Mozart Hornology

Mozart’s best-known horn concerto, No 4 – K495, the one with a famous last movement, is heard at this Saturday’s concert from the BBC Philharmonic in the Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

In chronological order of composition, No 4 was, in fact, the second of the four concertos Mozart wrote for his friend Joseph Leutgeb between 1783 and 1791. No 2 was the first and No 3, in reality, the third.

Long thought to have been the first, No 1 was actually the unfinished last, although Süssmayer had a not particularly successful go at completing it.

Here’s an interesting fact unearthed by Mozart’s first biographer in 1793, Friedrich Schlictegroll: the composer had an acute aversion to the horn until he was nearly a ten-year-old.

A Mozart family friend from the composer’s childhood years told Schlictegroll: “He had an insurmountable horror of the horn when it sounded alone without other instruments; merely holding a horn towards him terrified him as much as if it been a loaded pistol.

Happily for posterity, and Leutgeb, or he would have been merely a historical statistic as the finest horn player of the time in Vienna instead of being forever immortalised, Mozart grew out of his aversion.

By the way, the popular, often cited tale that Leutgeb was also a Viennese cheese-maker when he was not engaged in horn playing is pure mythology.

Another long-held belief that the manuscript for the K495 horn concerto, written out in red, green, blue and black ink, was one of Mozart’s many pranks played on Leutgeb is losing its jocular edge in the face of a growing belief that it is in fact some kind of colour code.

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