PRO-2419: Mozart: Flute Concertos

As a boy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) enchanted the crowned heads of Europe with his highly developed musical skills. Under the strict supervision of his father, then on extended leave of absence from his post in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, the little Mozart’s precocious talents were exhibited, first to royalty, then, for a fee, to the general public. But the prodigy does not remain a child forever, nor would the new Archbishop Colloredo suffer long absences on the parts of his staff. Moreover, with his connections in Vienna and in Italy, the former Archbishop may well have arranged that his errant servants should be offered no posts in other parts. Thus Mozart was obliged to accept employment as concertmaster to Colloredo, a patron less generous to the arts than had been his predecessor. By age 22, Salzburg already seemed too provincial, too confining to the ambitious genius, whose relations with his employer were often strained. With high hopes for what he might achieve in the major cultural centers of Europe, Mozart more or less arranged to be discharged from his post as concertmaster, and set out in search of his fortune, accompanied by his mother. Though he made a number of important friends, including some eminent musicians, and though his great gifts did not go unrecognized, eighteen months of travels did not gain him a suitable sinecure. Thus Mozart found himself a freelance by circumstance, earning most of his small income by teaching.
It was during this period of travelling (1777 - 79), and shortly after learning that a position as court composer at Mannheim had been denied him, that Mozart received a commission from a Dutch music-lover, Ferdinand De Jean. Through an intermediary, the flutist Wendling, the young composer learned that for 200 florins the Dutchman expected to receive three flute concertos and a miscelania of smaller works featuring the flute, including chamber music. Further, it was requested that the music be simple in style, possibly because De Jean wanted to attempt playing the pieces himself.
In response to the commission, Mozart composed a new and wholly original concerto in G-Major, an Andante in C-Major (which may have been a substitute second movement for this concerto), and two quartets for flute and strings. A second concerto was also provided, this one representing a substantial reworking of a concerto in C-Major that Mozart had written for the oboist Giuseppe Ferlendis before leaving Salzburg. (The text of the oboe concerto, and its primacy, were established by the conductor B. Paumgartner, who did the necessary detective work, and located the original parts in a bundle at the Mozarteum.)
It will be evident to the listener that there are passages in the concertos that require a well-developed technique for their execution, which was not really in keeping with the spirit of the commission. And thought the differences between the C-Major Oboe Concerto and the (rewritten) D-Major Flute Concerto are significant, reflecting the dissimilar capabilities and characters of the two solo instruments, De Jean was not pleased to receive what he thought was a recycled composition. Moreover, the expected third concerto never materialized. Thus Mozart received only a portion of the originally offered funds.
At this distance the full amount of the commission would seem little enough to have paid for the two concertos alone. Both are in the then-fashionable galante style, deepened by Mozart’s lyric gifts and penchant for thematic development, and are considered among the finest of such works from the period. While the Andante in C and the flute quartets are not on the exalted level of Mozart’s final symphonies and operas, they nevertheless represent significant contributions to flute literature, and D Jean did receive them as well.
The Rondo in D-Major is a transposition of a later piece, a Rondo in C for violin, written in Vienna in 1781. This seems to have been transcribed for flute only after the composer’s death. No autograph of the arrangement for flute is known to exist, and which among the printed texts might be the earliest cannot be determined. If not entirely Echt-Mozart, it is almost certain that the composer would not have objected to this treatment, since in this form it makes an equally splendid effect.
Despite his great genius, Mozart was not an innovator in the area of form. In the concertos he was content to work within the conventions first established by such Italians as Vivaldi, later modified by he Mannheimers and by Joseph Haydn. We find the familiar three-movement form, with its fast-slow-fast tempo scheme, being used by Mozart in all of his wind concertos. Within the movements the customary Classical ways of doing business will be seen, ie. general ways of ordering musical events to which we now give names like “Sonata form” and “Rondo”. With Mozart it is not the bottles to which we look for evidence of his originality, but rather to the fine vintages contained therein. (Leroy Southers)

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