Mozart Violin Concerto no. 3 in G, K. 216

performed by Arabella Steinbacher and Festival Strings Lucerne, or as below by Johannes Leertouwer and La Borea

(cover image by Zhang Kaiyv)

This is a suitable end to our long stretch of Mozart pieces.

Thoughts I have about this piece include that it’s good to remember that it’s not always the latest, or most mature, work in a form that is the most successful or popular, and also that you can’t always chalk everything up to a timeline, considering these concertos were written in such close proximity.

That being said, Blair Johnston sings the praises of this work, saying:

Even a composer given to as rapid spurts of artistic growth as Mozart would have been hard-pressed to travel such a great distance in the span of only a few months.

but that’s not all:

This is arguably Mozart‘s most popular violin concerto; it has neither the boisterous enthusiasm of No. 4 in D nor the electric virtuosity of No. 5 in A — it is a far more intimate work than either of those — but the sweetness and ingratiating simplicity of its melodies are surpassed by virtually nothing Mozart ever wrote.

The second concerto was full of charms, but this work adds to that strength a level of fullness and… meatiness (?) that the previous one somewhat lacked.

This work, like almost all of the other concertos for the instrument, dates from 1775, and is in three movements. It has a duration of about 24 minutes.

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Rondeau. Allegro

At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll state the obvious: the orchestra begins the concerto by introducing the material that the violin later picks up. It is, even without the soloist, a degree of elegance and beauty that surpasses the majority of what we’ve heard from him so far. The entrance of the soloist elevates the work yet again, and we’re off. Johnston speaks of the work’s operatic nature, and it is that spirit that had me unknowingly humming this first movement for days on end. Need anything more be said? The texture of the work is pristine, lithe, weightless but substantial.

There is also a real sense of conversation and interaction, but even the 19-year-old Mozart knows that the success of a nine-minute first movement can’t rest on charms alone, and the development balances this out with a breathtaking theatrical contrast. There’s a sense not only of the atmosphere darkening, but also a palpable moving away from familiar territory, of departing, of being distant, and the oboe, who closes out the orchestral introduction, is interacting with the soloist in a way that is familiar yet not. This sixteenth-note passage may well be the climax of the development, but the return of the opening material is likely, and suitably, even more glorious, all of which is topped only by the magnificent cadenza at the end of the movement.

The second movement is in ternary form, and D major. It is nearly as long as the previous movement, and also has an operatic, if not more serenade-like, quality to it. It’s very intimate throughout, with the textures of flute (rather than oboe, here) and plucked strings affording this soliloquous (that should certainly be a word) movement a more delicate feeling.

In contrast, the finale is positively boisterous. Johnston says:

Each of the finales of Mozart’s last three violin concertos is interrupted mid-course by an episode that contrasts with the main music far more than one normally finds in a rondo (the movements are examples of the so-called French Rondo, or Rondeau, then just entering its heyday).

We’re back to G major here, after sone other keys in the middle movement, but Wikipedia mentions “a G minor Andante section in cut common time,” which must be the episode referred to above. That’s a lot of ground to cover in just over six minutes and not feel forced. About halfway through this movement, it seems obvious that we’re headed toward a grand, boisterous peroration, but things come to a sudden halt with this andante passage, which retains the bounce and movement of the allegro but harkens back a bit to the softness of the second movement.

We don’t stay there for very long at all, though, and return to a jubilant mood as we get ever closer to the end of the movement, and with greater virtuosity from the soloist. Compared with the earlier two concertos, this one certainly is more complete, more substantial in all ways, and yet Mozart has one more little surprise up his sleeve when the work ends not with a bang but a whisper.

This piece has just about everything you could want in beautiful, pristine measure: playfulness, refinement, delicacy, heft, restraint, melody. It’s really a beautiful thing, and it is with this gem that we say goodbye to the still-very-young composer for some time, at least until a few months into 2019 (can you believe that’s a thing that’s about to happen?) Thanks so much for reading, and stay tuned for some Beethoven and Brahms to round out the year.

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