Gioachino Rossini: La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) – Overture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto in G major, K. 453
Gioachino Rossini: L'italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) – Overture
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 4 in C minor (“Tragic”), D. 417
Everyone has their fortes: For Rossini, it was overtures, for Mozart, piano concertos, and for Schubert, symphonies. We will give you a demonstration.
It would be no exaggeration to call Rossini the grand master of overtures. Though his operas are highly popular, their overtures are often performed as standalone pieces. The Italian Girl in Algiers is a comic opera of lovers’ quarrels, intrigue and a bold double-cross, and its overture is at least as popular as the work itself. The same cannot be said for The Thieving Magpie. Though the opera itself is seldom put on the programme, its overture is always at the top of the Rossini-charts and one of his best-known works. Although the audience at the premiere is said to have been prepared to come down hard if there was the smallest mistake, the performance was a resounding success. Rossini composed the overture the same day, locked into an attic room of La Scala by the producer, who instructed four thugs to throw the sheets of the manuscript out of the window once each was completed, or to throw the composer himself out the window, should he be too slow to complete them.
Mozart did not face similar threats when composing his piano concerto in G major in 1784 for his gifted Viennese student, Barbara Ployer. He did it on his own volition, and it was the second concerto addressed to the young woman. The concerto has a march-like start, followed by a romantically intimate middle part, which is incidentally one of the most sorrowful music ever composed. The naive and carefree, emotional and playfully teasing quality and folksy charm of the finale chase away the dark clouds.
Although for Schubert, Beethoven may have been the greatest influence, some of his works bear traces of Mozart’s influence, such as his Symphony No. 4, composed in 1816 at age 19, subsequently dubbed “Tragic” by the composer. This, however, should not be taken literally, only figuratively. Though beginning on a note of pure dejection, the piece ends in sunny optimism.