hey ms. dj

for those of you who aren’t (yet) listening to *stumptown’s 89.9, let me just say it’s easily the most kick-ass classical radio station in the country.  seriously.  there are a million reasons why this is true, but high on the list are the brilliant announcers spinning all those oldies but goodies.  morning host brandi parisi was super-nice enough to write about mozart’s final symphony, which carlos and the band will be playing tomorrow and monday at the schnitz.  ms. parisi, the floor is yours:

Woody Allen said it “proves the existence of God.”  Pieces by Mozart inspire high praise, but few to the degree of his 41st symphony – the Jupiter.

In the early-to-mid 90’s, I was working in my first professional radio position in Atlanta.  My boss and music director was Lois Reitzes, an Atlanta radio icon and truly THE voice of classical music in the south, as she continues to be to this day.  Lois’ encyclopedic music knowledge and distinctive delivery sometimes belied her fantastic sense of humor and appreciation for serendipity.  (and the fact that she was quite a bit younger than most listeners knew!)  One of the perks of working in radio is access to great music libraries, and few of us are immune to the occasional indulgence… to this end, Lois had a tradition of playing the corresponding Mozart symphony on her birthday each year during her show.  A great idea in theory (Mozart on my birthday? Yes please!), until one runs up against a small problem of numbers which has the potential to turn disturbingly existential: Mozart only wrote 41 symphonies.

Mozart composed his last two symphonies in a matter of 6 weeks.  Other (incredibly talented) composers of course have spent years on a single symphony that doesn’t begin to hold a candle to these.  It couldn’t have been an easy time though… by most accounts Mozart was not at a high point in his career.  He was in debt, he wasn’t getting commissions, and popular interest had turned to other, lesser composers.  In fact, there’s some indication that the event for which the 41st was written (a concert celebrating the opening of a casino) was likely cancelled, due to lack of interest.

Despite that, the composer was determined to create something revolutionary, and he did just that.  The 4th movement weaves five different themes (counterpoint) along with baroque elements, imitations, and fugues, but with a different kind of repetitive/non-repetitive structure.  Some say the work foreshadows Beethoven more than any other piece by Mozart, while others point out that the piece deliberately glances back to baroque and WAY back with the use of a Gregorian melody as one of the themes.  In a sense, this final movement encapsulates music history up to that point, while it looks forward to romanticism.  Mozart died at the young age of 35, just when his music was moving from the realm of merely wonderful to awe-inspiring.  He’s one of those guys that we have to sadly ask: 5, 20, 50 more years, what would he have done?

When Lois hit the Jupiter year I remember her being pretty philosophical about it.  Not thrilled, but with good humor and a joke about moving on to Haydn (at 104 symphonies, realistically we should be covered).  In 2001 I took a music director position, and naively adopted Lois’s tradition.  Heck I was only 31 at the time – I had a full decade to worry about turning 41 and my own Jupiter year.  And boy that decade flew.  Coincidentally, this year has seen an unusual amount of death of people very close to me, and an acute awareness of time and institutions passing.  Perhaps I’ll switch to Haydn on my 42nd, but I think it’s more likely I’ll let this small institution pass as well.  The Jupiter is a good way to end it.


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