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8.553347 - MOZART, L.: Sinfonia di Caccia / Sinfonia Pastorale

Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)


While he is best remembered today as the father and teacher of Wolfgang, Leopold Mozart was a prolific composer and enjoyed a reputation as a man of great intellect and discernment in his own lifetime,

Born in Augsburg to a respectable family of tradesmen, Leopold Mozart sang in the choir of the Church of the Holy Cross as a child and was singled out by the clerics early on for a career in the Church, a sequence of events fairly commonplace for a talented youth in the eighteenth century. Leopold Mozart, however, had no intention of becoming a priest and once in Salzburg, to study at the University, abandoned his theological studies in favour of logic and jurisprudence. Inevitably, the financial assistance from Augsburg dried up and in the late 1730s - the precise date is uncertain - he broke off his studies and entered the service of Count Johann Baptist Thurn-Valsassina und Taxis as a valet and musician.

For the next two decades Leopold Mozart's career resembled that of numerous professional musicians of the period. He composed, performed, taught and took a leading role in the musical life of his adopted city. In 1740 he 'etched with his own hand' a set of six Chamber and Church Sonatas for two violins and bass which he dedicated to his paternal beacon, the Count, whose beneficent influence had lifted him out of the harsh gloom of his distress and set him on the road to happiness A series of major sacred works followed, including a Passion Cantata Christus verurteilt (Christ Condemned), composed in 1743, which did much to smooth his path in the archiepiscopal court orchestra, which he joined in the same year. By 1744 he was also in charge of the choirboys' instruction in violin playing. Far from viewing this work as professional drudgery of the worst kind, he seems to have been an enthusiastic and gifted teacher and one, moreover, who approached the task very seriously, as future events would show.

The birth of his seventh and last child, the second to survive, Wolfgang, on 27 January 1756 - or more precisely, the awakening of the boy's musical genius several years later - dramatically changed the direction of Leopold Mozart's life. With few if any misgivings, he made the decision to sacrifice his own professional ambitions in order to dedicate himself to the task of educating his two prodigiously gifted children. By one of those odd coincidences, 1756 saw him achieve the other crowning glory of his life, the publication of his Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, which brought him at once to the attention of the European musical intelligentsia, while in 1757 he was appointed Court Composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg. Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, the influential German theoretician and critic, reviewed the publication in 1757, writing.

One has long desired a work of this kind but hardly dared to expect it. The sound and skilled virtuose, the rational and methodical teacher, the learned musician; qualities, each and all which make a man of worth, are manifested here.

Marpurg also made Leopold Mozart a Corresponding Member of the Berliner Gesellschaft der Musik Wissenschaft founded by him in 1759

Leopold Mozart's Violinschule is at once a treatise on the fundamental principles of violin playing, as its title suggests, and also an essay in musical aesthetics, advising on matters of taste, warning against empty virtuosity and making a plea for sound musicianship. It is a remarkable achievement, one which alone would have secured him a place in music history, but much of its real significance to later generations lies in the glimpse it provides us of its author's teaching methods. Herein lie the seeds of Wolfgang's astonishing musical development and a reminder that without a teacher of his father's driving ambition and breadth of intellect he might never have reached his full potential.

A year after the publication of the Violinschule Leopold Mozart wrote a brief sketch entitled Account of the Present Conditions of the Music of his Grace the Archbishop of Salzburg in the Year 1757 for Marpurg's Historisch-kritische Beylrzäge zur Aufnahme der Musik together with a short outline of his own life and achievements up to the age of thirly-eight including a brief overview of his compositional output:

...Of Herr Mozart's compositions which have become known in manuscript, the most noteworthy are many contrapuntal and ecclesiastical works; further a large number of Symphonies, some for only four, but others for all the usual instruments; likewise over thirty grand Serenades, in which solos for various instruments are interpolated. Beside these he has composed many concertos, especially for Transverse-Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Waldhorn, Trumpet and so forth; also twelve Oratorios and a multitude of theatrical works, even Pantomimes, and in particular, certain Occasional Compositions, such as Military music with trumpets, kettledrums, drums and pipes, beside the usual instruments; Turkish music; for a steel piano; and finally a Sleigh Ride with five sleigh bells; not to speak of Marches, so-called Serenades, beside many Minuets, Opera-Dances, and pieces of the same kind.

Two points must be borne in mind when attempting to judge Leopold Mozart's worth as a composer. First the works which are most often played and therefore considered typical of his output are the ones least representative of it: The Musical Sleigh-Ride, The Peasant Wedding and other occasional pieces are oddities. His best works, those written for the Church, are virtually unknown and of his symphonies, concertos and serenades, few are played and fewer still available in recordings. Secondly, he ceased composing regularly in the early 1760s, as a result of his concentration on the education of his elder daughter Nannerl and his son Wolfgang.

Although little of Leopold Mozart's music is now played, It has of course attracted a great deal of attention over the years as scholars have searched for influences on his son's work. Leopold Mozart may have played a quite major role in the composition of Wolfgang's earliest works but his influence as composer on his son was probably minimal. In his dual role as critic and arbiter of good taste, however, his influence was both profound and lasting. During those crucial years when the Mozarls were travelling around the courts of Europe, he carefully introduced his son to the works of the best living composers, musicians who were known in Salzburg by name only and sometimes not at all. Some of these became personal friends, models to be admired and admired, and his good opinion of them still echoes down through the ages. Other figures were subjected to withering criticism, their works held up to ridicule as examples of the vulgar and inept.

As Wolfgang Mozart grew older, relations between himself and his father became increasingly strained. Ultimately, Wolfgang's independence as an artist and as man, illustrated most dramatically by his decision to pursue a freelance career in Vienna and marry Constanze Weber, could only be achieved through direct conflict with his father. Although they were estranged for a time and never regained the easy intimacy of earlier years, Wolfgang continued to value his acute critical faculty even in the years of his greatest artistic and worldly success.

When Leopold Mozart died in Salzburg on 28 May 1787, his old friend Domenicus Hagenauer, Abbot of St Peter's, wrote in his diary:

Leopold Mozart, who died today, was a man of much wit and wisdom, and would have been capable of good services to the state beyond those of music … He was born in Augsburg, spent most of his days in court service here, and yet had the misfortune always to be persecuted and was far less beloved here than in other great places of Europe. He reached an age of 68 years.

The five works here included represent a cross-section of Leopold Mozart's work as a symphonist. The Sinfonia di caccia and the Sinfonia Pastorale are genre pieces written for specific occasions, whereas the remaining works were probably intended for everyday performance at the Salzburg Court.

In his performance directions for the Sinfonia di caccia, Leopold Mozart writes.

First, the horns in G should be played quite raucously, as is customary during the hunt, and as loudly as possible. A hifthorn (a hunting-horn or bugle-horn) may also be used. Secondly, there should be several barking dogs, and other performers are to shout ho ho etc., together, but only for six bars.

In addition to the shouts, dog barks and raucous horn playing, he also makes provision in the score of the first movement for several gun-shots. The combined effect of the brilliant horn writing, which is based on a traditional horn-call, and the unexpected and highly imaginative sound effects is stunning. There are few pieces of music which have so successfully and memorably captured the excitement and thrill of the hunt. The second movement, by comparison, is far more restrained although not without its own deft touches. The extensive use of echo, while not original, is highly effective in conjuring up a sense of the great outdoors. With the concluding Minuet, however, the action returns indoors, albeit with a reminiscence of the hunting field in the form of prominent writing for the four horns.

The sinfonia pastorale was a popular genre in the eighteenth century and although some works were undoubtedly associated with the Feast of the Nativity others were written for purely secular occasions. The Sinfonia Pastorale in G major, composed in the mid-1750s, is a little unusual in that it includes a solo instrument, a corno pastoriccio, in the outer movements. While the instrument is clearly not essential to the performance of the work (the wrapper of one source reads: Con un Corno Pastoritio: Mil non lobligate) it adds greatly to the overall effect. There is some uncertainty about the identity of the corno pastoriccio: some scholars have even suggested that the composer may have intended the part to be played on an Alpine horn. In the final analysis, the rusticity of the work is less dependent on instrumentation than on overall musical style. The Sinfonia Pastorale contains all the hallmarks of the eighteenth-century pastorale style: simple melodic constructions with rustic surprises like unexpected raised and flattened sevenths, drone basses which imitate bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies and other peasant instruments and the use of the ubiquitous 'yodelling' figure which dominates much of the third movement.

Of the three string symphonies, two are cast in the conventional three-movement form of the period and the remaining work, the Sinfonia in F, possibly one of Leopold Mozart's later works in the genre, has a slow introduction to the first movement which unexpectedly reappears later in the movement. Unpretentious in scope and content, the works are, nonetheless, bright, attractive and solidly crafted. While not a great symphonist, or even a major contributor to its final form, Leopold Mozart was a highly proficient composer whose works are thoroughly representative of their age.

Allan Badley

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