Tension, humor, and history: MSO's musical triptych

by Victoria Aschheim

A Mozart opera score made-to-order for Harvard’s philosophical and historical strengths is the centerpiece for the Mozart Society Orchestra's Fall Concert 8 p.m. Saturday, November 13 at Paine Hall. Mozart’s exquisite score for Cosi Fan Tutte ("Women all act the same"), written when he was 34, is a luxurious embellishment for a most cynical operatic plot about disillusion in romance. As the musicologist Richard Taruskin writes: "The tensions within it – at all levels, whether of plot, dramaturgy, musical content or implication – between the seductions of beauty and cruel reality are so central and so deeply embedded as to make Cosi Fan Tutte, in its teasing ambiguity, perhaps the most ‘philosophical’ of operas and in that sense the emblematic work of the Enlightenment."

Listen to Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 in D Major, also featured at Saturday's concert, and see if you find Haydn’s finale humorous. The music scholar Scott Burnham alerts the listener to the "comic effect" in the finale and points to musicologist Gretchen Wheelock's comment that Haydn’s finale theme possesses "the earmarks of a limerick."

Also Saturday night, you can take a Bartokian excursion and experience his profound commitment to the preservation of folk melodies as well as his modernist innovation in musical composition based on such songs. Bartok completed a series of enthnomusicological folksong-collecting expeditions in Romania to find beautiful songs. These melodies held a particular fascination for Bartok and inspired some of his compositions, such as his Romanian Folk Dances, writtenin 1915. He infused his work with folk-music studies, providing a profound contribution to 20th century musical style. Bartok said he sought to preserve through "true peasant music…the portrait of a musical culture that has long been forgotten."

This musical triptych is sure to provide a memorable evening with the Mozart Society Orchestra under the elegant direction of Edward Jones, who is also organist and choirmaster at The Memorial Church.

[Caption: MSO Music Director, Edward E. Jones]