Mozart Violin Concerto no. 5 in A, K. 219, ‘Turkish’

performed by Hilary Hahn and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvi

(cover image by Daniel Olah)

We’re still in 1775, but just barely, and we’re already at the fifth and final of Mozart’s entire violin concerto output. He churned out five works in the form within a pretty short period of time, but, I think if we’re being honest, even though these works don’t span his career like, say, the symphonies or piano concertos, the first two really do strike me as juvenilia. The last two, or three, though, are really works that stand as individual accomplishments in the form, ones you recall, or at least I do, as having personality and character.

The work is, as you’d expect, in standard three-movement form with a central slow movement.

  1. Allegro aperto – Adagio – Allegro aperto
  2. Adagio (E major)
  3. Rondeau – Tempo di minuetto

I’m also so ungodly behind on writing that these next few articles are going to be quite short, but the sentiment stands: this is a truly magnificent concerto for the instrument, and while it may not be of the grandeur or scope of, say, Beethoven or Brahms, obviously, it is a sort of rich, theatrical display of the instrument as main character in this drama.

The first movement begins more or less as you’d expect, but then… after the introductory material, the allegro aperto, has been introduced, things come to a halt. In this pause, as if time stopes, the violin makes its grand entrance, in an operatic, aria-like adagio, and Wikipedia tells us that it’s the only occasion in all of the composer’s concerto output (for any instrument, it seems to imply) that an entry like this is written. It’s majestic and dramatic, and sets the scene for a really beautiful first movement, as things quickly get back to the action of the introduction.

The thing that strikes me about this first movement, if not the piece overall, is the nature of the interaction between soloist and orchestra. It’s not as formal or, maybe stilted, as the kind of expected soloist and accompaniment of the earlier concertos. I wish I could quantify it better, but there’s something wholly organic, sort of spontaneous but not at all haphazard about the dialogue here.

The second movement, in E major, doesn’t even get a mention in the Wiki article, except to say that Mozart’s K. 261 was written as a substitute for this movement. It is a work of beauty, almost indulgently so, and is the kind of writing that it seems a violinist can really sink their bow arm into, with the soaring sweetness of the instrument.

The finale, though, is the reason this piece gets its nickname, and is yet another example of how those nicknames just aren’t very accurate. Nothing about this piece has any relation to anything Turkish at all, to be honest, and this one passage of the rondeau finale gives us something that smacks of the exotic, which at the time was labeled as Turkish. That being said, it’s a terribly exciting passage.

The rondeau, the French kind, as evident from the spelling, is in ‘the tempo of a minuet,’ and this is very apparent from the opening. It’s lilty and melodic and uninhibited and free, but one of the contrasting ideas in this movement is marked by a switch to A minor, and then the percussive, clacking col legno tapping of the bow on the strings of the cellos and basses, a fantastic sound effect when used tastefully, as here.

The piece doesn’t seem to have any epic ambitions, no grandiose goals, but really is spectacular in all that it accomplishes. As it’s the most mature of the composer’s (completed) work in the form, we can be glad that it seems to be mature beyond its (or rather the composer’s) years. A wonderful, enjoyable piece.

We have a teeny little bit more Mozart before we move on to Beethoven. I’m so behind right now, more than I’ve ever been in the five and a half years of writing this blog, so the next few posts will come somewhat rapid fire, if I can get them written, and then we’ll be caught-up-ish. Stay tuned and thank you for reading.

(P.S. The cover image for this article is about as Turkish as the piece itself. It’s the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest.)


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