Mozart Horn Concerto no. 3 in E flat, K. 447

performed by David Pyatt and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner, or below with Radek Baborák and the RTVE Symphony Orchestra under Jean Jacques Kantorow

Here we are with another horn concerto from Mozart for his decades-older friend and famous horn player, Leitgeb or Leutgeb, however you prefer to spell it (he himself used the latter). If you’re not up on the history between these guys, go back and read the previous two posts. There are anecdotes and rumors and wrong information (like the spelling), a cheese shop, mounds of good-natured insults, and today’s work was, as Wikipedia says:

a friendly gesture for the hornist Joseph Leutgeb (his name is mentioned few times in the score), and Mozart probably didn’t consider it as particularly important, since he failed to enter it to the autograph catalogue of his works.

That’s a nice gesture and all, but I’d say the implied lack of importance Mozart gave to this work shows, at least a little bit. While it certainly has its charms, no questions asked, it is in my mind unquestionably inferior to the delightful, superbly written K. 417 from a few days ago. There’s no comparison. But let’s talk a little bit about it.

In this three-movement work, in contrast with the second, we get bassoons and lose horns, the only other winds being a pair of clarinets. This concerto, too, clocks in at around 15 minutes. Martha Kingdon Ward is quoted as saying the work

has clarinets besides bassoons and string for accompaniment. They bring warmth and light colouring to this most attractive work, and in spite of unadventurous support they partner the bassoons in many typical phrases.

That aside, Wikipedia only gives us some trivia about how this concerto is paired with other horn works from Mozart on various discs from various performers.

The concerto begins with a more robust symphonic sound, more mature, with forward motion. With that being said, I remind you that this work dates from 1783-87, more than a decade after the latest symphony (or quartet) we’ve discussed, so it’s no surprise his writing here, even in just this opening, and even in a work he might not have considered terribly important, has a more polished sounding entry.

Don’t get me wrong: the composition is masterful, with exquisite orchestral writing that effortlessly supports but never gets in the way of the soloist. The horn part is interesting, and there’s plenty to enjoy, but I find the breathtaking charms here much more in the orchestral part than the solo part. Maybe I’m just partial to the second concerto.

The first movement allegro is the longest, and after it, unsurprisingly, we have a slow movement, a romance. If we are indeed to believe that this was a work Mozart hurried off to give to his dear friend for performance, then maybe it gives us some idea of the composer’s abilities, what he’s capable of without putting too much effort into it. That may not be 100% accurate, but the work, and the second movement, obviously, have a characteristic delicate touch, a finesse, but to be honest, there’s nothing too terribly memorable about this second movement.

The third movement brings life to this concerto, and is undoubtedly the most memorable, inspired of the piece. Akin to its earlier counterpart, this concerto has its galloping, energetic moments, reminiscent of hunting songs, galloping horses, with an operatic, virtuosic flare and satisfying orchestral crunch. Yes.

I mean, I can’t say anything about details of performance of this work, what makes it unique aside from the other four, or if there’s some particularly French or Italian influence, or some quote of a melody Mozart did or would use elsewhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that is there. But we should all remember that we don’t need history or theory books to enjoy music as beautiful as this, even if some of us might prefer one work over another. It is what it is.

Also, think about it. Mozart wrote a lot of concertos: five for violin, more than two dozen for piano, these four for horn, as well as concerti for clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon… but none for cello, notably. In any case, with as much as we’ve seen of Mozart, there’s still so much more we haven’t gotten to yet, and aside from an article from a few years back about the clarinet quintet, which I shudder to read, this work is currently the latest piece of Mozart’s that we’ve discussed. I’m looking forward to getting around to the mature symphonies and quartets, not to mention those piano concertos, of which it seems he wrote more than any other (large) form. We’ll get there (very) eventually. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for another familiar face over the weekend.


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