Portrait of Mozart by brother-in-law Joseph Lange around 1783, said by Constanze to be the best likeness of her husband.

Portrait of Mozart by brother-in-law Joseph Lange around 1783, said by Constanze to be the best likeness of her husband.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As many of you probably know, yesterday was the anniversary of the birth, in 1756, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Last week, as part of its month-long celebration of Mozart’s birth, the local classickal station chose as its CD “pick of the week” a recording that included a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, various movements of which received multiple plays during the course of the week.

This made ol’ Robbo smile because of a certain passage in Patrick O’Brian’s The Letter of Marque.  (WARNING: If you are not an aficionado of the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin canon, the rest of this post won’t make much sense to you.  I can only suggest that you drop whatever else you’re doing and go start in on these books right now.  Right. Now.)  In it, Jack and Stephen are talking in the cabin of the Surprise when Jack suddenly breaks his train of thought about other matters and exclaims, “….Surely that is not the “Marseillaise” you are picking out?”

Stephen had his ‘cello between his knees and for some time now he had been very quietly stroking two or three phrases with variations upon them – a half-conscious playing that interrupted neither his talk nor his listening. ‘It is not,’ he said. ‘It is, or rather it is meant to be, the Mozart piece that was no doubt lurking somewhere in the Frenchman’s mind when he wrote it.  Yet something eludes me…..”

‘Stephen,’ cried Jack. ‘Not another note, I beg.  I have it exactly, if only it don’t fly away.’ He whipped the cloth off his violin-case, tuned roughly, and swept straight into the true line.  After a while, Stephen joined him, and when they were thoroughly satisfied they stopped, tuned very exactly, passed the rosin to and fro and so returned to the direct statement, to variations upon it, inversions, embroideries, first one setting out a flight of improvisations while the other filled in and then the other doing the same, playing on and on until a lee-lurch half-flung Stephen from his seat, so that his ‘cello gave a dismal screech.

I smiled because the Mozart to which Stephen referred was, in fact, one of the secondary themes of the first movement of this particular concerto.  I give it you here.  The orchestra first states it in the minor at about 1:34, then repeats in the major at 1:42 and 1:48.  The piano gets in on the act at 6:53 and makes a full, triumphant statement of the theme at 7:32.  It never really goes away for the rest of the movement.  Enjoy!

You must admit that it is quite engaging, and readily capable of earwig-like lurking once installed in one’s head.  (And before anybody starts pointing out the differences between this theme and that of the “Marseillaise”, bear in mind that Stephen specifically states that the former is “lurking” in the Frenchman’s mind.  It’s an influence, not a direct match.)

I must confess that there are times, when reading O’Brian’s magnum opus, that I am not altogether sure he really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to musick.   But this one is a safe and pleasant bet.

 

*A reference to another literary work.  10 points for spotting it and The Mothe is disqualified from playing because it would be a gimme for her.

 

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