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Adagio and Allegro (“Fantasy”) in F minor, K. 594

May 19, 2019: Paul Jacobs, organ

On October 3, 1790, Mozart wrote from Frankfurt to his wife, Constanze, in Vienna: “I have now made up my mind to compose at once the Adagio for the clockmaker and then to slip a few ducats into the hand of my dear wife.” He went on to complain about the shrill little pipes of such a high-pitched instrument and his distaste for the childish sound. The “clockmaker” seems to have been Father Primitivus Niemecz, librarian at Esterháza Palace and colleague of Haydn, who had made several clock-organs for which Haydn wrote or arranged music. Most of Europe’s popular automated instruments, ranging from hand-held devices and table-top clocks to full sized organs, provided entertainment in palaces and mansions, but the mechanical clock for which Mozart wrote the Adagio and Allegro, K. 594, graced the mausoleum of a private gallery and waxworks collection in Vienna.

The gallery had been created by Joseph Nepomuk Franz de Paula, Baron Deym von Stržitéž, who operated under the alias Johann Müller after an illegal duel had forced him to leave his post in the Austrian army. Among his collection of plaster casts of ancient artworks and wax figures of famous people, Müller had created a most unusual monument to “the unforgettable and world-famous” Field Marshal Ernst Gideon, Baron von Laudon (or Loudon), who had died on July 14, 1790. A wax figure of Laudon could be viewed in a glass coffin, “splendidly illuminated from 8 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night,” and, said the announcement in the Weiner Zeitung, “upon the stroke of each hour a Funeral Musique will be heard and will be different every week. This week the composition is by Herr Kapellmeister Mozart.”

Mozart’s relationship with Father Niemecz remains a mystery, but it seems clear that the link between them was the commission from Müller for the mausoleum. As is happened, Mozart’s “wholly appropriate” music soon became the only music to be featured at the monument. He had actually written two pieces for this commission, both in F minor—K. 594, dated December 1790, which contains three sections, Adagio-Allegro-Adagio, and K. 608, dated March 3, 1791, also in three sections but reversing the tempo scheme to Allegro-Andante-Allegro.

Yet a third organ-clock piece followed on May 4, 1791, an Andante in F major, K. 616, but that piece was intended for a clock organ of higher range. This or a similar piece, rather than the F minor pieces, was likely what prompted Mozart’s complaints from Frankfurt about writing for such a high-pitched instrument, but with any of these three pieces he would have been quite happy to know that today they are usually performed on an organ or piano four-hands.

The Adagio and Allegro, K. 594, begins in solemn chords over rising bass gestures, after which the bottom drops out to let the treble ring. Similar shorter alternations of registers bring on the majestic and jubilant Allegro, whose many passages of imitative and sequential fast notes make a glorious display in two repeated sections. The Adagio then returns with some bold chromatic explorations before resolving contemplatively in the home key.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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