Horn Concerto No. 4

The instrumental concerto was extremely popular in 18th century culture. The audiences of the time valued anything theatrical, playful and brilliant, and it is these qualities that are embedded in the very nature of the concerto genre. The concerto always attracted the attention of Mozart, who had a very active artistic career. It occupies a huge and extremely interesting share of his oeuvre, which reached a particular prime during the so-called ‘Viennese period’, in the first half of the 1880s, when the composer frequently performed in the salons of the world and at the imperial court, and also regularly produced ‘academies’ – commissioned concerts. As the composer of numerous instrumental concertos (27 for piano, 5 for violin, 4 for French horn, 2 for flute, as well as concertos for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, etc.) it was Mozart who brought classical features to the concerto genre.

In the Mozart concerto cycle a three-movement structure with a typical ratio of movements is established:

Part I – Sonata allegro with double exposition – the first exposition is purely orchestral and the second – featuring the soloist. Tonally, the orchestral exposition is more reminiscent of a sonata reprise, as all themes, including the second, are usually set in the major tonality. In addition to the double exposition, there is a virtuoso solo in the concerto sonata form, the CADENZA. In the cadenza, when the orchestra is respectfully silent, the soloist gives full rein to his imagination and demonstrates what he is capable of. Cadenzas were usually improvised or, at the very least, invented by the performer. Mozart’s existing original cadenzas ( 36 such cadenzas to 14 concertos are preserved) were recorded by the composer – not for himself, of course, but for his pupils.

Part II – the lyrical centre of the whole composition, where the instrumental cantilena, borrowed by the concert genre from Italian opera, is most fully represented.

Part III – a fast genre finale, written as a rule in rondo-sonata form.

The four concertos that Mozart wrote for French horn are probably the most frequently performed concertos for this instrument and are a fundamental part of the repertoire of most professional French horn players. Extremely virtuosic (especially the fourth!) , they were written especially for Joseph Loitgeb – a brilliant French horn player, and a long-time friend of the composer – and give the soloist the opportunity to showcase the various abilities of the valveless French horns of Mozart’s time. The French horn concertos are distinguished by an elegant and humorous dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Many of the autographs contain jokes directed at the performer to whom they are dedicated.

Mozart’s French horn concerto No. 4 in E flat major, K 495 was completed in 1786. The work has three movements: Allegro moderato. Romance (Andante cantabile), Rondo (Allegro vivace).  Its duration is about 16-18 minutes.

A curious fact is that the entire manuscript of the work is written in red, green, blue and black ink. This is thought to be a jocular attempt to tease the hoped-for performer – Mozart’s friend, Joseph Leutgeb – although recently there has been a suggestion that the use of different coloured ink could also be some kind of ‘colour code’. The last movement is a rather eloquent example in this respect – it pictures a hunting theme in which the intervallic construction, incorporating overt tonic and dominant triads in the main melody, is to some extent dictated by the possibilities of the French horn, but at the same time is closely related to the original ‘pure’ hunting characteristics as a call to the open air. This concerto is one of only two of Mozart’s French horn concertos in which, in addition to the French horn soloist, there are French horns included in the orchestra itself, though, unlike K.417, here the French horn solo doubles the part of the first French horns in the TUTTI passages.

Because of the short duration of the work (no more than 20 minutes) it is quite common to encounter it in combination with Mozart’s other three horn concertos.

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