Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Horn Concerto No.4
Composed for virtuoso horn player Joseph Leutgeb, Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto is one his most colourful. So colourful that Mozart actually penned the score in red, green, blue and black ink! There are two potential reasons for the extra colour. The first is that he was playing around with Leutgeb, as they were close friends. More recent studies have shown that the colourful score could have actually been some sort of code that Mozart was writing. The answer I’m not sure we’ll ever know.
The horn, at the time of composition, was called a natural horn. This meant it had no valves whatsoever, making it nearly impossible to play chromatically. However, you may notice that this concerto has chromatic movement littered throughout this movement. Leutgeb was such a skilled horn player that his hand-stopping ability allowed him to play chromatic lines in tune. These are the most prominent in the faster outer two movements.
Completed in 1786, Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto was subtitled ‘Ein Waldhorn Konzert für den Leutgeb’ (‘A Hunting Horn Concerto for Leutgeb’). In true classical style Mozart composes to vivacious outer movements to encapsulate the slower middle movement. The concerto is one of Mozart’s most-loved works for horn, with its jolly characterics and memorable melodies.
Movement I – Allegro moderato
The lively first movement exploits Mozart’s flair for composing memorable themes. The opening orchestral introduction sets the scene for the soloist to enter later on. The lightness of the horn soars above the orchestra and makes the music even more exciting. The horn largely moves on its own, however it does unite with the orchestra at times to perform important segments of the main theme. The movement ends with a short orchestral coda.
Movement II – Romance
The lavish middle movement is an instrumental song that’s romantic in character and lyrical in presentation. A welcome change from the lively opening movement, the main melody in the second movement slowly unravels. The horn plays in both its upper and lower register, showing the breadth of writing that Mozart was aiming for. The shimmering sound of the horn against the strings creates an ethereal atmosphere at times. This movement ends quietly with the orchestra uniting.
Movement III – Rondo
Set in 6/8 time, the rousing finale movement is perhaps the most memorable. The fast technical work from the soloist highlights the capabilities of the instrument even at the time of composition. This movement is the best example of hunting music:
“The intervallic construction, featuring prominent tonic and dominant triads in the main melody, was to some degree dictated by the capability of the horn, and so was more closely allied with the original pure characteristics of the chasse as an open-air hunting call.”
After a reprise of the main melody the music comes to a thrilling close as the orchestra finally unite for the last time to play a series of tonic-dominant stabs before the rousing finish.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s high-energy Fourth Horn Concerto is a staple in horn repertoire. From the technical prowess of the third movement to the control required for the first and second, the concerto is a challenge for the performer, but a joy for the listener.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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