I haven’t seen a wedding band play in years. I’ve attended my share of weddings, but in the last couple of decades, I’ve noticed that the popularity of wedding bands has waned in favor of the lone DJ, who plays the hits just as you remember them. I’ve also been to weddings where the couple compiled an epic playlist beforehand and left an iPod to play their choices while the rest of us danced and ate. But think back to a time when recordings were not an option. Think back to Europe in the eighteenth century, a time when music had to be played live by skilled musicians. If you liked to listen to music back then, your choices were somewhat limited. I came across an interesting tidbit the other day when looking up some information about Antonio Salieri. In the 1700s, Salieri went to Vienna and found work in a chamber orchestra run by Emperor Joseph II. Joseph was such an enthusiastic music lover that he employed a group of musicians to play for him while he ate dinner. And not just once in a while either; these musicians played for him every evening. Such a thing would only be possible if money were no object.
For most people, then, daily music-making fell to individuals. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, piano lessons were very popular. The piano was a focal point of many homes. There were also public concerts to attend, if one had the time, inclination, and resources. (Location was also important.) Although not strictly for entertainment value, churches provided music, and indeed, some of the most talented composers and musicians worked at the churches in Europe. Opera was the most popular musical entertainment of the day, of course, and a composer’s career could be made or broken in the opera house. Another place to hear music was at special events like weddings.
One of the pieces on LACO’s upcoming concert is a Serenade by Mozart that was composed for a wedding celebration. A Serenade is a piece for orchestra, usually in many movements (more than the typical four movements of a symphony), reserved for some light entertainment. The instrumentation for a serenade is chosen with two practical concerns in mind: the music had to be heard wherever the musicians were placed, which was sometimes outside; the musicians were sometimes called upon to stand and play their instruments. (Cellists were always exempt from this for obvious reasons.) The “Haffner” Serenade by Mozart—so named because it was composed for the occasion of the wedding between Elisabeth Haffner and Franz Xavier Spaeth—is scored for instruments that would do well both in the outdoors and with standing instrumentalists. There are strings, pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, and trumpets.
The music for a wedding celebration, or any serenade or divertimento from the Classical period is light and airy, but not without substance. Mozart had a knack for making such carefree music interesting. For those who were socializing and eating while the music was going on, they would have enjoyed pleasing background music, but for those who cared to listen more closely, they would have been treated to some charming and clever pieces. Mozart used dance forms, which was a common practice when writing such light entertainments. Often lively and catchy, dance forms have the advantage of seeming familiar, even if they are quite new. Hearing the “Haffner” Serenade and its accompanying march—which would likely have played while the bride and groom made their entrance, or while guests were arriving—in a concert setting allows one to really appreciate the nuances of Mozart’s composition. And best of all, the orchestra will likely be seated as well. (I’m sure they appreciate that!) The couple for whom this piece was composed married in 1776. That makes this year their 238th anniversary!
If celebrating a two-century-old wedding wasn’t cause enough for jollity, LACO’s upcoming concert also features a piece that was thought lost to history. Haydn’s Cello Concerto was for years misattributed to Anton Kraft, the cellist for whom the piece was written. The work was there, in plain sight, just with the wrong composer’s name on it. Some suspected that Kraft’s Cello Concerto might have been the missing concerto that Haydn included on a list of all of his works. The proof didn’t come until the mid-twentieth century when an autograph score of this piece was finally found, confirming Haydn’s authorship of the Cello Concerto. Better late than never, I suppose.
LACO’s upcoming concert will have the upbeat mood of a celebration, which is a wonderful and fitting thing. Every time we get to support this music and orchestras like LACO, it is a celebration. We have the privilege of experiencing live music played by skilled musicians, which means we have something in common with those music-lovers from the eighteenth century. Sure, we have streaming music, YouTube, radio, television, and recordings, but there is simply no substitute for being there, in the theater, watching and listening to the magic of live music.