MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 / Sinfonia Concertante
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Sinfonia concertante in E Flat Major, K.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born inSalzburg in 1756, the younger and second surviving child of Leopold Mozart, amusician in the service of the ruling Archbishop. The same year brought thepublication of Leopold Mozart's book on violin-playing, a compilation that wonhim a wide reputation. Nevertheless his career was sacrificed before long tothat of his son, whose genius he soon realised and to the fostering of which hededicated his energies. He remained until his death in 1787 Vice-Kapellmeisterin Salzburg, his final years darkened by his son's departure for Vienna in1781.
In his childhood Mozart excelled as akeyboard-player, his skill shown in performance, in sight-reading and inimprovisation, and as a violinist. With his older sister Nannerl he touredEurope, exciting wonder wherever he went. Adolescence proved less satisfactory.
In 1771 the old Archbishop of Salzburg, an indulgent patron, died, and wassucceeded 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 fromthose in his employ. At the age of thirteen Mozart had been appointed thirdconcert-master of the court orchestra, unpaid. Under the new Archbishop he wasgiven the paid position of concert-master, but there were now severerestrictions on his freedom, exercised in earlier years in extended tours thathad taken him to Paris, to London and on several occasions to Italy. Salzburg,furthermore, could hardly satisfy Mozart's ambitions as a composer, or hisfather's justified hopes for his son's material advancement. In 1777 he wasallowed to resign from the Archbishop's service, an option offered also to hisfather, but prudently refused, in order to travel to Mannheim and to Paris. Theobject of the journey, on which he was accompanied by his mother, who fell illand died during their stay in Paris, was to seek a better appointment. InJanuary 1779 he returned home, reluctantly accepting the appointment of cour1organist in Salzburg.
In 1780 there came a commission for a newopera for the Elector of Bavaria in Munich, staged early in 1781, and this wasfollowed by a visit to Vienna in the entourage of his patron. Apparentrestrictions on his freedom to perform as he wished in Vienna led Mozart toquarrel with the Archbishop, a dispute that ended in his dismissal. For theremaining ten years of his life he remained in Vienna, encumbered by a wife andintermittently increasing family, but without the security of a patron or thesupport of regular paternal advice. Initial success in the theatre and as akeyboard-player, particularly in a magnificent series of piano concertos he wrotefor his own use, was followed by a period of depression, when he found itincreasingly difficult to meet the expenses of a style of life to which he hadbeen accustomed. In spite of his father's admonitions from Salzburg, he nolonger practised the violin, although he played the viola in informalperformances of chamber music in which he was joined by Haydn, Dittersdorf andthe composer Vanhal. By 1791 his fortunes seemed to have taken a turn for thebetter, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute. He died after ashort illness in December of the same year.
If Mozart was preoccupied with thefortepiano in Vienna in the 1780s, the previous decade in Salzburg had foundhim giving much greater attention to the violin. He was concert-master of thecourt orchestra and took the opportunity on a number of occasions of appearingas a soloist, as he did in the autumn of 1777 in Augsburg and in Munich at thebeginning of his journey to Mannheim and Paris. In a letter to his father fromAugsburg, Leopold Mozart's native city, he criticised the standard ofviolin-playing in the Augsburg orchestra and relates how he has played a violinconcerto there by Vanhal and his own so-called Strassburg concerto,variously identified as K. 218, or possibly K. 216.
Mozart wrote his five violin concertosfor his own use in Salzburg or for the use of the Italian violinist AntonioBrunetti, 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 inSalzburg by Johann Anton Kolb, for whom Leopold Mozart implies one of theconcertos had been written. In a letter to his wife and son on 26th September1777 Leopold Mozart describes a concert given by Kolb for the foreign merchantsand including a performance of one of the violin concertos. After the concerthe tells how they all got drunk and pushed one another in procession round theroom, succeeding in breaking the central chandelier. Three weeks later he addsa description of a performance of Mozart's Strassburg concerto byBrunetti in the theatre, while the actors were changing their costume. FromParis in September the following year Mozart talks of the possibility ofrevising his violin concertos and shor1ening them to suit French taste, a taskhe never underlook.
The Violin Concerto No.4 in D major,K. 218, whether identical with the Strassburg concerto or not - thenickname would, in any case, be derived presumably from a fortuitousresemblance of a theme in the last movement to a Strassburg dance - wascompleted in October 1775. It is scored for pairs of oboes and horns withstrings. The first movement, a bold Allegro, is introduced by a declaration ofthe principal theme, later to be taken up by the soloist. There is a lyrical slowmovement and a final Rondeau - Mozart uses the French spelling of the word - inwhich two disparate thematic elements are contrasted, the first an elegantAndante grazioso and the second a rapider Allegro, forming a movement teemingwith prodigal melodic invention, including an unexpected dance in G major, asection of it allowing the violinist to provide a drone bass for the solotheme.
Mozart's stay in Mannheim in 1777 and theearly months of 1778 introduced him to an orchestra that the English musicianCharles Burney had described as an army of generals. It was for the remarkablewind-players of the orchestra that he wrote his first sinfonia concertante,confidently expecting a performance in Paris, when the necessary musicians werethere together in 1778. In Salzburg once more in 1779 he turned hisattention again to the form and completed his Sinfonia concertante in E flatfor violin and viola, K. 364, scoring it for the usual Salzburg orchestra, withpairs of oboes and horns, together with strings. The viola part makes use ofscordatura, with the instrument tuned up a semitone, although some modernplayers prefer to play the work on an instrument tuned in the normal way.
During the same months of 1779 he started a Sinfonia concert ante for solo violin,viola and cello, but never completed it, while in Mannheim a year before he hadwritten the first 120 bars of the first movement of a similar composition forsolo violin, solo piano and an orchestra that included flutes, trumpets anddrums, in addition to the usual oboes, horns and strings.
The Sinfonia concertante forviolin and viola opens solemnly, the orchestral exposition leading to the entryof the two soloists together, followed by a movement in which generally oneplayer is to answer the other in antiphonal duet. A composed cadenza for violinand viola leads to the conclusion of the movement. After a simpler statement ofthe principal theme of the slow movement, the solo violin enters, echoed by theviola, the two solo instruments sometimes joining together and sometimesresponding one to the other in close imitation. The work ends with a finalmovement in which the solo violin follows the o