Four Concerti for Wind Instruments
"Man is the measure of all things."
Mozart expert and fortepianist Robert Levin speaks highly of the "anthropomorphic" in Mozart's concertos, the human form. There are many parallels between his solo concertos and his arias. By harmonizing virtuosity and dramatic expression, Mozart portrayed different characters in an ingenious manner. The "vocal" nature of the solo parts is, logically, strongly present in the works for wind instruments. After all, singing is based on breathing, and naturally this is also the case in wind music. Between 1774 and 1791, Mozart composed at least one solo concerto for each wind instrument commonly available in his day. The concertos were based on the form handed down from the Baroque, which consisted of three movements: fast - slow - fast. As a rule, the first movement was written in sonata form, and the last as a rondo.
All Mozart's concertos have a common structure. The opening movements display no less than seven different "structural ideas" (Levin) within that structure. Thanks to his principles of structuring, Mozart was able to design complicated musical inventions without lapsing into formalism. It is impossible to imitate Mozart, partly because of this way of telling his ever-exciting musical "story".
Typical of Mozart is the way in which he wrote the solo parts especially for individual musicians, often on commission. Thus he composed his Horn Concerto in D, K. 386b for Joseph Leutgeb, who played the horn in the Salzburg court orchestra until 1777. His father, Leopold Mozart, had again bumped into Leutgeb in the early 1780's in Vienna: in the meantime, the horn-player had opened a cheese shop in that city, however, he still often performed as a soloist. The four horn concertos dating from Mozart's years in Vienna (1781-1791) were all composed for Leutgeb. It is difficult to date the Horn Concerto in D, and only two movements (K. 412 and K. 514) have come down to us. According to Ludwig von Köchel - the author of the Köchel Verzeichnis - the missing slow movement is probably an Adagio in E (K. Anh. 98a), a fragment of which still survives. However, this is unlikely, if only because of the key, which is not the logical choice for a middle movement in a concerto written in the key of D.
Köchel dates the Horn Concerto in D as stemming from 1782, but also mentions a strange date penned on the manuscript of the final Allegro (Rondo): "Venerdi santo li 6 Aprile 1797". Assuming that this is not just a slip of the pen, then someone other than Mozart (who had, after all, died in 1791) must have written these words. According to musicologist and music publisher Wilhelm Merian, the annotation is from Mozart's hand, but he must have made a mistake in the decade: for April 6, 1787 was certainly "Venerdì santo", Good Friday. However, according to Levin, Mozart did not compose his Horn Concerto in D until 1791, and the final Allegro was completed in 1792 by his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayer, who arranged it for liturgical purposes on Good Friday. This, of course, still does not explain the date "1797".
However, all the ribbing jotted down in Italian and addressed to Leutgeb was undoubtedly from Mozart's hand: "Adagio [whereas the orchestral parts are marked Allegro] - a lei Signor Asino, Animo - presto - su via - da bravo - Coraggio - bestia - oh che stonatura - Ahi! - ohimè - bravo poveretto - finisci? - grazie al Ciel! basta, basta!" The opening movement (Allegro) and the final Allegro are fresh and cheerful expressions of the joy of making music. As is the case in Mozart's three other horn concertos, the finale recreates the mood of a hunting scene with its quick 6/8 beat and motifs akin to hunting calls.
There were quite a few instances of mysterious clients in Mozart's life - think, for instance, of the manner in which the Requiem came about. Various theories also abound with regard to the person who commissioned the Flute Concerto in G, K. 313 / 285c, in which one man constantly occupies central stage. In a letter, Mozart himself mentions an "Indianischer Holländer [...] ein rarer Mann" (Indian Dutchman [...] a strange man); Köchel names a "holländischer Dilettant [...] M. de Jean" (Dutch dilettante [...] M. de Jean); and according to Levin, the person involved is Ferdinand Dejean, a Dutch amateur. In his paper on Mozart's wind concertos (1996), Ignace Bossuyt has perhaps come up with the solution. Research into the personnel of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie in the eighteenth century pointed out that there was a French doctor, Ferdinand Dejean, working in Batavia between 1757 and 1767. He settled down in Leiden in 1769, and became "doctor medicinae et philosophiae" there. In 1777, he visited Mannheim during one of his trips, and commissioned Mozart to write "3 kleine, leichte, und kurze Concertln und ein Paar quattro auf die flöte" (= three small, easy and short concertos and a few quartets for the flute). These concertos most likely included the Flute Concerto in G, which was composed in 1778. Köchel, the musicologist and conductor Bernhard Paumgartner, and Levin are all most definite about this; only Bossuyt avoids giving an opinion.
If it is really true that Mozart could not stand the flute - he wrote this once in a letter to his father - then he managed to hide that fact in a masterly fashion, as he composed marvellous works for the instrument. The first movement of the Flute Concerto in G, Allegro maestoso, is rich in contrasting moods. This is followed by the Adagio non troppo, which is reminiscent of an opera scene, presenting different characters on stage (Bossuyt). The violins and violas are played al sordino (muted), which helps to create a magical atmosphere, here and there threatening, but at all times highly dramatic. Thus the rich melody and harmony of the ensuing Rondo (Tempo di menuetto) feels almost like a release. The earliest work in this recording is the Bassoon Concerto in B flat, K. 191 / 186c, which was composed in Salzburg in 1774. Köchel mentions how the score was discovered in 1803 in the estate of Thaddaeus von Dürnitz, an amateur bassoonist. Mozart is believed to have written three bassoon concertos and a bassoon sonata for Dürnitz, as well as his Piano Sonata in D, K. 284 / 205b. However, Levin believes that the concerto in question was not one of these, and reports that the three bassoon concertos written for Dürnitz were lost.
The first movement - Allegro - is certainly virtuoso, containing a solo part with extremely high notes for those times. As in the Flute Concerto in G, the violins and violas are also muted here in the slow movement, Andante ma adagio; and the horns are just a modest presence in the background. A lyrical phrase in the strings is taken over by the bassoon, which creates its own ornamented version of the excerpt. Modulations provide a dramatic harmonic undercurrent. As usual, the final movement (Rondo) also has a light musical setting, and a dancing movement (Tempo di menuetto). Within this traditional form, Mozart comes up with all kinds of surprising moments in a lively "group conversation".
In 1920, Paumgartner discovered a number of scores for different instruments written on 18th-century paper in the archives of the Salzburg Mozarteum, with the following words scribbled on the bass part: "Concerto in C / Oboe Principale / 2 Violini / 2 Oboi / 2 Corni / Viola / e Basso / Del Sigre. W.A. Mozart". He was convinced that he had come across an original composition, which Mozart had reworked for Ferdinand Dejean in 1778 into a Flute Concerto in D, K. 314 / 285d. The Oboe Concerto in C, K. 271k / 314 was probably completed in the spring or summer of 1777 in Salzburg, and intended for Giuseppe Ferlendis, oboist in the orchestra of the archbishop. During a visit to Mannheim that year in September, Mozart gave a copy of his Oboe Concerto to Friedrich Ramm, who played in the famous court orchestra, and whom the composer admired as "der Hautboist [...] welcher [...] recht gut bläst, und einen hübschen feinen ton hat" (= the oboist [...] who [...] plays his instrument truly well, and has a fine and beautiful tone). The concerto was to become Ramm's favourite composition, his "cheval de bataille", as Mozart called it.
A striking feature in the Allegro aperto is the entry of the solo oboe, which ascends via a rapid scale to a high C, which it holds for four bars while the orchestra repeats the main theme. A lively dialogue between the oboe and the orchestra is followed by the expressive Adagio non troppo, after which the concluding Rondo (Allegretto) offers yet another opportunity to admire the way Mozart allows his inexhaustible imagination to run free within a formal style.