Violin Concerto No.4

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Violin Concerto No.4 in D major

K218 • “Strassburg Concerto”

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was still a teenager in the service of the Salzburg court when, in 1775, he composed his Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218. Mozart was a violinist of reasonable skill, and each of his five violin concertos seems to have been originally composed for his own use; but when Mozart relinquished his position with the court orchestra and was replaced by an altogether more skilled violinist named Antonio Brunetti (who was interested in playing Mozart's concertos), he took the concertos and put them back on the assembly line, revising and updating the violin writing. It would be very interesting to know whether or not the finalized, difficult, and brilliantly-figured score of the Violin Concerto No. 4 lay within the grasp of Mozart the violinist, or if it was on account of Brunetti's greater mastery that Mozart made his last two violin concertos so technically demanding. Whatever the case may be, the fourth Mozart violin concerto remains the most immediately scintillating of the five -- when asked to bring a Mozart concerto to the audition room, this is the one that is selected most often by aspiring violinists.

It is not happenstance that D major is the key most often selected by composers in which to cast their violin concertos (two of Mozart's are in that key), for it is in D major that the instrument, because of the tuning of its strings, vibrates most freely and rings longest. Mozart exploits this tonally-concocted capacity many times as the Concerto No. 4 moves along, from the resounding unisons and octaves of the orchestra opening to the shining entrance of the soloist on that same material (two octaves higher) to the rich arpeggios that later on lead the way into the recapitulation of the opening.

The Andante cantabile slow movement has not the fame of either the slow movement of the Concerto No. 3 in G or that of the Concerto No. 5 in A, but there is no shame in being a lesser-known gem. The main music of the Andante grazioso finale cannot decide between a light 2/4 and a more energized 6/8. But this is not the only such argument of tempo and meter in the movement: Mozart has returned to the kind of French Rondo finale that he used in the previous violin concerto, this time incorporating a rolling gigue and a folkish gavotte in the middle portion (all rondos are defined by alternation of a refrain theme with somewhat different material, but in a French Rondo the music stops altogether and suddenly, and sometimes very humorously, shoots off in an entirely new direction for a while).