Pony Club Camp - Mozart Horn Concertos

I am two days into the four days I have been dreading all summer…..Pony Club Camp.  Although I rode as a youngster, I am not remotely horsey and as far as I am concerned they bite one end and kick from the other and horse mad mothers are to be avoided.  However, I have to admit that although exhausting I am secretly rather enjoying it.  I seem to learning as much as my daughter and like her am rather falling for the pony she is borrowing….  This week's recording is the wonderful Mozart Horn Concertos:  

Horn Concerto No 1 in D major K412
Horn Concerto No 2 in Eb major K417
Horn Concerto No 3 in Eb major K447
Horn Concerto No 4 in Eb major K495

A young Mozart

A young Mozart

Mozart wrote his four horn concertos for his family friend Joseph Leutgeb who was Europe's most sought after horn player and who played first horn in the Salzburg Court Orchestra when Mozart was growing up. Leutgeb left Salzburg and the orchestra to settle in Vienna where he ran a cheese shop.  He made enough money to allow him to live well as well as giving him the opportunity to make occasional concert appearances as a soloist.  When Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781 they rekindled their friendship.  Their relationship was a curious one as Mozart frequently made fun of Leutgeb's slowness of wit, he was reported to have scattered some sheets of manuscript around the room in order to make fun of Leutgeb's awkward attempts to pick them up.  Surprisingly, despite all the tauntings they remained friends for life and Leutgeb helped Constanze in organising Mozart's manuscripts after his untimely death.

All four concertos were written for natural horn in Eb (which is why three of the concertos are in Eb), as the modern horn hadn't been completed.  On the original horn the notes were achieved in a number of ways including placing the hand in the bell of the instrument to alter the pitch and timbre.  The first concerto is actually Mozart's last and was written in 2 movements, it is also the easiest possibly because of Leutgeb's advanced age and therefore reduced capabilities.

Barry Tuckwell

Barry Tuckwell

The definitive recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos is played by Dennis Brain (1921-1957) with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan.  Brain is credited with popularising the horn as a solo classical instrument with post-war British public.  Sadly he was killed in a car accident at the young age of 36.  However the recording is in mono rather than stereo and whilst it is a fabulous recording, I think we have all got so used to stereo that mono would sound very old.  Therefore the recording I recommend is by Barry Tuckwell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner which is also a highly regarded version.

Listen to Horn Concerto No 4, third movement youtube 
Listen to Flanders and Swan's take on the same movement youtube 
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Posted on August 13, 2014 .