Sunday, 4 March 2012


As discussed in an earlier post, composers who write lighter works intended purely to give pleasure (like Saint-Saëns) can find themselves being sniffed at by more serious-minded critics. There's no good reason for such sniffiness in my opinion. Works written purely to give their listeners pleasure serve one of the main functions of music. If they are of impeccable craftsmanship and full of delightful ideas, then why do they need to plumb the depths or save the world? 

Mozart wrote a set of pieces called divertimenti for an ensemble of wind instruments (pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns) that were written explicitly to be listened to while people were eating their dinners - Tafelmusik ('table music'). In other words, he wrote background music for parties. One of the set is the Divertimento in F, K213 and it's the epitome of the kind of music I'm talking about - colourful, populist music with easy-on-the-ear tunes, consummately written, lacking emotional shadows. It's a delight from start to finish.

The opening Allegro partakes of the spirit of comic opera and is an engaging romp with a leading role for one of the oboes - clearly the cheeky one! It's in sonata form with a tiny development section where both oboes run upstairs and chatter with the bassoons. The Andante is charming and sings a sweet and simple tune. The Minuet is a graceful military dance with a folk-dance-like Trio (where the horns overcome their shyness). The Finale is a 'Contredanse en rondeau' - a fast, cheerful country dance. Throughout the piece, Mozart plays with the colours his six players can offer - though the tune tends to stay with one of the oboes. 

Nowadays we sit in concert halls or in our rooms giving pieces listening to pieces like this in a reverent hush when, maybe, we should also be ripping open a bag of crisps and knocking back a glass of wine. Which sounds fun. 

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