About this Recording
8.550414 - MOZART: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
English 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Major, K. 207
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Major, K. 211
Rondo in B Flat Major, K. 269
Andante in F Major (from Piano Concerto, K. 467)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the younger and second surviving child of Leopold Mozart, a musician in the service of the ruling Archbishop. The same year brought the publication of Leopold Mozart's book on violin-playing, a compilation that won him a wide reputation. Nevertheless his career was sacrificed before long to that of his son, whose genius he soon realised and to the fostering of which he dedicated his energies. He remained until his death in 1787 Vice-Kapellmeister in Salzburg, his final years darkened by his son's departure for Vienna in 1781.

In his childhood Mozart excelled as a keyboard-player, his skill shown in performance, in sight-reading and in improvisation, and as a violinist. With his older sister Nannerl he toured Europe, exciting wonder wherever he went. Adolescence proved less satisfactory. In 1771 the old Archbishop of Salzburg, an indulgent patron, died, and was succeeded by Count Colloredo, a son of the Imperial Vice-Chancellor, a prelate with progressive views, coupled with a precise idea of what was due to him from those in his employ. At the age of thirteen Mozart had been appointed third concert-master of the court orchestra, unpaid. Under the new Archbishop he was given the paid position of concert-master, but there were now severe restrictions on his freedom, exercised in earlier years in extended tours that had taken him to Paris, to London and on several occasions to Italy. Salzburg, furthermore, could hardly satisfy Mozart's ambitions as a composer, or his father's justified hopes for his son's material advancement. In 1777 he was allowed to resign from the Archbishop's service, an option offered also to his father, but prudently refused, in order to travel to Mannheim and to Paris. The object of the journey, on which he was accompanied by his mother, who fell ill and died during their stay in Paris, was to seek a better appointment. In January 1779 he returned home, reluctantly accepting the appointment of court organist in Salzburg.

In 1780 there came a commission for a new opera for the Elector of Bavaria in Munich, staged early in 1781, and this was followed by a visit to Vienna in the entourage of his patron. Apparent restrictions on his freedom to perform as he wished in Vienna led Mozart to quarrel with the Archbishop, a dispute that ended in his dismissal. For the remaining ten years of his life he remained in Vienna, encumbered by a wife and intermittently increasing family, but without the security of a patron or the support of regular paternal advice. Initial success in the theatre and as a keyboard-player, particularly in a magnificent series of piano concertos he wrote for his own use, was followed by a period of depression, when he found it increasingly difficult to meet the expenses of a style of life to which he had been accustomed. In spite of his father's admonitions from Salzburg, he no longer practised the violin, although he played the viola in informal performances of chamber music in which he was joined by Haydn, Dittersdorf and the composer Vanhal. By 1791 his fortunes seemed to have taken a turn for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute. He died after a short illness in December of the same year.

If Mozart was preoccupied with the fortepiano in Vienna in the 1780s, the previous decade in Salzburg had found him giving much greater attention to the violin. He was concert-master of the court orchestra and took the opportunity on a number of occasions of appearing as a soloist, as he did in the autumn of 1777 in Augsburg and in Munich at the beginning of his journey to Mannheim and Paris. In a letter to his father from Augsburg, Leopold Mozart's native city, he criticised the standard of violin-playing in the Augsburg orchestra and relates how he has played a violin concerto there by Vanhal and his own so-called Strassburg concerto, variously identified as K. 218, or possibly K. 216.

Mozart wrote his five violin concertos for his own use in Salzburg or for the use of the Italian violinist Antonio Brunetti, a man Mozart was later to stigmatise as a disgrace to his profession, a reflection on his manners and morals. The concertos were also played in Salzburg by Johann Anton Kolb, for whom Leopold Mozart implies one of the concertos had been written. In a letter to his wife and son on 26th September 1777 Leopold Mozart describes a concert given by Kolb for the foreign merchants and including a performance of one of the violin concertos. After the concert he tells how they all got drunk and pushed one another in procession round the room, succeeding in breaking the central chandelier. Three weeks later he adds a description of a performance of Mozart's Strassburg concerto by Brunetti in the theatre, while the actors were changing their costume. From Paris in September the following year Mozart talks of the possibility of revising his violin concertos and shortening them to suit French taste, a task he never undertook.

The first of the five violin concertos, the Concerto in B flat major, K. 207, was written in the spring of 1773 in Salzburg, a more probable date than the traditional 14th April 1775. It is scored for an orchestra with pairs of oboes and horns, in addition to the usual strings. The concerto opens with a statement of the principal theme by the orchestra, later taken up and developed by the soloist. The slow movement has a principal theme of particular grace, capped by the soloist, while the last movement, returning to the original key, is introduced by the orchestra, followed by the soloist with a theme of simple elegance.

Mozart completed his second violin concerto, the Concerto in D major, K. 211, on 14th June 1775, scoring it for the usual orchestra of oboes, horns and strings. The first movement starts with a descending arpeggio figure proclaimed by the whole orchestra, followed by a gentler complementary figure. The soloist enters with the same call to the listener's attention, embellishing and extending the theme, before embarking on the material of the subsidiary theme. The oboes and horns have very little part to play in the G major slow movement, with its poignant principal melody, taken up by the soloist after its first statement in the orchestra. In the finale it is the soloist that first leads the way into a pert little theme then repeated by the orchestra in a rondo of the greatest clarity of texture.

Mozart's Rondo in B flat for violin and orchestra, K. 269, seems to have been written in Salzburg in the period before the composer's journey to Mannheim and Paris in the autumn of 1777. In a letter to his son written in September that year Leopold Mozart promises to send on the Adagio and the Rondo written for Brunetti, plausibly identifiable as the Adagio K. 261 and the concertante B flat Rondo. Mozart was to provide Brunetti with another Rondo during the last days of his employment by the Archbishop of Salzburg in Vienna in 1781.

The F major Andante was transcribed for violin and orchestra from the slow movement of the well known Piano Concerto in C major, K. 467, by the 19th century French composer Camille Saint-Saƫns.


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