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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4
Mozart wrote his horn concertos, three of them complete and one lacking its slow movement, for the former Salzburg horn-player Ignaz Leutgeb, who had returned to his native Vienna in 1777. Leutgeb was particularly skilled in the relatively new technique of hand-stopping and had won much praise in Paris, as well as in Vienna. The concertos belong to the final period of Mozart's life, works written at the height of his powers.
By John J. Puccio
American Record Guide
Polish-born horn player Jacek Muzyk, principal horn of the Buffalo Philharmonic, is an assured soloist with outstanding technical skills and a refinement that serves these wonderful pieces well. One of the best things a horn player can do with them is to make them sound easy, and Muzyk certainly does. The portion of the album that lingers in my memory is the very first track—surely one of the fastest, most exhilarating accounts of Horn Concerto 1 on record. Clean, incisive playing by the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a leading court musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, through the indulgence of his father Leopold's employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, was able to amaze audiences throughout Europe as an infant prodigy. Adolescence and early manhood proved less satisfactory. Salzburg, under a new Archbishop from 1772, seemed to have little to offer, although it did provide an element of security for the family. Leopold Mozart, now Vice-Kapellmeister, had largely sacrificed his own career as a composer to that of his son, but prudence kept him in Salzburg. Mozart, however, first tried to seek his fortune elsewhere in 1777, when, having secured his dismissal from the court musical establishment, he travelled to Mannheim and to Paris, hoping to find a position that would provide scope for his genius. Unsuccessful in his quest, he returned reluctantly to Salzburg, where his father had arranged his reinstatement in the service of the Archbishop. It was largely through connections made at Mannheim that he received a request for an opera to be mounted in Munich, where the Elector now had his seat. Idomeneo, re di Creta (Idomeneus, King of Crete) was successful there early in 1781, but immediately afterwards Mozart was told to join the entourage of the Archbishop of Salzburg in Vienna. Here his impatience and feeling of frustration led to a break with his patron and a final period of precarious independence in Vienna, without the security of Salzburg or the immediate prudent advice of his father. At first things seemed to go well. Without seeking his father's approval, he married one of the dowerless daughters of a jobbing Mannheim musician, but made a name for himself as a composer and performer. Nevertheless his earnings never seemed commensurate with his expenses, so that by the end of the decade he found himself constantly obliged to borrow money.
In 1791 it seemed that Mozart's luck was turning. Although the succession of a new Emperor after the death of Joseph II lost him his minor court position as a composer of dance music, he was appointed, in May, unpaid assistant to the Kapellmeister at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, with right of succession to the aging incumbent. Together with the actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder he was busy with a new German opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), to be mounted in the autumn, while Prague had commissioned from him a coronation opera, La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus), a work staged there in September, to the expressed contempt of the new Emperor's wife. He had undertaken to compose a Requiem, but this was to remain unfinished at his sudden death in December 1791, to be completed eventually by his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
Mozart's Horn Concertos belong to the final period of his life and were written for the Salzburg horn-player Ignaz Leutgeb, a musician who had doubled as a violinist in the Salzburg orchestra, but had appeared in Paris as a horn soloist in concertos of his own composition, when he demonstrated the new technique of hand-stopped notes, the changing of pitch by the insertion of the right hand into the bell of the instrument. Leutgeb had moved to Vienna in 1777, when he had acquired a cheese-shop in the suburbs, according to Leopold Mozart, who had lent him money for the purpose, the size of a snail's shell. Four years later he had still not repaid the loan, as we learn from one of Mozart's letters to his father. Mozart remained on the friendliest terms with him, in his own wife's absence relying on Frau Leutgeb to launder his cravat for him, and playing various jokes on his friend. Something of their relationship can be gathered from the remarks that Mozart included in the autograph of the unfinished D major Rondo, and Allegro in which the horn part is marked Adagio and which continues with abusive remarks directed at the performer. Leutgeb retired from playing in 1792 and died in 1811.
Examination of the paper used by Mozart for the unfinished Rondo in D major, K. 412, makes it clear that the movement was written during the last summer of Mozart's life. It was completed by Süssmayr in 1792, with a revision of the first movement, also written in 1792, of what would presumably have been a three-movement concerto that now lacks a slow movement.
The first of the three completed horn concertos, the Horn Concerto in E flat major, K. 417, bears the date 27 May 1783, and a dedication to 'Leitgeb (the Salzburg spelling of the horn-player's name), Esel, Ochs und Narr' (Leutgeb, Ass, Ox and Idiot). It is scored for an orchestra of two oboes, two horns and strings. The first movement opens with the usual orchestral exposition, its two themes followed by the entry of the soloist, with material of his own. The short development adds a feeling of greater intensity before the return of the earlier material. The slow movement, of which the original autograph has been lost, makes very little use of the other wind instruments, which appear only at the beginning and end of the movement, and to mark the conclusion of the first section. They return in the final hunting rondo, with its characteristically ebullient principal theme.
The second completed concerto, Horn Concerto No.3 in E flat major, K. 447, has been convincingly dated to 1787, although some prefer an earlier date. It is scored for an orchestra of pairs of clarinets, bassoons and horns, with strings, and follows the now customary form, making even greater demands on the virtuosity of the soloist and ending in characteristic style in the final rondo.
In the index of his composition that Mozart had begun to compile in Vienna the third completed concerto, Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat major, K. 495, is dated 26 June 1786, and described as 'Ein Waldhorn Konzert für den Leitgeb'. The surviving pages of the autograph are written in different coloured inks - red, green, blue and black - a fact that some have chosen to see as a joke and others, no doubt rightly, as a code giving an indication of the dynamics. The final Rondo is written only in red and black, but the slow movement makes use of all four colours. The work is scored for pairs of oboes and horns with strings.
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MOZART: Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4