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6.110055 - MOZART: Flute Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Flute Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 • Concerto for Flute and Harp

The two flute concertos and the concerto Mozart wrote for flute and harp were the direct result of his attempt to escape from the restrictions of his native Salzburg, with its limited musical opportunities. As a child prodigy he had amazed Europe, and an indulgent patron, the then Archbishop of Salzburg, had allowed Leopold Mozart, Vice-Kapellmeister at Salzburg, freedom to travel with his two children in concert tours that took the family away for years at a time. The succession of a new archbishop in 1772 brought an end to this freedom, while Mozart and his father constantly strove to find some position for the young composer that would bring much greater distinction. It was this ambition, fostered by Leopold Mozart, that led his son in 1777 to resign his position in Salzburg and seek his fortune elsewhere. The archbishop, indeed, was willing to see both Mozarts leave his service, but this Leopold Mozart could not afford. He remained at his post in Salzburg, while his son set out, accompanied by his mother, on a journey that was to take him to Munich, Augsburg, Mannheim and finally Paris.

Travelling in their own chaise, Mozart and his mother set out on 23rd September, 1777. They spent seventeen days in Munich, where the Elector had nothing to offer, followed by a fortnight in Leopold Mozart’s native city of Augsburg. On 30th October they reached Mannheim, the then seat of the Elector Carl Theodor, who kept an orchestra that had won international fame. Mannheim had other attractions for Mozart. lt was here that he met for the first time the Weber family and embarked on a flirtation with the sixteen-year-old Aloysia Weber, a young singer with whom, to his father’s alarm, he planned a concert tour of Italy. The connection with the Webers was to continue, as Frau Weber, after the death of her husband, uncle of the composer Carl Maria von Weber and copyist at Mannheim, moved with her daughters to Vienna, in search of suitable husbands for them. Mozart was to be jilted by Aloysia, for whom Frau Weber found a materially more advantageous match, but he was eventually to marry Constanze, a dowerless younger daughter, to the expressed surprise of the Emperor and the dismay of his father. In 1777, however, this still lay ahead. Mannheim had manifold musical attractions, but no position for Mozart. Nevertheless he lingered there through the winter, and through his friendship with the flautist Wendling made the acquaintance of a Dutchman, whose name appears variously as De Jean and “M. de champs” in Mozart’s letters to his anxious father. De Jean had been an army doctor in Münster and in 1758, at the age of 27, had travelled to Batavia where he was employed as a surgeon by the East India Company. It is for this reason that Mozart refers to him in his letters as “our Indian”. De Jean had wide interests and a wide circle of friends, including the doctor who was to attend Mozart on his death-bed in 1791. More to our purpose, he was an amateur flautist and a man of means, and commissioned from Mozart three little, easy, short flute concertos and a couple of flute quartets, for which he promised the sum of 200 florins.

The promised fee was to be a recurrent topic in letters exchanged between Mozart and his father during the following weeks, Mozart had no particular love of the flute and showed a certain indolence in fulfilling his obligation to De Jean, a man canny enough not to pay in advance for the music he had ordered. By February, however, Mozart had written the two flute concertos we now have and three quartets, for which De Jean had given half the money. In a letter written during his return journey from Paris on 3rd October of the following year we hear again that De Jean will pay later, a financial arrangement that must have confirmed Leopold Mozart’s worst doubts of his son’s business acumen.

Whatever reservations Mozart may have expressed about the flute itself, his compositions for the instrument are works of characteristically rich melodic invention and equally characteristic clarity of form and texture, allowing those for whom they were written a share in the immortality of their composer. The two flute concertos are scored for the usual orchestra with pairs of oboes and horns, strings and a possible doubling of the bass line by a bassoon. The second of the pair, the Concerto in D major, K314, seems to have been a transcription for flute of an oboe concerto in C major written for the Salzburg oboist Ferlendis in the spring or summer of 1777, before Mozart set out on his optimistic journey. The work was performed in Mannheim by the oboist Friedrich Ramm, whose playing Mozart admired. In a letter home to his father he describes the concerto as Ramm’s cheval de bataille and tells how he had played it for the fifth time in the house of the Mannheim Kapellmeister Cannabich. It was presumably through the imminent departure of De Jean for Paris that Mozart decided to fulfil his commission with an arrangement of an existing work, which, it may be supposed, De Jean had already heard in its original version.

Mozart and his mother set out for Paris on 14th March, 1778, and reached the French capital nine days later. As a child Mozart had caused a sensation in Paris, as a young man, and a “stupid German” at that, he was far less interesting. Towards the end of June his mother fell ill, and on 3rd July she died. Her earlier letters to her husband in Salzburg had seemed naively hopeful. Wolfgang had been commissioned by a duke to write two concertos, one for flute and one for harp, she wrote, soon after their arrival, and her son was also employed to teach composition to the duke’s daughter. The concerto written for the Duc de Guines, an amateur flautist, and his harpist daughter, was the delightful Concerto in C major for flute and harp, K. 299, scored for the usual instrumental forces. Mozart, who had been enthusiastic about the performing abilities of the duke and his daughter on first acquaintance, had, by July, become less satisfied. The duke had had the concerto for four months, he wrote to his father, and had still not paid, and furthermore was counting two hours of attendance as one. The result was further practical advice from Leopold Mozart on the art of collecting money from slow patrons without causing offence, an art that Mozart was slow to learn.

Keith Anderson


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