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Mozart (1756-1791) - Concerto for Flute and Harp

Writing to his father from Paris (1778), Mozart described his fruitless attempts to teach composition to the Duc de Guines' daughter (intriguingly, Mozart considered teaching music a “science”). His father suggested he persist patiently, adding, “. . . should Monsieur le Duc hear some little thing composed by his daughter, he will be beside himself with pleasure”. The implication was “and surely be disposed to increase your fees”, for, in truth, the erstwhile child prodigy was having a torrid time, struggling for every penny. Mozart mentioned that “[the Duc] plays the flute incomparably, and she magnificently on the harp”. The Duc commissioned a concerto, affording Mozart another opportunity to rise in the Duc's estimation. Unfortunately, “estimation” was all: the Duc and his money were not soon parted, while Mozart and Money, it seems, would always mix like wax and water. 

The flute and the harp are perennial favourites of the French (think of Ravel!), both supremely sensual in sound, both pure-toned and penetrating - the harp is as near as you'll get to a “plucked flute”. A combination made in heaven for which Mozart, being Mozart, would surely have written music equally “made in heaven”. Is it heretical to suggest that he was not entirely comfortable with this combination? Certainly, it is beautifully crafted music, entirely characteristic of Mozart. Yet it sounds like a “Concerto for Flute and Piano” adapted for harp. So, don't expect any luscious harp glissandi (except possibly in the cadenzas, which Mozart didn't write). 

Unusually, all three movements contain cadenzas: 

1. Allegro No messing - the orchestra immediately deploys both themes (the second announced on horn) of a conventional sonata form. These are re-worked by the soli, an orchestral bridge on the first subject descending into a brief but breezy development. Recapitulation, cadenza, and coda follow with pleasurable inevitability. 

2. Andantino Ushered in on strings, the subject's short phrases become lyrically extended, these two facets promoting variations which alternate lighter and darker aspects, without either aspect dominating. The soli bloom in the light of considerate orchestral accompaniment. Finally, a cadenza leads to a coda where soli and orchestra dwell on the theme's lyrical side. 

3. Rondeau: allegro Unusually, the finale demands the most concentration. Mozart, I think, chose the only French marking not in deference to his commissioner, but to underline that this isn't a typical rondo. Unusually for Mozart's time, it's more like an arch: A-B-C-D-C-B- [cadenza]-A(coda), because C and D are merely prefaced with hints of A, adding spice to our amusement, or should that be “bemusement”? 

That's three “unusually”s, an unusual number of “unusually”s for music once described to me as “tedious”. It's surely a matter of expectations. Mozart wasn't Ravel, but taken on his own terms, you'll discover in his overlapping, weaving and intertwining of the unusual (again!) solo instruments all the enchantment that was ever his gift to offer.

© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


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