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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Turkish Delights! 

"The Compleat Composer” is how many folk regard Mozart, and who am I to argue? He wrote music in all forms, of all shapes and sizes, and had both the talent and the fluency to work miracle after miracle. It often makes me wonder, what might he have written if he’d got his sticky mitts on the rich orchestral resources of the early Twentieth Century? Not, I’m certain, anything even remotely like Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony

Some folk think that Mozart was able to write so much in such a short career only because classical structures furnished “ready-made”, formulaic frameworks. That’d be plausible, except that Mozart was one of the originators of the “rulebook”. What’s more, although sticking rigidly to the rules is a fast track to high production, it’s also the low road to mediocrity. Bending the rules generates freshness and originality, and takes time. Mozart took the high road, and that’s one measure of his genius. 

Both these Mozart pieces touch on matters “Turkish”. Musically, Mozart was in no way attempting anything “authentic”: he was simply pandering to a popular fad for the “exotic”. The farcical plot of Die Entführung aus dem Serail concerns an attempted elopement from a Turkish palace, the cue for an overture replete with breathlessly whirring tunes and “appropriate” percussion. Ignore the latter, which is easy enough in these days where new music often has more exotic percussion than strings, and what have we left? Well, an overture in the “Italian style”: virtually identical, frenetic outer sections framing a slow “trio” in a perfectly poised ternary form. I reckon that, if he’d put this in a symphony, Mozart would’ve invented the Scherzo and Trio years before Beethoven did! 

Questions of youth versus maturity didn’t arise for Mozart’s five violin concertos: he wrote the lot in 1775. In the Violin Concerto No. 5, we get only as far as the end of the first movement’s orchestral exposition before Mozart springs his first surprise: instead of immediately leading off an exposition repeat the soloist enters, adagio, like a tightrope walker defying the void. In the slow movement, he confounds those who expect variations to be neatly compartmented, like a parade of shop windows. Instead he works his long, multi-faceted theme to create a feeling of something more like a leafy lane. The finale is a rondo, but nowhere near a “standard” rondo. Firstly, this is the only movement without a full cadenza: Mozart instead distributes the cadenza “role”, as preludes to each return of the main subject. Secondly, imagine the movement as a jewel-box. You open it, and find inside both jewels and a smaller jewel-box. Opening that reveals a further array of jewels: the famous “Turkish” episode is itself a “mini-rondo”. Now, that’s magic! 

Note originally commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for a concert given on 15 November 2003. In the event, it wasn’t used because the soloist changed his programme!


© Paul Serotsky 
37, Mayfield Grove, 
West Yorkshire HD6 4EE 


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