ship is un­able to con­firm or deny the meet­ing. There’s no deny­ing that Mozart’s works in­spired Beethoven greatly over the course of time.

Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica cel­e­brates Mozart’s birth­day and also his artis­tic link to Beethoven with two up­com­ing con­certs. On Thurs­day, Jan. 28, the Pro Mu­sica Cham­ber Or­ches­tra con­ducted by Thomas O’Con­nor ob­serves Mozart’s birth­day, and they per­form a Beethoven pro­gram on Satur­day, Jan. 30. Amer­i­can pi­anist Con­rad Tao is the fea­tured soloist on both con­certs.

At 15, Tao is al­ready an es­tab­lished artist; and like Mozart, he took to pi­ano very early— he was re­port­edly play­ing chil­dren’s songs at 18 months, and he gave his first pub­lic recital at age 4. His pro­fes­sional con­certo de­but came at 8, when he played the Mozart Con­certo in A Ma­jor, K. 414, with the Utah Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val Or­ches­tra. Mozart, of course, grew up steeped in mu­sic; both he and his older sis­ter Maria Anna, “Nan­nerl,” were taught from tod­dler age by their pro­fes­sional-fid­dler fa­ther, Leopold. Tao is now a com­poser, but Mozart has him beat there. His first com­po­si­tions— those that have been kept, at any rate— date from age 5, and he was soon churn­ing them out steadily. Churn­ing isn’t a bad verb, ei­ther, though it car­ries no te­dious con­no­ta­tion here: Mozart wrote as eas­ily as he thought.

Mozart toured Europe with his fa­ther and of­ten his sis­ter as a child, off and on from 1762 through 1773, so some­times Jan. 27 would be cel­e­brated on the road,

some­times at home. He was just shy of 15 when his first opera se­ria, Mitri­date, re di Ponto, had its pre­miere, al­most ex­actly a month be­fore his 15th birth­day. The first birth­day that came af­ter his mar­riage to Con­stanzeWe­ber in Au­gust 1782 must have been a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. The fi­nal birth­day came in 1791, the year in which The Magic Flute had its tri­umphant pre­miere.

Pro Mu­sica’s con­cert comes very close to Mozart’s 254th birth­day. The Pi­ano Con­certo No. 22 in E-flat Ma­jor, in which Tao will solo, dates from De­cem­ber 1785, when Mozart had just turned 29. A let­ter from Leopold to Nan­nerl dated Jan. 13, 1786, notes that “I have had only one re­ply from your brother, dated De­cem­ber 28th, in which he said that he gave without much prepa­ra­tion three sub­scrip­tion con­certs to 120 sub­scribers, that he com­posed for this pur­pose a new pi­ano con­cert in E-flat, in which (a rather un­usual oc­cur­rence!), he had to re­peat the An­dante.”

The other pro­grammed piece, the Sym­phony No. 41 in C Ma­jor, K. 551, nick­named “Jupiter,” dates from three years later, in 1788. It’s one of three com­posed that sum­mer: the two pre­ced­ing, the Nos. 39 and 40, were com­pleted in late June and July, re­spec­tively. The “Jupiter” — a nick­name it re­ceived later— was fin­ished Aug. 10.

Tao moves on to a beloved Beethoven con­certo for the Jan. 30 con­cert — the con­certo in G Ma­jor, op. 58. The mu­sic-mak­ing be­gins with one of Beethoven’s most fa­mous works, the Sym­phony No. 5 in C Mi­nor, with its oft-im­i­tated “da-da-da dah” open­ing rhythm. This work has al­most be­come ob­scured over time by the many leg­ends as­so­ci­ated with the theme and by its con­stant im­i­ta­tion in other me­dia, from rock to film to pop mu­sic.

One leg­end, from Beethoven’s friend An­ton Schindler, has it that the com­poser re­ferred to it as “Fate knock­ing at the door.” Mu­sic his­to­ri­ans, how­ever, doubt Schindler’s ve­rac­ity; he was writ­ing years af­ter Beethoven’s death and is known to have forged some en­tries in the deaf com­poser’s con­ver­sa­tion books. An­other pos­si­ble source comes from Beethoven pupil Carl Cz­erny, the pi­anist-com­poser, who said that the theme came to the com­poser from a bird singing in Vi­enna’s Prater— a yel­lowham­mer, to be ex­act. Oh, not a wood­pecker?

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