Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Bastien und Bastienne, opera, K. 50 (K. 46b)

    Description by James Reel

    Mozart was a seasoned though not yet distinguished opera composer with one such work behind him when, at age 12, he was asked to write a pleasant singspiel to be performed in the tidy Rococo garden theater of Dr. Anton Mesmer, the pioneer hypnotist who would lend his name to the term "mesmerism." The story can be traced back, through some detours, to a work whose text and music were written by French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Le Devin du village (The Village Soothsayer). This was a folk-ish tale of a shepherd and shepherdess interacting with a village sage and supposed magician. The story went through several hands, including those of a hack named Harny, who in 1753 dumbed down Rousseau's arcadian idyll into a coarser (and frankly more realistic) tale of country bumpkins. Harny's text was translated into German by Friedrich Wilhelm Weiskern, and this libretto, revised by a Salzburg court trumpeter named Andreas Schachtner, is what came into young Mozart's possession.

    The brief overture is notable for offering a foretaste of the theme Beethoven would employ at the beginning of his "Eroica" Symphony nearly four decades later. Otherwise, the score generally adheres to the sing-song style of German folk music through the course of 11 little arias, two duets (plus a third in the form of a recitative and arioso), and a trio finale, all performable, with dialog, in well under an hour. The arias take the cavatina form, each in two parts contrasting in mood and meter. Only in the closing trio does Mozart even hint at the talent he would later show for ensemble numbers, and even this has more in common with Mozart's basset horn pieces than with Così fan tutte.

    Even so, the score is not exactly rudimentary. Mozart creates a rustic sound with parallel thirds and sixths, and he introduces the soothsayer, Colas, who carries bagpipes, with musette-style music containing bass fifths and some raised fourths. And Colas' hocus-pocus witches' chorus (No. 10) is a stormy, minor-key episode of some imagination.

    Bastien und Bastienne is charming enough and easy enough to provide fodder for school productions (and is a welcome, light change from the depressing English girls'-school standby, Dido and Aeneas), but it would frankly merit little attention today were it not associated with a pre-teen named Mozart.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Intrada
    2. Mein liebster Freund hat mich verlassen
    3. Ich geh' jetzt auf die Weide
    4. Colas' Auftritt
    5. Befraget mich ein zartes Kind
    6. Wenn mein Bastien im Scherze
    7. Würd' ich auch, wie manche Buhlerinnen
    8. Auf den Rat, den ich gegeben
    9. Grossen Dank dir abzustatten
    10. Geh', du sagst mir eine Fabel
    11. Diggi, daggi, schurry, murry
    12. Meiner Liebsten schöne Wangen
    13. Er war mir sonst treu und ergeben
    14. Geh' hin! geh' hin!
    15. Dein Trotz vermehrt sich durch mein Leiden?
    16. Geh'! geh'! geh'! Herz von Flandern
    17. Kinder! Kinder! seht, nach Sturm und Regen

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Signum Classics SIGCD 547
    2012 Membran 233195
    2012 EMI Classics
    2011 Guild / Guild GMCD 2373/75
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781600
    2008 Philips 4646602
    2006 Philips
    2006 Orfeo 705061
    2005 EMI Classics 3432732
    2005 Brilliant 92540
    2003 Brilliant 99723
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474738
    2000 Nuova Era 7344
    2000 Philips 464 930-2PB11
    1995 Berlin Classics 0091292
    1991 Philips 422527
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 45855
    Berlin Classics 0010102
    Brilliant 92633
    Brilliant 92633/3
    Brilliant 99723/4-5
    Nuova Era 7106