The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Trevor Stephenson discusses the similarities and differences of Mozart and Haydn, whose symphonies and concertos are featured in concerts by the Madison Bach Musicians this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, violist Mikko Utevsky performs Bach and Shostakovich in a free recital on SATURDAY night.

April 18, 2013

CORRECTION: Early viewers of yesterday’s post read a mistake. I said that conductor-violist Mikko Utevsky’s FREE recital of J.S. Bach and Shostakovich at Capitol Lakes Retirement Home, 333 West Main Street, was tonight, Thursday night, at 7 p.m. — which is WRONG. The recital is on Saturday night at 7 p.m. I apologize for the error and fixed it as soon as I found out.

By Jacob Stockinger

This is exactly the kind of contrast programming that the Ear loves to hear and think there should be much more of.

Mozart and Haydn often get lumped together -– like Bach and Handel, Beethoven and Schubert, Chopin and Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak, Mahler and Bruckner, Ravel and Debussy, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and, in literature, like Camus and Sartre.

But for all the parallels and affinities they share, Haydn and Mozart are in reality very different composers and proponents of Classicism. Personally, I would sum it up by saying: “Haydn is more interesting but Mozart is more beautiful.”

Anyway, I was thrilled to hear that the founder, director and conductor Trevor Stephenson and the Madison Bach Musicians  (below is a core membership) will perform a Mozart-Haydn concert this weekend.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Performances will be held in the crisp and acoustically lively Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Free pre-concert talks by Stephenson, who is a Master Explainer, will take place 45 minutes before the concerts.

The alternating symphony and concerto program includes Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with UW bassoonist Marc Vallon, and the Symphony No. 29 in A; and Haydn’s “Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” and his Keyboard Concerto in D major with Stephenson as soloist. For more information, visit:

Admission is $25 at the door, $20 for students and seniors over 65; or $29 and $15, respectively, if bought in advance at Orange Tree imports, Will Street Coop East and West, Farley’s House of Pianos. Ward-Brodt Music Mall and A Room of One’s Own. For ticket information, visit: Cash and checks only are accepted; no credit cards.

Stephenson (below) recently discussed Mozart and Haydn in an email Q&A with The Ear:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Why did you decide on a Mozart-Haydn program for the Madison Bach Musicians’ spring concert?

First off, I really love their music! I think my earliest musical memories of childhood involve listening to LPs of Mozart’s symphonies (particularly the No. 38 in D major, the “Prague” Symphony) and dancing about the room for joy during favorite passages. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in experiencing almost unbounded joy when listening to or playing Mozart (below top).

I always liked Haydn’s music immensely as well, and I find that as the years roll by I seek it out more and more. Particularly as I have become more experienced as a fortepianist and a harpsichordist, Haydn’s music takes on greater depth for me.

So, for MBM, I thought we’d try a concert featuring these two Classical period masters, and see what our baroque period training brings to the table for the music that comes right after the Baroque — the Classical. In a way, we’re trying to see what it feels like to walk into the Classical style through the front door, historically speaking. Instead of trying to approach it as old, what if it is seen as new?

mozart big
Mozart and Haydn are often mentioned together. Can you briefly describe their similarities with examples from your program? What are the major differences between the two Classical era composers, with references to your program? What is the historical or musicological importance of each?

Mozart and Haydn are the two great creative music forces in Europe during the second part of the 18th century. Interestingly enough, though, they both gave C.P.E. Bach a LOT of credit for forging the path to the new style of Classicism). CPE, of course, studied with his famous father, Johann Sebastian, but his writing is so strikingly different from his father’s.

Most notably, CPE is unabashed in using irregular phrase lengths (music that would turn most dancers into pretzels) and highly contrasting, even jarring, affective changes. He is very modern and avant-garde and his music is really Art with a capital A; the plumbing, as it were, is on the outside of the building—and there is no apology. But, it works! carl philipp emanuel bach

Haydn and Mozart both understood that CPE was the declaration of independence for the new style. Both Haydn and Mozart refined the CPE approach; that is, they employed but masked irregular phrase lengths, and, for contrasting emotions, Haydn and Mozart generally are more careful in making preparations, or they simply give the emotional shift more breathing room in the form.

Haydn (below) and Mozart differ from each other in that Haydn is generally more motivic (a technique which will really take off when Beethoven comes along), experimental, wry and folksy; while Mozart is more florid, expansive and just drop-dead gorgeous.


In many ways, Mozart reaches back to Handel (below) in his consummate sense for the theatrically cathartic moment—whether tragic or joyous. Mozart and Handel both know exactly how to make everyone in the hall cry with tragic empathy or leap for joy–as much as you can while staying in your seat. handel big 3

I think that Haydn’s blood brother really appears in the 20th century as Bela Bartok (below). With a rare combination of staggering intelligence and joyous honesty, both Haydn and Bartok assimilated and then morphed the folk music of their region (Austria-Hungary) into irresistible musical tableaux.


What would you like to say about the specific works and performers on your program? About the use of period instruments, especially the fortepiano, in the concerto?

On this program, we’ll playing two symphonies and two concertos — one of each from Mozart and Haydn. The orchestral core of all four works is strings, two oboes, and two horns.

The violins, violas, and cellos will be strung with gut and the players will use what are called transitional (or classical) bows. The gut strings are very supple — giving them a naturally sweet sound. Gut strings also speak quite quickly; that is, the moment the bow begins to move a very distinct pitch leaps (as it were) into the room.

The transitional bow is something of a hybrid between the baroque bow (which emphasizes clarity of articulation) and the later modern tourte bow (which emphasizes the strength and evenness of the sustaining style). For the Classical period music there is a premium on articulation (just as in the Baroque) but there is also a hint of the beginning of the chocolaty tone that would later begin to dominate string playing in the 20th century.

The 18th-century fortepiano (below) — which I’ll play in the Haydn Concerto in D Major — weighs in at around 150 pounds, has an entirely wooden frame, narrow gauge wire, and tiny leather-covered hammers. Like the 18th-century string instruments, it speaks very quickly and has tremendous contrast or changes in tonal character between its high and low registers. It is a little bi-polar in its remarkable ability to convey giddy effervescence at one moment and consuming darkness (particularly in the bass) the next. I always think of it as the musical equivalent of a Ferrari — incredible speed and (affective) maneuverability.

Schubert fortepiano Trevor

The internationally recognized bassoonist–and University of Wisconsin School of Music faculty member Marc Vallon (below, holding a modern and a Baroque bassoon in a photo by James Gill) will play the Mozart Bassoon Concerto on this concert; and we are thrilled that he has also agreed to conduct the entire program.

The classical bassoon he’ll be playing actually has a somewhat darker sound than its modern descendent, but like all 18th-century instruments the classical bassoon has a very quick and transparent attack, which facilitates articulations and intricate note groupings which are so important to the classical sensibility.

The classical bassoon also has a much richer low register than its modern counterpart, and correspondingly, the classical bassoon in its high register is more transparent (like a baritone singer in head voice) and less powerful than the modern. All of this in the hands of a master player like Marc will show new musical riches in this masterwork by Mozart.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Finally, I want to say a little bit about Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor, known as the “Farewell.” For most of his professional career, Haydn was music director at the Esterhazy court. He and the orchestra performed and lived (away from their families) at the Esterhazy palace (below is a photo by Bridget Fraser of the impressive estate’s facade) for long periods each musical season.

WYSO Tour Esterhazy Palace FRASER

The story goes that in the fall of 1772, Prince Esterhazy had required the musicians to stay at court far longer than anyone had anticipated. To give the prince a subtle musical nudge that the players were very ready for the season to end, so that they could return to their families, Haydn structured the Finale (at bottom in a YouTube video) of this symphony so that the fiery presto suddenly gives way to a sweet, though other-worldly sounding adagio, at first in A major but then moving to the no-man’s-land of F-sharp major (a VERY odd key for the 18th century). The texture gradually thin outs, as one by one, each player finishes their line, blows out their candle, and quietly departs the stage— leaving only two violins in the final measures.

It is an amazing effect—a perfect exit strategy!

And for the concerts this weekend –in the wonderful acoustics of the Atrium auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society — I think we’ll use Haydn’s petition just to ask for intermission.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

How do you compare Haydn and Mozart?

Do you have favorite symphonies and concertos by each? What are they?

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