London Symphony Orchestra - Peter Maag
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner
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The classical horn was a much more rudimentary instrument than the valve horn familiar to us today: during the early classical period only the natural harmonics could be obtained, and this very much limited the use of the horn as a solo instrument. However, in the second half of the eighteenth century a new technique was developed which enabled players to produce notes other than those belonging to the natural harmonic series. This involved using the hand to vary the size of the opening of the bell, and so supplemented the traditional method of note-production based on varied lip-pressure. One of the foremost exponents of the new technique was Joseph Leutgeb (c. 1745-1811) - also sometimes known as Ignaz Leitgeb - who was noted for his ability to sustain a warm singing tone as much as for his virtuosity (during a triumphal visit to Paris in 1770, his tone was compared to the mellowest human voice). Born in Salzburg, Leutgeb became a friend of the Mozart family as early as 1763, and it was for him that Mozart wrote all his works for solo horn (four concertos, a concert rondo and a horn quintet).
By the early 1780s both men had settled in Vienna (Mozart attempted to live on his earnings as a freelance performer and composer from June 1781, while Leutgeb had in the meantime gone into business as a cheesemonger), and the horn concertos were all composed during this final decade of Mozart's life. The relationship between composer and soloist was an affectionate and jocular one, and this is reflected in the humorous personal remarks which Mozart inscribed in the score of the Rondo of the First Concerto. This Concerto is unusual in that it consists of two movements only; the finale is a 'hunting' Rondo in lilting 6/8 time - a type that evidently proved to be popular with audiences, for Mozart kept to the same formula in all the subsequent horn concertos. The first movement of the Second Concerto is marked 'maestoso' - an adjective which had a particular connotation for Mozart, as can also be seen from the corresponding movements of the Flute Concerto in G and the Sinfonia Concertante. The music of this movement is characterised by a sense of dignity and by the rich variety of the thematic material. It is complemented by a stately Andante, and a typically high-spirited Rondo rounds off the Concerto. The Third Concerto was probably composed late in 1783 - immediately prior to some of the greatest of the mature piano concertos. More adventurous than any of the other works so far written for Leutgeb, its slow movement is a Romance in the unusual (for Mozart) key of A flat, and this choice of key gives rise to some exceptionally rich harmonies. The Fourth Concerto marks a further advance in technical difficulty; it is also probably the most immediately attractive of the four, with a tuneful first movement, a lyrically tender Romanza, and a splendidly exuberant 'hunting' Rondo.
Haydn's Horn Concerto No.l in D dates from 1762, the year after he entered the service of the Esterhazy family. Haydn's duties in his new post were many and varied, and the autograph score of the Concerto provides graphic evidence of the extent to which the composer was overburdened: the last page bears the inscription 'In Schlaff geschrieben1 (written while asleep!). The fast outer movements of the Concerto present the horn in its 'hunting' guise, while the central Adagio explores more the cantablle character of the instrument -an aspect that was to be developed more fully in the works that Mozart wrote for Leutgeb.