January 14, 2006

In Mozart’s Youth


Bastien and Bastienne, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)


Bastien: Christopher Lorimer, tenor
Bastienne: Kathleen Van De Graaff, soprano
Colas: Peter Van De Graaff, bass

Gesa Kordes and James Johnston, violins
William Bauer, viola
Ravenna Helson, violoncello
Jerry Fuller, double bass
Randall Manges, harpsichord

Program Notes

From an early date, Mozart showed a great interest in and affi nity for opera. In 1767, an 11 year old Mozart wrote the Latin “intermezzo” “Apollo et Hyacinthus” for the Salzburg Benedictine University. This was paired with a tragic play, and thus doesn’t constitute his fi rst self-standing stage work. Mozart’s 2nd stage work, “Bastien und Bastienne,” has its roots in France with a play that gained some popularity then was turned into an opera composed by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau called “Le Devin du Village.” That opera appeared in 1752 and gained extraordinary popularity. The libretto was translated into German around 1764, and the 12 year old Mozart was asked to set this adaptation presumably for a private party at the Austrian physician and hypnotist Franz Anton Mesmer’s outdoor theater. That is the same Mesmer from whom we get the word “mesmerized” and whom Mozart later parodied in his “Cosi fan Tutte.” The exact date of this fi rst performance is not certain-it was probably sometime between September and October 1768. Beyond a possible 1774 performance in Salzburg, it seems that the work received no further performances in Mozart’s lifetime and it wasn’t revived until late in the 19th century.

The work is remarkable when the composer’s age is considered, and there are marks of his later masterworks, particularly “The Magic Flute.” The character of Bastien is clearly a predecessor to Papageno, all the way to his threats to hang himself for love. Sarastro’s mysticism is also foreshadowed in the character of Colas. The structure of arias and spoken dialogue, while common at the time, also found their way into many later Mozart German operas, although Mozart later added recitative to a few of those found in “Bastien und Bastienne.”

Please join us in the sanctuary after the concert to discuss the historic instruments we use, our techniques for playing them, and your thoughts on Mozart’s first opera.