The Kennedy Center

Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major, K. 313

About the Work

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
© Richard Freed

Mozart composed the Concerto in G major in Mannheim, early in 1778, and the work was probably performed there by Johann Baptist Wendling, the solo flutist of the Mannheim Orchestra. The National Symphony Orchestra gave its first performance of this work in a chamber orchestra concert conducted by Pinchas Zukerman on March 12, 1978, with Eugenie Zukerman as soloist, and performed it most recently at Wolf Trap on July 13, 2000, with Paula Robison as soloist and Anthony Aibel conducting.

In addition to the solo flute, the score calls for 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings. Duration, 26 minutes.

When Mozart set out from Salzburg toward the end of 1777 he intended to go only as far as Mannheim, where the finest orchestra in Europe was maintained and where he thought he might he might find a new position in a more pleasant setting than that of the Prince-Archbishop Colloredo's court in his hometown. He became especially friendly with the brilliant wind soloists of that orchestra, however, and they persuaded him to extend his journey the following spring to Paris, where they had engagements. Meanwhile, shortly after his arrival in Mannheim, the flutist in that group, the celebrated Johann Baptist Wendling, introduced him to a wealthy Dutchman named De Jean, or De Jong, who is described variously as having been a sea captain or having been a surgeon in exotic locales for the Dutch East India Company. Whatever his actual name or profession, he was an enthusiastic amateur flutist, and upon Wendling's suggestion he commissioned Mozart to compose three concertos and a set of quartets for flute and strings, stipulating that the works not be too long or too difficult. Mozart accepted the commission, but wrote to his father, "You know how laggard I become when obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear," and he delivered less than the specified quantity of music.

In respect to the concertos, only one new one was completed, this one in G major. Mozart was able to supply a second one (K. 314) by adapting the Oboe Concerto he had composed two years earlier for the Italian oboist Giuseppe Ferlendis, and De Jean must have known it was not a new work, since the Mannheim oboist Friedrich Ramm had been performing it frequently. An isolated Andante in C major (K. 515) was also composed for flute and orchestra at that time, possibly intended for a third concerto, or more likely as an alternative slow movement for the Concerto in G major, whose highly personal and expressive Adagio may have been too demanding for De Jean. The flute quartets were not entirely new, either, and there were only four of them, instead of the six De Jean expected. In any event, the notion of "an instrument I cannot bear" is simply not borne out in any of these works, and most particularly not in this concerto, which the great Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein described as having been "written con amore from beginning to end."

The aforementioned Adagio is surely the crown of the work, but the vivacious outer movements are fully worthy of it. The very substantial opening movement (Allegro maestoso) would suggest that writing for the flute was the very stimulus Mozart needed to give of his best, while the concluding Rondo (Tempo di menuetto) is, in Einstein's words, "a veritable fountain of good spirits and fresh invention." ???????????

The cadenzas played by Emmanuel Pahud (who happens to have been born on Mozart's birthday) are his own.