Mozart Violin Concerto no. 1 in B-flat, K. 207

performed by Isabelle Faust and Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini, or below by Johannes Leertouwer and La Borea

(cover image by Anastasia Zhenina)

We welcome Mozart’s violin concertos to the blog.

It was thought for a time, or perhaps still is by some, that all five of Mozart’s violin concertos came as one big group, and the catalogue numbers bear this out (207, 211, 216, 218, 219). They were all thought to have been written in 1775, but there is now apparently evidence to suggest that this first concerto was written as early as 1773, making it one of the earliest concertos Mozart wrote (his first original piano concerto, K. 175, also dates from 1773).

It is a simple work, in three movements, with a duration of not quite 20 minutes:

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Presto

As many will point out, the work is obviously not a mature one. Joseph Stevenson points out the simplicity of the form alongside the work’s melodious nature. There’s perhaps a discussion to be had about what the composer’s innate talent was, what came naturally to him, and then what he learned and refined and developed as he grew. But we won’t discuss that here.

The first movement is indeed melodious and begins with quite a bit of color. Listen for horns. That’s great, but once the violin enters, the orchestra all but disappears. They take on more the role of a backdrop rather than any kind of actual accompanist. It’s melodic and attractive, but not terribly exciting besides being very melodic. There’s an undeniable… effervescence about the movement, even with the darker-shaded development. The undeniable shining, most memorable moment of the movement, and maybe the entire concerto, is the cadenza at the end of the movement, especially when you imagine the opportunity of seeing the composer himself perform it.

The second movement adagio is the longest movement of the work, and its potential simplicities as a more juvenile work are less obvious here, in a quiet, more intimate movement where the orchestra really is purposefully serving as a backdrop. There is some additional texture afforded by oboes, but there’s nothing terribly complex going on. It’s very pretty, though, and develops at a few points a pulse that makes you think just maybe we’re going to dive right into the finale. Instead, we get a more aria-like cadenza, and a crisp close to the movement before a pause and onto the presto.

It’s playful, again, really very light. I suppose it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that the orchestral writing isn’t terribly elaborate considering the point in the composer’s career. That being said, the solo part for the finale gives us something to enjoy, and the orchestra does reciprocate some of that energy, so it’s a satisfying close to this very early concerto from the young man.

Thankfully, though, there are four more. Unlike the piano concertos though, as we have discussed, they’re all relatively early works, none of them written past 1775. Stevenson closes his single-paragraph article on the work by stating that “The work is not very frequently performed in concert.” That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, with four (ostensibly stronger) efforts by the same composer and oodles of other far more famous concertos that (rightfully) get more attention.

We’ll see two more of Mozart’s concertos for the violin this week, and then give the poor guy a break for a while. Stay tuned for that and thanks so much for reading.

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