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About this Piece

Composed: 1780
Length: c. 12 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: September 11, 1976, Calvin Simmons conducting

As Mozart reached his mid-20s, he was being courted as a major master of many genres. For a festive celebration of the 1780 Carnival season in Munich, he was commissioned to compose a grand opera seria in the style of Gluck. The result was his Idomeneo, written for the legendary (and newly relocated) Mannheim Orchestra and a cast of singers whose accomplishments varied widely, or so the composer reported in his letters to his father. The opera is generally acknowledged as the turning point in Mozart’s theatrical career, followed as it was in 1782 by The Abduction from the Seraglio. Unlike most of his other operas, Mozart’s score included, at the request of the royal personages responsible for the commission, a ballet to serve as the climax of the performance, employing the forces of the Electoral Ballet Company.

In the previous decades of the 18th century, especially in the opéra-ballets of Lully and later works by Rameau, dance held an essential place in the scheme of things theatrical. Rameau published suites of orchestral dances from his operas Dardanus and Les indes galantes. Gluck continued the custom, including ballets in his “reform” operas.

Mozart wrote dance music in one form or another throughout his career, especially if we include the obligatory minuets that figured in his symphonies and string quartets. Later, of course, his genius would be compressed into the constraints of the brilliant contredanses, German dances, Ländler, and other related social music he was required to provide in his role as Royal Imperial Chamber Composer in Vienna.

The aspect of style was something Mozart treated with considerable freedom. The conventional form of a chaconne involved an ostinato bass line, over which variations were strung together. Mozart kept the title, but not much else. His Chaconne has a stately recurring theme, but there are extended sections between the reiterations, making for more of a rondo structure. The Chaconne, as originally conceived, leads into a “Pas seul” before its grand conclusion. Bernard Labadie has prepared a concert ending which restates the opening theme, allowing the Chaconne to be performed on its own.

— Dennis Bade is Associate Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.