Mozart wrote this Quintet for Horn and Strings for the Austrian horn player Joseph Leutgeb. The Mozart family had met Leutgeb, a horn virtuoso of the first order, when he played in the Archbishop's orchestra in Salzburg. Leutgeb, who moved from Salzburg to Vienna at about the same time Mozart did, supplemented his meager income as a horn player by opening a cheese shop in a suburb of Vienna. Mozart's father Leopold, who described the shop as being "the size of a snail's house," lent Leutgeb the money to get the cheese shop started.
While Leutgeb was a fine musician, he was a simple person, and Wolfgang pounced on this. While Mozart's sense of humor does not appear to have been cruel, it was seldom restrained by good taste, and the manuscripts of the horn concertos he wrote for Leutgeb are covered with jokes at the player's expense. In the manuscript to the Horn Concerto in D major, K. 412, Mozart wrote (among other things): "Take it easy...animal - oh, how flat you play - ouch - oh dear ... help! - catch your breath! - get going, get going! ... what a bleating sheep's trill - finished? thank heaven!" To his credit, Leutgeb bore up under all this, and several years later, when Wolfgang was having financial troubles of his own, Leutgeb was one of those who lent him money.
The Quintet for Horn and Strings, the first work Mozart wrote for Leutgeb, dates from the fall of 1782, in the first months after the composer's marriage to Constanze Weber. The string accompaniment is not the standard quartet, but instead a quartet with one violin, two violas, and a cello. The viola has a range similar to the horn's, and this Quintet's sonority emphasizes the mellow middle range of the horn and violas rather than the bright upper register of the violin. The valved horn was not invented until the 19th century, and Leutgeb played the natural (valveless) horn, on which the player produced different pitches by varying lip pressure or changing the position of his hand in the bell of the instrument. Considering the demands this Quintet makes on the horn player, Leutgeb must have been a superb musician.
Full of gentle, amiable music, the Horn Quintet has been compared to a miniature horn concerto: the horn frequently is given a starring role, introducing themes and dominating the ensemble, while the strings accompany it. The strings open the first Allegro with a brief flourish, and the horn quickly enters with the movement's main subject. Horn and violin trade phrases easily in this genial movement, which emphasizes the lyric possibilities of the horn. Longest of the three movements, the Andante offers a graceful partnership between horn and strings, full of sustained lyrical lines. The concluding Allegro is a rondo-finale; its main theme, heard immediately in the strings, bears some relation to the theme of the Andante. This good-natured figure recurs throughout the finale before a series of horn fanfares brings the Quintet to its spirited close.
- Eric Bromberger contributes frequently to the Los Angeles Philharmonic program; he is also a regular host of the Philharmonic's Upbeat Live pre-concert events.