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Mozart was 22 when he received his first commission for the flute during his stay in Mannheim in early 1778. These were a pair of concertos for a Dutch physician and amateur flute player, Ferdinand Dejean (1731-1797). The commission was accepted rather reluctantly on the part of Mozart, who had no particular liking for the flute. Indeed he received less that half the promised 200 florins because of his tardiness in delivering the various works which had been ordered. On 14 February 1778 Mozart wrote to his father: "Moreover you know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear." Given the craftsmanship which the composer reveals in his several compositions for the flute, this statement is rather hard to believe. Although Mozart was stimulated in so many ways by the music-making of the Mannheim court of Elector Karl Theodor, little of that influence is apparent in the concertos; they are more in line with the violin concertos written before he left Salzburg.

Concerto Number 1 in G, K. 313

This was a wholly original work. From beginning to end, it flows with utmost ease and melodic inventiveness. In the opening bars, and indeed at various places throughout the work, there are intimations of later compositions. The first movement, Alllegro maestoso, is almost kaleidoscopic in its wealth of melody and constantly shifting tonality between major and minor. The second movement, Adagio non troppo, anticipates the slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto in its thematic content as well as choice of key (D major). This movement is also very lyric and at times borders on the operatic. The last movement, a minuet-rondo, is full of musical colors and exquisite melodies. The work is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings.

The Andante in C, K. 315

This may have been intended as an alternative (and, for its amateur patron, simpler) slow movement for the Concerto No. 1 in G, K. 313, rather than as a movement for a projected third concerto. However, the movement it might have replaced is, as Einstein says, "so personal, one might say even so fantastic, so completely individual in character, that the man who commissioned the work evidently did not know what to do with it."

Concerto Number 2 in D, K. 314

The opening movement of the concerto in D is marked Allegro aperto, an instruction almost unique to Mozart. A bold Allegro ("open" or "frank" are less satisfying alternatives as a translation) would perhaps best characterise the Italian, and the opening theme bears this out with its stress on the second beat accompanied by the insistent pedal note in violas, cellos and basses. The first movement is in conventional sonata form with a contrastingly sweet second subject appearing at the twelfth bar. The Andante ma non troppo betrays nothing of Mozart's expressed indifference to the flute; rather he explores its potential to embellish the lyrical melody which forms the basis of the movement and the finale is a spirited rondo.

Concerto in C, K. 299 (for flute, harp and orchestra)

The harp is an odd item in Mozart’s solo writing. Its use in this concerto was due to one of the usual reasons for any unusual choice, in this case, a commission. Mozart was staying in Paris from March to September of 1778, hoping to establish himself among the wealthy aristocracy. Shortly after he arrived, the Comte de Guines, a French aristocrat who was and excellent flutist, asked Mozart to give daily two-hour composition lessons to his daughter, a harpist, and subsequently requested a concerto for himself and his daughter. Mozart found the young Mil. De Guines to be a much better harpist than composer, and he finished the concerto in April of that year.

The concerto is steered through very clear tonal waters; there is no sailing near the chromatic wind. Regardless of its almost neutral simplicity, the music is endowed with Mozart’s patent individuality, in clear construction and direct, sustained utterance. The work consists of three movements, the outer pair both in allegro tempo and C-major tonality; the excursions to minor regions are very few. There is a particular French light manner to the piece, especially in the last movement (set in rondo form with gavotte-like spirit). The slow movement (not so “slow” as “slower” than the allegro, since it is an andantino) is in the subdominant and offers further timbre contrast by the elimination of the pairs of oboes and horns that represent the wind and brass families in the accompanying body of instruments. Einstein’s remark about this section is worth noting: "the music being decorative and sensuous but not lacking in deeper emotions."

Mozart treats the harp with due consideration of its basic diatonic capacity. He had to, as the modern double-action instrument was not perfected until after Mozart’s death. It rarely deviates form key purity, and the usual palaver of glissandi, smart technical effects and the like are completely absent. The writing at times overemphasizes an “Alberti bass” harp accompaniment, but on the other hand, the andantino presents convincing harp arpeggios. The weights of the solo colors are neatly apportioned and one of the most subtle and effective points of scoring is when the flute rides as bass to the harp or twists inside the latter’s duo-voiced texture.

Flute Quartet in D, K. 285

Flute Quartet in A, K. 298

Flute Quartet in C, K. App. 171 (K. 285b)

Flute Quartet in , K. 285a

Sinfonia concertante in E flat, K. App. 9 (K. 297b)

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References

  1. Christopher Fifield - Philips Mozart The Works for Flute
  2. The Classic FM guide to Classical Music, 1997
  3. Harris Goldsmith - ATM CD 1271 - Masterpieces for Flute