Mozart's Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407
performed at Staunton Music Festival
August 20, 2019
First Presbyterian Church, Staunton, VA
Todd Williams, natural horn
Ingrid Matthews, violin
Kyle Miller, viola
Gesa Kordes, viola
Michael Unterman, cello
About the Music
W. A. Mozart completed his first (and only) horn quintet in late 1782, when the composer was 26 years old. He intended the piece for a family friend, the horn player Ignaz Joseph Leutgeb, who, like Mozart, had grown up and established a musical career in Salzburg before moving to Vienna for other opportunities. The two men reunited in the capital and reestablished their bond, with Mozart eventually going on to write more pieces for his friend—including four fantastic horn concertos.
As one might suspect, the horn takes center stage in this quintet not only for its unique timbre in an ensemble of strings, but also for its commanding presence as a prominent solo voice. It dialogues at turns with the violin, the cello, and the entire string ensemble. The horn’s timbre is not the only contributor to this ensemble’s unique tone. Mozart has somewhat unusually written for two violas instead of two violins in his quartet. Some scholars posit that this choice was motivated by a desire to surround the horn with a mellower tone more sympathetic to its own.
The first movement plays with the textural dynamics of this unique consort, highlighting in particular the conversational encounters between the horn and violin. The second movement provides a sweet, soaring complement to the opening movement, and draws attention to the horn’s lyrical capabilities. During the third and final movement, we begin to understand the level of skill possessed by esteemed Herr Leutgeb (playing on the natural horn, no less) as we listen to some technically difficult passages. At the same time, we start to recognize why Mozart wrote so many horn pieces with this particular friend in mind.
(c) Emily Masincup, 2019
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