Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Night Shift: Mozart horns, and his horn-playing best friend



At the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's forthcoming Night Shift on 5 April 2018 at Conway Hall, they will be presenting Mozart's Horn Concertos with something of a twist. But the intriguing thing is that the twist is all Mozart's own.

His final horn concerto (in D, often known confusingly as concerto no. 1) was written for Josef Leutgeb, an important 18th-century horn player and a friend of Mozart's. When he visited London as a child prodigy, Mozart said that Josef (then in his early 30s) was one of the Salzburg friends he was missing. Haydn probably wrote his Concerto in D, Hob. VIId/3D, for Leutgeb, and Mozart wrote the Horn Concertos K. 417, K. 495 and K. 412/386b (514), and possibly the Horn Quintet K. 407/386c, for him. Clearly they had a lively relationship because Mozart's manuscript for the concerto has a running commentary of jokes in Italian, full of encouragements an sly digs at the player - When the 11th harmonic (an out of tune note which needs tempering) appears Mozart pens the words 'ouch' or 'alas' and when flattened notes are required he writes 'Oh you do make me laugh!'.

So when the OAE with principal horn Roger Montgomery play the concert at the Conway Hall, Mozart's affectionate jibes will appear as surtitles, giving the audience a unique glimpse into Mozart and Leutgeb's relationship. In fact, Leutgeb was nearly 60 when Mozart wrote the concerto, a significant age in the 18th century especially for one still performing so this may be why Mozart made the concert technically less complex than some of his others.

In fact, Mozart died before he could complete the concerto and his pupil Franz Sussmayr effectively wrote the second movement but did his own thing. So Montgomery and the OAE will be presenting both this version and a reconstructed one based upon Mozart's original sketches by Stephen Roberts. Thanks to other research, we now know a little more about Leutgeb, for example, Groves Dictionary of Music says that he was a cheese maker, owing to fact he purchased a tiny house which had attached to it the rights to make cheese (he borrowed the money from Mozart's father), there is no evidence that he did any such thing. The OAE hopes that the evening will bring both Mozart's original concerto and the personality of Josef Leutgeb just that little bit closer.

The Night Shift is the OAE's more casual series, in addition to Mozart's horn concertos, there will also be the bewitching alt-folk-meets-classical duo Balladeste.

Full details from The Little Box Office.

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