CUMS Conducting Scholar Toby Hession on Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony

On Saturday 4 May Robert Cohen directs Cambridge University Orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, ‘Jupiter’. Tickets available here

Toby Hession writes of addiction, tragedy and the sublime in his programme note for the ‘Jupiter’ symphony:

It is remarkable that, given Mozart’s inestimable status among the very ‘greatest’ composers of the canon, there are so many questions about his life and work that remain unanswered. Almost nothing is known of the composition of Mozart’s forty-first (and final) symphony – a situation that is symptomatic of modern Mozart scholarship’s increasing tendency to define itself by the things that it does not know, rather than what it can say with certainty. 

One such unknown is why, by 1788, Mozart had lost much of the popularity he had at one time enjoyed with his Viennese audiences. Mozart’s personal life at this time was certainly in turmoil – not only did he and his wife, Costanze, lose three of their children between 1786-88, but financially they were struggling too, their lavish lifestyle gradually proving to cost well beyond their means. Mozart secured the position of “Kammer-Kompositeur” at the Imperial Court, but the very modest salary did little to alleviate the family’s hardship; successes in Prague with Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro were not taken for granted, but they did little to help the struggling Mozarts back at home.

Wolfgang also developed a serious (and expensive) gambling addiction, possibly as a result of the personal tragedy he was experiencing at home, damaging his once-resplendent public image. It is also well-documented that Costanze did not have the wherewithal to responsibly manage the household while Wolfgang burned most of the family income. Almost certainly in the spirit of admission to serious financial misjudgment, Wolfgang wrote several times over the summer of 1788 to Michael Puchberg, a friend and Freemason (like himself), pleading for significant sums of money. One such request (worth “a hundred gulden”) was to last for one week, to see Mozart through to the start of his “Casino concerts”. It is not known where or what the ‘Casino’ was, but it known that a number of Mozart’s Piano Concerti had been performed there – and given that Mozart was working on a trio of symphonies at the time of writing to Puchberg (which would turn out to be his last, and of which the ‘Jupiter’ would be the ultimate), it had been assumed that they too were to be performed at the same venue.  

It has long been believed that Mozart never heard any of these three symphonies performed during his lifetime (on account of the absence of any documentation pertaining to such performances). However, in recent years this view has been challenged – partly due to the discovery of the Puchberg correspondence – several potential opportunities for performance have been identified, both in Vienna and in Germany. It has been argued by several individuals, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, that the three final symphonies (Nos. 39 – 41) were conceived as a large, unified work, citing in particular the fact that No. 41 has no introduction (unlike No. 39) but instead has a finale of significantly more epic proportions than either of its companions. Whether or not this is true, the final symphony quickly earned a reputation for being one of the greatest symphonies of its age. Even by the end of the nineteenth-century, more than a century after Mozart’s death, it retained its place, with Johannes Brahms claiming that the last three symphonies by Mozart were “much more important” even than Ludwig van Beethoven’s ground-breaking first Symphony.

Equally open to contention is the origin of the popular nickname for the final symphony, ‘Jupiter’. One theory (supported by Mozart’s son, Franz) attributes it to Johann Peter Salomon, the English impresario responsible perhaps most famously for his musically prosperous friendship with Joseph Haydn, bringing him to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95. Salomon died in 1815 – yet, the earliest documented use of the ‘Jupiter’ nickname does not appear until at least 1817 (possibly later), casting doubt on this theory. In fact, the finale of the ‘Jupiter’ is considered to be a re-working of the opening movement of Carl Ditter’s (1739-1799) Symphony in D, Der Sturz Phaëton (The Fall of Phaëton) – Phaëton being the Greek name for the same planet that the Romans referred to as ‘Jupiter’. It has been suggested that this may more plausibly account for the origins of the nickname.

In terms of its music, the final symphony stands as one of Mozart’s most triumphant achievements in instrumental drama, melody and counterpoint. The first movement can be heard very much in the vein of Don Giovanni, characterised by three distinctly prevailing themes: first, the opening music – strong, imperial and subtly militaristic (perhaps a reflection on the ongoing Austro-Turkish struggles); second, a more tender, lyrical theme sounded by the violins and woodwinds; and third, a humorous violin melody in which Mozart self-quotes from his comic aria, Il bacio di mano (A Kiss of the Hand). The development section of the opening movement, imitative in nature, foretells of the spectacular counterpoint to come in the finale.

The second movement takes on the guise of a Sarabande – an old (possibly 16th-century) Spanish dance, betrayed by its slow, triple meter, and possibly reflective of the cosmopolitan side of Mozart’s personality. Lyrical at the outset, this movement soon twists into an agitated working out of its theme, struggling with painful dissonances as it winds back to the more sedate sound of its opening. The third movement returns to Austria – but this time, the dance is a Ländler, a quicker, more spritely folk-dance. 

But, of course – what makes the ‘Jupiter’ symphony so famous is its finale. Here is a movement that epitomizes Mozart’s adoration of J.S. Bach (and is perhaps a culmination of his almost life-long study of Bach’s music). The four-note motif (C-D-F-E) that opens the movement – but that was also heard very brazenly in the third movement – is a common plainchant motif (thought to originate in the Latin hymn, Lucis Creator), and had been in common currency with composers since at least the time of Josquin de Prez’s Missa Pange Lingua. More significantly, it can be found in numerous other works by Mozart, including (perhaps in a bitter case of accidental irony) his very first symphony, from 1764. 

 A fugal texture soon ensues, with up to five different motifs heard sounding at once at any point in the music. To make matters more complicated, Mozart arranges his fugal sections in an overarching ‘sonata’ model, creating a kaleidoscopic musical world in which the rigorous contrapuntal tradition of the late Renaissance and Baroque is fused with the Galant style of the Enlightenment. In this sense, the work came very close to achieving the status of ‘sublime’ – a term that 18th-century philosophers used to define an experience that was simultaneously humbling and uplifting, and most importantly transcended and evaded capture by human media (i.e. words or pictures).

Little did Mozart know that in just 26 years’ time, in 1824, Beethoven would turn the world of instrumental music on its head with his Ninth Symphony – a symphony that would include words, and therefore validate the skepticisms of thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, who had denigrated instrumental genres to the realm of ‘low’ art on the basis that, without words, they were not an adequate vehicle for ideas. Perhaps this explains the enduring popularity of the ‘Jupiter’ symphony – not just in the nineteenth century, but also today.


Watch Toby direct Cambridge University Sinfonia in Stravinsky/Bach Chorale Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her’ in King’s College Chapel, Saturday 15 June



CUWO Tour 2018 | Montreal and New York

Between 2nd and 11th July 2018, the Cambridge University Wind Orchestra embarked to Canada on our most ambitious tour yet in celebration of our 30th Anniversary. Although based in Montreal, we played five concerts across the cities of Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec, as well as enjoying free time to explore each of the cities. We were also fortunate that the week of our tour fell during the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which gave us the opportunity to watch free evening concerts which were a ten-minute walk away from our hostel.

After a day of rehearsals at St Thomas’ Church in Montreal, the orchestra enjoyed a group evening meal at a burger bar before getting on the coach the next morning to travel to Quebec City for our first concert. The concert, which formed part of Chalmers-Wesley Church’s lunchtime concert series, went down extremely well with the audience, and was followed by a free lunch and walking tour generously provided by the church, allowing us the opportunity to get a real feel for the city in the short time we had there.

The next day was our busiest day of music, with the first of two concerts taking place at a geriatric hospital in Montreal in collaboration with New Horizons Band, an ensemble for local adult beginners. We then travelled the short distance to Mont Royal park for our second concert. A few days before setting off on tour, we had discovered that the concert organisers had moved the location of the concert due to the size of the orchestra, and the new venue gave us incredible views of the sun setting over Montreal as we played to an appreciative audience. Many of the orchestra agreed that this was the most memorable concert location they had ever played at. The concert was ably presented in French by two members of the orchestra to the bilingual crowd.

Friday was a free day for the orchestra, allowing us time to enjoy the hostel hot tub and split into groups to explore the sights and activities that Montreal had to offer, such as the maple syrup shop and an evening light show at Notre-Dame Basilica. Then on Saturday we travelled to Calypso Waterpark to give two hour-long performances. This gave us the opportunity to bring out some of our lighter, crowd pleasing repertoire. In between our performances, we were given free entry to the waterpark, allowing us to cool off in the heat and sunshine.

Sunday was our final full day in Canada, and the day of our final concert. This was a joint performance with Ottawa Wind Ensemble, a group made up of professional and semi-professional musicians, as part of the ‘Music and Beyond’ Festival in Ottawa. This was a fabulous opportunity to hear an experienced ensemble play some unfamiliar repertoire, and we also greatly enjoyed collaborating with them for two joint pieces at the end of the concert. That evening, we travelled back to the hostel for a party to celebrate our final night in Canada, and a collection of presents and tour awards were handed out.

However, this was not the end of the tour! The next morning, we set off early on a coach to New York City, where we had a twenty-four hour stay before our plane flight home. Many people managed to pack an impressive amount of sightseeing into this short period of time, with a real highlight being a pre-planned evening group trip to ‘Top of the Rock’ to watch the sun set over the city.

Huge thanks must go to Marcel Welsh, Joe Curran and especially to Robin Otter, who not only managed the tour without the help of a tour company, but also drove the percussion van to our concerts all week. The tour was a fitting end to a wonderful 30th year of music making for CUWO.

Emily Neve, CUWO President 2018-2019

CUWO tour to Cologne and Rhineland 2017

In the early hours of the 3rd July, Cambridge University Wind Orchestra set off from Newnham for our exciting 2017 tour to Germany! Following a day’s rehearsal at Newnham College to run through our concert repertoire, we embarked on the 12 hour coach journey to Cologne, which was made bearable by movies, card games and CUWO-style a capella renditions of pretty much every noughties classic!

The following day, after a final rehearsal, we travelled to our first concert at the beautiful resort of Bad Kreuznach. Our programme for tour was exciting and varied, consisting of the rousing Scottish Dances by Malcolm Arnold, Gershwin’s entertaining American in Paris, Bernstein’s emotive and varied Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, London Suite by Eric Coates and finally the captivating Yiddish Dances by Adam Gorb.

The repertoire was challenging and great fun to play, and by the end of the tour, both last year’s CUWO members and deps felt a strong affinity to these fantastic works. In total we played four concerts at venues including St Peter’s Church, Bacharach, the Church of St Aposteln in Cologne and the pretty town square in Linz. In each concert, we were warmed by the welcoming and appreciative reception we relieved from the locals who attended, and it was wonderful to see our music received so enthusiastically.

During the tour we also had the opportunity to explore Cologne and the beautiful surrounding Rhineland area. This included a visit to the fascinating and picturesque castle at Drachenfels, where we were able to gain an insight into the history of the local area and the aristocracy who wielded great power there. We also enjoyed a boat trip down the Rhine, which gave us a lovely view of the river that our concert locations were interspersed along. In addition we had the chance to visit the town of Bonn, the birthplace of Beethoven, where we were over-enthusiastic as always about the traditional CUWO scavenger hunt, which included performing an operetta outside the town theatre and taking selfies with the statue of Beethoven!

Overall, tour this year was a wonderful and varied experience filled with fantastic music and four uplifting concerts, some fun trips and great team spirit and laughs throughout. Every member of the orchestra made this trip such a pleasure to be part of, but in particular we are so thankful to our percussion-moving team and our fantastic coach driver Marc. Most of all we are all so grateful to the tour committee, Ellen, Simon and Joe, whose tireless work and commitment made this brilliant tour possible. We can’t wait to find out where CUWO will go next!

– Surina Fordington is a saxophonist in CUWO


Ben Glassberg, CUMS Alumnus, wins 55th International Besançon Competition for Young Conductors

We are delighted that CUMS alumnus, Ben Glassberg (Conducting Scholar 2013-14), has won all three prizes at the prestigious 55th International Besançon Competition for Young Conductors. After reaching the final round of the competition, Ben won the top prize, as well as the coup de cœur prizes from both the orchestra and the public. 

After completing his Music degree at Girton College, Cambridge, Ben went on the the Royal Academy of Music to study Conducting with Sian Edwards. He made his Glyndebourne conducting debut earlier in the summer as one of the youngest conductors in the Festival’s history. In the 2017/18 season Ben will work with Kammerakademie Potsdam in both symphonic concerts and in a new production of  Cosi fan Tutte as part of the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg.  He will assist Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and returns to work with Antonello Manacorda at the Theater an der Wien on a new production A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Damiano Michieletto. 

CUMS looks forward to following Ben on what promises to be a very exciting career ahead! 

Summer 2017: CUMS on Tour

Two of our ensembles will be touring in Europe this summer: CUMS Symphony Orchestra and Cambridge University Wind Orchestra. If you happen to be in Prague or the Rhineland in July, perhaps you can attend one (or more!) of their fantastic concerts!

CUWO Tour: the Rhineland

Concert Programme: to include Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Conducted by Jack Bazalgette. 

CUWO on tour in Belgium, July 2016

Tuesday 4th July
at Kurgarten, Bad Kreuznach

Wednesday 5th July
at St. Peter Church, Bacharach

Thursday 6th July
at Church of St. Aposteln, Cologne

Friday 7th July
at the Town Square in Linz am Rhein


CUMS SO Tour: Prague

Concert Programme: Holst, A Somerset Rhapsody; Tchaikovsky, Symphony No.4. Conducted by John Tothill.

CUMS SO on tour in Bonn, July 2016

Friday 14th July
at the National Museum of Music
(Karmelitská 388/2, 118 00 Praha-Malá Strana, Czech Republic)

Saturday 15th July
at the House of Culture
(Tyrsova Street Nr. 1001, 592 31 Nové Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic)

Sunday 16th July
at Podebrady Spa Hall
(Námestí T.G.Masaryka 1434, Podebrady, Czech Republic)

CUMS Appoints 2017-18 Student President

Cambridge University Musical Society is delighted to announce that Edward Reeve has been appointed CUMS Student President for our 2017-18 Season.

Edward Reeve is twenty-one years old and is now in his third year reading Music at Queens’ College, Cambridge, as Senior Organ Scholar. Edward has been playing the piano since the age of seven, completing his Diploma of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music when he was fourteen. He gained the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music at the end of 2011 with distinction, achieving the same qualification on the organ in July 2014. Edward has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to perform piano and organ concertos with a number of orchestras, including Mozart’s 23rd, 24th and 27th Piano Concertos, Beethoven’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos and Choral Fantasia, Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto, Brahms’ First and Second Piano Concertos, Poulenc’s Piano Concerto and Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos (on period instruments with Cambridge University Collegium Musicum).

Recent conducting experience includes conducting Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Lobgesang, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte and the ‘Great’ Mass in C minor, Handel’s Jephtha, Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and La Serva Padrona, Parry’s Songs of Farewell, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Offenbach’s Daphnis and Chloe, Howells’ Requiem and Salieri’s Prima la musica e poi le parole. Edward was recently appointed as the Associate Conductor for the Brandenburg Choral Festival of London, for which he has conducted Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s The Creation at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In April 2017, Edward directed his own festival – the Cambridge Brahms Festival – featuring a series of concerts across the city, with visiting speakers and over a hundred performers, featuring both popular works and rarities, and finishing with a performance of the Second Piano Concerto.

Edward spent his gap year as Organ Scholar at Salisbury Cathedral, where he recorded sixteen discs of organ music on the Cathedral organ. In addition to his keyboard playing and conducting, Edward plays ‘cello, natural horn and sings.

Edward said of his appointment:

I am very excited to be the new Student President of CUMS, and to have the chance to bring together my experiences from various areas of the musical life in Cambridge, whether opera, the choral scene, orchestral playing, conducting, piano, historically-informed performance or concert/festival management. The coming year is a very important one for the Society, with the restructuring of its ensembles and various large concerts with prominent conductors, and it will be a thrilling time to be part of the running and growth of the Society. I look forward to being able to work with students, visiting musicians and Trustees alike, and – cello auditions permitting – to playing in some of the concerts!


Interview: CUMS Composer in Residence, Joy Lisney

We are delighted that Joy Lisney is one of our 2016-17 Composers in Residence. Joy is a composer and cellist who is currently completing her PhD at King’s College. Her new work, ‘Thread of the Infinite’, will be premiered by CUCO on Saturday 13 May.

Tell us about your musical background. When did you start composing, and why?
I dabbled in composition during school but when the carousel of submitting coursework for public exams was over, so – it seemed – was my compositional career. I returned to the manuscript in my second year as a music undergraduate (2012), chiefly to avoid writing any more essays than absolutely necessary! I was also performing contemporary music at the time, including a piece called JOY by Jan Vriend, which I premiered at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. This experience was instrumental in inspiring me to write my own music.

Do you have any particular musical influences, or is there a particular piece which really inspired you?
I find it difficult to identify musical influences in my own work though I am sure there are things in there which other people notice! Early on, however, I was influenced by a piece called Anatomy of Passion (2004), also by the Dutch composer Jan Vriend mentioned above. Anatomy is a truly epic addition to the cello and piano repertoire and one that I found fascinating to learn, memorise and perform. The understanding I gained from this experience still informs much of my compositional process. I can point interested readers in the direction of this YouTube video of a live performance with the score.

How has your time at Cambridge shaped your compositional career?
My time at Cambridge essentially encompasses my entire composition career and continues to do so! The music I came across during my Undergraduate degree broadened my ideas hugely and the weekly Composers’ Workshops have often seen me head straight to the library to listen to something new. I am also incredibly grateful to the department and in particular Richard Causton and Jeremy Thurlow who gave me my first opportunities to hear my music. I was very lucky to have my first string quartet premiered by the Arditti Quartet in 2014.

How do you see your compositional career developing?
I grew up as a cellist and have always intended to make that the centre of my musical life. In the last couple of years, however, I have begun to explore the worlds of composition and of conducting and am discovering that they complement and benefit one another very well. Composer-pianists dominated the history of music throughout the last three centuries and I intend to revive that tradition as a composer-cellist.

What advice would you give to aspiring young composers?
As a latecomer to composition myself, I cannot easily compare my experiences with the more precocious young composer! I would however advise all young composers to learn an instrument to as high a standard as you can as I feel that there are many subtleties and realities about performance that it is impossible to pick up as an outsider. Your music can only benefit from a more thorough understanding of how it might feel to perform it.

You can hear the world première of ‘Thread of the Infinite’ at 8pm in West Road Concert Hall on Saturday 13 May, directed from the violin by Thomas Gould. See here for more details and booking.


Applications open for 2017-18 Lunchtime Concert Series

Applications are now open for the 2017/18 Cambridge University Lunchtime Concert series! The concerts are held at 1310 on Tuesday lunchtimes throughout Michaelmas and Lent terms, and for the first two weeks of Easter term – they frequently attract large audiences and are an excellent opportunity for small-scale performances.

The application form can be downloaded here – please include as much detail as you can in your application, and be aware that the performance in its entirety (including time spent on stage but not performing) must be no longer than 45 minutes.

There are 10 concert slots available, and the deadline for applications is 5PM, FRIDAY 5th MAY. Please send applications to Ed Liebrecht (CULC President 2017-18),, or send them via UMS to Jesus College.

We look forward to receiving your applications!

Applications for CUMS Student President and CUMS Student Committee 2017 – 2018

Cambridge University Musical Society is inviting applications for the roles of its 2017 – 2018 Student Committee.

The roles available are:

Student President

Publicity Officer

Social Secretary

Archiving Officer

Orchestral Fixer

Student Treasurer

Alumni Officer

The variety of roles on offer ensure that there is a position to suit every skill set, so I encourage everyone to read through the job descriptions to see if anything draws their interest.

Though CUMS is supported by a professional team of staff and advisors, the day to day running of CUMS would be simply impossible without the Student Committee. The success of our wonderful society relies on students stepping up and becoming involved with CUMS on a larger scale. Previous Student Presidents have come from a variety of ensembles, each with a unique vision, and all have changed the society for the better. With last year’s introduction of a Student Committee, there are now more opportunities than ever for students interested in arts management to gain experience working in a large-scale arts organisation. Working to make CUMS a better society is an immensely rewarding experience, and you will be able to see the changes you make having a positive impact at every rehearsal.

Applications for all positions open on Friday 17th March and close at midnight on Friday 21st April. The successful applicant for all roles aside from the Student President will be made based on the merit of their application, and candidates will be informed of their success in the week starting Monday 24th April. Applicants for the role of Student President that have been shortlisted for interview will be notified on Monday 24th April.

I strongly encourage anyone who may feel hesitant or unsure about applying to ask their Ensemble Presidents about the roles, or contact me directly (mp774) with any questions. Please do not hesitate to get in touch – I would love to hear from you!

Very best,

Mathilda Pynegar
CUMS Student President 2016-2017

Programme notes: Saturday 18 March


Our very own Conducting Scholar John Tothill has written the programme notes for CUMS Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, which you can now read online. Expect stuffed pigs, broken clocks, wooden spoons and more…

Don’t forget to book your tickets online to hear CUMS SO perform this thrilling repertoire under the baton of Jamie Phillips on Saturday 18 March!


Registered Charity No. 1149534

Cambridge University Musical Society
West Road Concert Hall
11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP
Principal Guest Conductor
Sir Roger Norrington CBE
CUMS Conductor Laureate
Stephen Cleobury CBE
Director, Cambridge University Chamber Choir
Martin Ennis
Artistic Advisor
Sian Edwards
Associate Directors, Cambridge University Chamber Choir
David Lowe, Nicholas Mulroy