Saturday, May 14, 2016
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Betty Oberacker, piano
- Mozart: Variations on a Theme of Gluck K. 455
- Schubert: Sonata in B-flat, D. 960
One of the highlights of Santa Barbara Music Club’s concerts is the opportunity for audiences to hear great music from a variety of historical periods, with a diversity of musical forms, performed by excellent artists. This concert features internationally renowned pianist Betty Oberacker in a program featuring masterworks by Mozart and Schubert.
The program opens with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s delightful – but seldom performed – Variations in G major on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455. The work was written in 1783, just after Mozart had returned from six triumphant weeks in Prague, where he had finally been accorded the kind of musical success he had so long sought, and it was this background of elation and gratitude in which he composed these ten variations on an aria from Gluck’s comic opera, Die Pilgrimme von Mekka (The Pilgrims of Mecca); Mozart was obviously taken with the sarcasm and lightheartedness of the aria “Unser dummer Pöbel meint,” which loosely translates to “Our Stupid Rabble Believes.” It is known that Gluck and Mozart were on very friendly terms, and the variations were composed as a tribute to his older colleague, who had praised Mozart’s operas.
Conceived on a large scale, the dramatic score features brilliant as well as sensitive elaborations of melodic lines and accompanying figurations, all proceeding inexorably toward a highly ornamented final display of unabashed virtuosic splendor, replete with bravura cadenzas and all-round wonderfully good-humored character.
The concluding work, Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960 of Franz Schubert, could not be more contrasting: written in 1828, in the last months of Schubert’s life, its profoundly philosophical nature, its deeply felt seriousness and emotional intimacy, and its impressive spaciousness culminate in a structure not merely of impressive dimensions but of supreme import. Musicologist Donald Tovey’s observation that “the length of Schubert’s big movements is not actually greater than their openings imply” is nowhere more telling than in this sonata, the last piano work Schubert would ever write.
The first movement, Molto moderato, opens with a statement of utter simplicity, and yet a more portentous unfolding of a sonata could not be imagined. The sense of sustained grandeur and nobility which pervades not only the massive initial statement but the entire sonata is surely unsurpassed in the entire keyboard literature. Indeed, its nearest relative, particularly with regard to the exquisitely poignant slow movement, Andante sostenuto, would have to be the composer’s own String Quintet in C major, Op. 163, composed only a few months afterward and Schubert’s final composition in sonata form. The sonata’s third and fourth movements, Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza and Allegro ma non troppo, respectively, have an obviously genial Austrian folksong influence, yet they both integrate in and provide balance to the weighty sensibility of the whole.