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Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Jiří Bĕlohlávek, conductor/Christian Tetzlaff, violin, performs Mozart Apr. 19 - 21, 2007
© Richard Freed

The G-major Concerto, dated September 12, 1775, was performed in Salzburg shortly after that date, most likely with Mozart himself as soloist. In the National Symphony Orchestra's first performance of this work, conducted by Jascha Horenstein on November 11, 1945, the soloist was Jan Tomasow, the orchestra's concertmaster at the time; in the most recent one, at Wolf Trap on June 12, 2003, the soloist was Itzhak Perlman and the conductor was Leonard Slatkin. Under Howard Mitchell, the NSO recorded the Concerto for RCA Victor nearly fifty years ago, with Jaime Laredo as soloist.

In addition to the solo violin, the score calls for pairs of flutes, oboes and horns, with strings. Duration, 24 minutes.

Leopold Mozart, the composer's father, was a composer in his own right and is remembered as a highly respected violin pedagogue, renowned throughout Europe for the violin method (Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule) he published in 1756, the year his illustrious son was born. Leopold frequently urged Wolfgang to make more of his own violin-playing. When Wolfgang went off to Mannheim in 1777, on the extended trip that would eventually take him to Paris, Leopold wrote to him,

You have no idea how well you play the violin. If only you would do yourself justice and play with boldness, spirit and fire, as if you were the greatest violinist in Europe!

By then, though, Wolfgang was more or less through with the violin, and through composing concertos for the instrument, having within a short time produced five of them, in addition to a Concertone for two violins and miniature concertos incorporated within several of his big orchestral serenades. Although he did compose some individual movements, as alternatives to existing ones in his concertos, as late as the mid-1780s, they were not for himself but for the Italian virtuoso Antonio Brunetti, who had succeeded him as concertmaster in Salzburg in 1777.

Several violin concertos attributed to Mozart appeared over the years which turned out to be inauthentic. Only five are certified as his, and until quite recently all five were thought to have been composed between April and December of the single year 1775. What was puzzling about this was the sharp rise in respect to substance and depth represented by the present work, which appeared in the middle of that period. Toward the end of the twentieth century it was determined that the Violin Concerto No. 1 (K. 207) was not composed in April 1775 after all, but two years earlier, when Mozart was only 17, and now it is strongly suspected that the Second Concerto (K. 211) may also have composed earlier than 1775. Surely the enormous strides exhibited in G-major Concerto support such a notion, as Alfred Einstein expressed it in his celebrated study of Mozart and his music: "Suddenly there is a new depth and richness in Mozart's whole language."

Intimate lyricism is the keynote of this concerto, but elegance and vivacity are part of the mix as well. If the first movement is a profusion of melodic and rhythmic wonders, the Adagio is even more striking: a luminous nocturne in which the solo material exhibits on the highest level both the great warmth and the elegance of design that characterize the entire work with such seeming effortlessness. The effect of sheer enchantment is enhanced by the substitution of flutes for the oboes in this movement alone. (In Mozart's time it was assumed that the oboists would simply switch to the flutes, eliminating the need for additional players.)

The concluding Rondeau (Mozart specified this French term for his violin concerto finales) is a sequence of captivating vignettes, among them a beguiling little serenade by the soloist with pizzicato accompaniment from the orchestral strings, and a musette-like citation of a popular tune before the proceedings come to an unceremonious close in which the winds have the last gentle word.

As second concertmaster in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg (under Michael Haydn, younger brother of the great Joseph Haydn), Mozart would have been called upon to perform as soloist in his violin concertos, and he probably composed all of them for his own use. After 1775, though, he composed no more violin concertos, and made it clear that he did not care to be the greatest violinist in Europe. From that point on, when he did play a stringed instrument it was the darker-voiced viola, with which the violin shares solo honors in the last his concerted works in which it figures in a solo role, the Sinfonia concertante in E-flat (K. 364) of 1779. Mozart apparently played the viola part in that work's Salzburg premiere (with Brunetti as his partner on the violin), and the viola was his instrument in the famous quartet evenings in Vienna with Haydn, Dittersdorf and Vanhal in the 1780s.