Flute & Harp Concerto

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Flute & Harp Concerto in C major

K297c, K299

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

At the end of March 1778, Mozart and his mother, Maria Anna, finally arrived in Paris after a prolonged stay in Mannheim (where Mozart had fallen in love with Aloysia Weber). On April 5 Maria Anna reported to Leopold (who had to remain in Salzburg) that Wolfgang had received a commission from the flute-playing Duke of Guines and his harpist daughter, who was taking music lessons from the composer. The commission, for a concerto for flute and harp, could hardly have inspired the young composer, who professed a dislike for both solo instruments and generally despised French musical taste, but he delivered the concerto dutifully. The combination of flute and harp, moreover, is a difficult one; "as a duo," notes writer Ethan Mordden, "they sound like a nymph going bonkers in a plashing spring." In spite of all this, however, the work is often played and is a perennial crowd-pleaser. Orchestras have few other opportunties to put their harpists on display in a concerto. Like almost everything else that happened on his trip with his mother to Paris, this concerto caused Mozart trouble; the Duke failed to pay the composer for it.

In its small forces (the orchestra has only two oboes, two horns, and the standard string ensemble) it is suited for the salon. In line with the standard concerto form, the two soloists wait for the orchestra to present the opening material of the first movement, then take it up in unison. The movement as a whole is most charming in the dialogue-like writing for the flute and harp and in its overflowing lyricism. The second movement is accompanied only by the string section (the violas are divided into two parts for a richer sound). It is warm, uncomplicated, and somewhat florid. The finale is a lively rondo with a veritable parade of attractive tunes. The concerto as a whole, notwithstanding its background, stands as one of the most pleasant mementos of Mozart's Paris sojourn, which would continue to reverberate stylistically through the rest of his output.