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8.550159 - MOZART: Concerto for Flute and Harp / Sinfonia Concertante
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
As a child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had amazed Europe. Extended concert tours had taken him to the major cities of Germany and France, and he had been entertained royally in London, where he wrote his first symphonies and met old Bach's youngest son, Johann Christian. Adolescence and early manhood proved much less successful, at least in material terms. Leopold Mozart had nurtured in his son the highest hopes of fame and honour, but the small court of the Archbishop of Salzburg, where Leopold Mozart was employed for the greater part of his life as Vice-Kapellmeister, could offer nothing commensurate with these great ambitions.
In 1777 Mozart's impatience with Salzburg and his and his father's natural ambitions, led him to leave home in an attempt to find a suitable position elsewhere. Father and son both sought leave of absence, but this was not granted. Instead, the Archbishop declared himself happy to be rid of both of them. Leopold Mozart chose the path of caution and retained his position, while Mozart set out accompanied by his mother. The ultimate goal of Mozart's journey was to be Paris, a city they reached by way of Munich, Augsburg and, most important of all, Mannheim. The last of these places was still the home of one of the most famous orchestras in Europe, which had developed under the guidance of Johann Stamitz during the middle years of the eighteenth century. The orchestra itself was an ensemble of virtuosi and Mozart naturally hoped for some position there, at the court of the Elector of Bavaria. Winter was spent in the city, where Mozart became particularly friendly with the flautist Wendling and dreamed up wild schemes of touring Italy with the sixteen-year-old singer Aloysia Weber, towards whom his attentions were serious enough to cause intense alarm in Salzburg.
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 for Flute and Harp, K. 299. 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. 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.
The Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major, K. 297b, seems to have been written in Paris in April 1778 for the Mannheim musicians Wendling, Ramm and Ritter, flautist, oboist and bassoonist, and for the virtuoso horn-player Johann Stich, generally known by the Italian translation of his name as Punto. The opportunity was a splendid one. Le Gros, director of the Concert spirituel had asked for the work, expressly designed for four of the leading wind-players of the time. Mozart wrote the piece in some haste but Le Gros procrastinated, the parts were not copied and excuses were made, in spite of the enthusiasm and subsequent indignation of the proposed soloists.
In early July, in a letter breaking to his father the news of his mother's death, Mozart remarks that the work has not yet been performed. In a letter written from Nancy on 3rd October, during his return journey from Paris, he tells his father that he sold the Sinfonia Concertante to Le Gros, but can easily trick him by writing the whole work out again from memory when he reaches home. "I have it still fresh in my head", he tells him. It would appear that the Sinfonia Concertante as we have it, scored for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, is the possible result of this feat of memory, although it has been suggested that the arrangement is not by Mozart at all, or, indeed, that the whole work is by another. These latter doubts seem unjustified by the obvious qualities of the music and the undoubted similarity to the style Mozart adopted to please Parisian audiences.
The Sinfonia Concertante is in three movements, in each of which there are examples of that imitative writing, in which one instrument operatically answers and complements another, the final movement is in the form of a theme and ten variations, allowing splendid opportunities to the soloists individually and in conjunction and exploiting the varying qualities of instrumental timbre in a remarkably telling way.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
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