Mozart's genius for creating the slight as well as the sublime is demonstrated handily by the works on this program. The serenade, Eine kleine Nachtmusik - one of the composer's most felicitous (and famous) "little" pieces - is a bon-bon of the most delectable kind. Judging by its ebullient character, it seems to have burst into life in 1787, as the result of a force that could rightly be called spontaneous composition. One imagines, however, that there was probably some Viennese occasion for which Mozart supplied the work - a celebrative occasion, no doubt. (In its original connotation, a serenade was evening music with which to divert and/or woo a lover or to please persons of rank. By Mozart's day, the former purpose had all but disappeared.) In the second half of the 18th century, the serenade was written for an ensemble small enough to be practical for outdoor performance (more often than not an ensemble of winds), and it generally had more than the four movements that filled out a standard symphony.
In a catalog of his works, Mozart lists "A Little Night Music" as having five movements. However, only four movements remain, the first minuet having been lost. So - a wonderfully incomplete string serenade the size of a symphony that epitomizes both the genteel vivaciousness of the Classical period and that inimitable Mozartean blend of utter simplicity and unlabored fluency.
From its opening fanfare announcement, through the Romanze's gentle sweetness (interrupted by the briefest hint of pseudo-seriousness), the minuet and trio's bright danciness, and the finale's exuberance, the well-loved work is heard tonight in its proper outdoor, nocturnal setting.
-- Orrin Howard annotated programs for more than 20 years while serving as the Philharmonic's Director of Publications and Archives. He continues to contribute regularly to the program book.