Horn Concerto No.1

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Horn Concerto No.1 in D major

K386b, K412, K514

About this work

Alan Tyson has demonstrated that Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major, K. 412/514 (K. 386b), long thought to have been composed in 1782, dates from 1791 -- the year of the composer's death. The second movement is left incomplete in the autograph; in fact, the concerto was completed by Mozart's student Franz Xaver Süssmayer (1766-1803), who also finished Mozart's Requiem. Süssmayer took great liberties with the piece, inserting into the rondo finale a segment based on the Gregorian chant for the Lamentations of Jeremiah. This particular melody forms part of the music used during Holy Week in the Catholic Church, in light of which the inscription on the completed manuscript, "April 6, 1792," makes sense -- that date was the Catholic feast of Good Friday in 1792.

The inspiration for Mozart's horn concertos came from virtuoso hornist Joseph Leutgeb (1732-1811), whom the Mozarts knew in Salzburg. In 1777, he moved to Vienna and took over a cheesemonger's shop, borrowing money from Leopold Mozart. Leutgeb seems to have indulged the younger Mozart's base sense of humor: on the solo part of the Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major Mozart inscribed a text that matched the melody, parts of which read: "For you , Mr. Donkey," and "For you -- beast -- what a dissonance -- Oh! -- Woe is me!!" Scattered among the remarks are references to a certain male body part.

In two movements, each an Allegro in D major, the Concerto for Horn in D major, K. 412, is scored for solo horn in D, strings, two oboes, and two bassoons. The first movement features a typical structure for the first movement of a concerto -- a combination of ritornello and sonata form in which the opening orchestra exposition introduces material but does not change keys. The soloist enters, beginning with the first tune played by the orchestra, but continues on a different track toward a modulation to the dominant. Throughout, the writing for the horn is masterfully idiomatic, taking full advantage of the instrument's ability to produce easily leaps of a fourth and fifth as well as arpeggios. Undoubtedly, Leutgeb's excellent technique prompted Mozart's writing of extended florid passages.

The rousing 6/8-meter finale, a rondo in D major, recalls the horn's association with the hunt. Opening once again with the orchestra, the movement features a leaping main theme built of falling triads. The horn quickly takes up the tune before the movement spins off into the first episode. Marked by a youthful ebullience, the finale proceeds with alternations of new ideas with nearly literal returns of the rondo theme. Passages that stray significantly from the key of D major attest to Leutgeb's ear and technical facility.